REPORT: Dayton Airshow 2017

Dayton Ohio prides itself as an aviation town. Wright Patterson Air Force base is just over 8 miles (13 km) from downtown Dayton. The National Museum of the United States Air Force is in Dayton. Orville Wright was born in Dayton. The Wright Brothers set up a bicycle shop here where they honed their mechanical skills, then invested profits from the shop to fund their ambition to soar amongst the birds. Solar Impulse II made a stop in Dayton on their round-the-world flight in part as tribute to the town’s aviation history. The list goes on and on. It only makes sense Dayton embraces their deep aviation heritage to host one of the Top 20 air shows in the US.

The ‘Vectren Dayton Air Show’ is a two-day air show that consistently draws top talent such as the US Air Force Thunderbirds, which were to headline the 2017 show. As many will know, a landing incident on the Friday before the show caused Thunderbird 8 to flip over. We are happy to report that both occupants are out of the hospital at the time of this report’s publication, however the Thunderbirds decided to stand down and not perform during the show. While that is certainly disappointing and undoubtedly impacted the turnout, we applaud the Thunderbirds for their decision. In this line of business, safety comes first.

I was not able to attend the show on Saturday, but did make the Sunday show. Weather plays a key role in every air show and this show was no different. The last time I attended the Dayton Airshow in 2012, the high temperature was 102 degrees Fahrenheit (39°C). This year the high temperature was 75 degrees (24°C) with humidity in the 35-40% range during the show. So why am I making such a big deal about the weather? One word: vapor. I love watching large plumes of vapor form off of wingtips and around the canopy. The profile of the F-18 almost appears to be designed to wring out moisture from the sky during high-speed passes and high-alpha maneuvers. The only problem is those big gorgeous plumes require moisture in the air and it just wasn’t there on Sunday. That’s not to say we didn’t see any wingtip vortices, but the signature vapor cone on the F-18 high-speed pass was nowhere to be seen. On the bright side, the crystal clear air and stiff wind quickly cleared smoke trails, and made for some fantastic images.

One thing I love about the Dayton Airshow is the ability to buy a photography tour and photo-pit pass. The photo tour allows you early access to the static displays. If you’ve ever wanted people-free images of static aircraft at an air show, this is your ticket. Military static displays included the B-1B Lancer, C-130 Hercules, C-17 Globemaster, P-8A Poseidon, F/A-18F Super Hornet, EA- 18G Growler, E2-C Hawkeye, HC-144 Ocean Sentry and the T-38 Talon. Commercial static displays included an American Eagle Bombardier CRJ-900 Next Gen, FedEx Boeing 757-200SF and a Republic Airways Embraer 170.

The photo pit pass provides you with a clean show center front-line view. While this ticket is several times more than the cost of general admission, you get the feeling the show administrators want to set you up for the best possible photos. The air display itself started a little later and ended sooner than originally scheduled, and much of that can be attributed to the cancellation of the Thunderbirds. With that being said, however, the action was non- stop. Many times the next performer was in the air before the current performer was on final approach. This action kept the crowd appeased; I would much rather see the show condensed rather than stretching it out to fit the original schedule.

Johnny D, a student pilot under Sean D. Tucker, opened the show in an Extra 300. The Misty Blues Steamer Drop was scheduled next, but ultimately cancelled due to strong winds, which were blowing at 20mph (17 Knots) with gusts up to 30mph (26 Knots) throughout the day. Redline Airshows performed next along with an encore display to end the show. While the RV-8 aircraft may not be as agile or powerful as the Extra 300L, these aircraft are readily available in the US. In fact, you can but parts and assemble the aircraft in your garage.

If you made it this far, I’m going to admit something to you that you probably figured out by now: I’m a jet guy. I love the sound, the afterburners, and the vapor trail from high-alpha and high-speed maneuvers. The next three performances may have broken me of my love of jets, however: Bob Freeman in his Suzuki Extra 330SC, Rob Holland in his MXS-RH, and Sean D. Tucker in his Oracle Challenger III put on absolutely fantastic displays of aerobatic precision. I was truly taken aback at how these championship winning pilots where able to seemingly ignore physics.

The Lockheed Martin/KAI T-50A flew next, making its first public air show performance. The aircraft surprised many in the crowd with its maneuverability and power, considering the aircraft is a trainer and not a fighter or attack aircraft. The T-50A is a contender in the TX training platform competition. If the T-50A looks familiar to you, it should: they started with the best parts of the F-16 platform when designing this advanced trainer aircraft.

Sean D. Tucker performed after the T-50A landed. Tucker’s performance was nothing short of amazing – there is a reason Sean is a member of the International Aviation Hall of Fame. His love of precision aerobatics and the power of his Oracle Challenger III wowed the crowd many times over. One of Sean’s signature moves is the triple ribbon cut, which he performed flawlessly.

The B-25 Mitchell Doolittle Raid Commemoration involved several passes by a B-25 in various configurations. Two of the passes incorporated pyrotechnics, which added to the tone of the display. During the wall of fire pass, I could feel the heat even though I was several hundred feet away.

P-51D Mustang “Fragile and Agile” flew as part of the USAF Heritage Flight, however it received plenty of solo-time as part of the show. The show narrators did a great job providing background about the aircraft and cueing the crowd in on the P-51 whistle. The F-35A Lightning II took off after several solo passes by the P-51 – the first time it had performed in Dayton. I love the concept of the Heritage Flight, however for a show of this size, I would have liked to have seen a third aircraft in formation.

The GEICO Skytypers put on a fantastic display of not only their precision “Skytyping” ability but the aerobatic portion of their display as well. Like the F-35, this was the GEICO Skytypers’ inaugural performance at Dayton. Unfortunately the gusty wind caused their work to dissipate faster that I would have anticipated. The narration from the show announcers was clear and spot on and I very much enjoyed their display.

Next up was Rob Holland in his MXS-RH. As I mentioned earlier, I was truly amazed at what Rob could command his aircraft to do. My favorite maneuver was “The Cobra”, where Rob brings his aircraft to a nose high crawl with smoke on, generating a cobra-like hood out of smoke.

The F/A-18 Super Hornet Tactical Demonstration Team was the penultimate performer. The shear power and nimbleness of the aircraft was demonstrated several times, from the short take off roll, to the slow speed high-alpha maneuvers; the minimum radius turn always gets the crowds attention! My favorite part of the show occurs when the aircraft transitions from high-alpha to a clean configuration with afterburner. Finally, Redline Airshows closed the show with an encore performance.

I should note the talent of the co-announcers Danny Clisham and Rob Reider. They made a good show great with timely facts and commentary about the performers. Overall the Vectren Dayton Air Show is a solid must-attend show in this part of the US. The Thunderbirds would have been a fantastic display to see at this venue, but I recognize that safety must come first. I am already making plans to attend the show next year, which is scheduled for June 23-24, 2018.


Jacob Rutledge is an IT professional by day, aviation and photography enthusiast by night. Jacob keeps his eyes on the sky from the Midwest US.