REPORT: Owensboro Airshow 2017

The Owensboro Airshow is always one show that you can’t afford to miss. Despite several cancelled performances this year – mostly due to the hurricane disaster response – the high caliber of aerobatic, helicopter, military jet and warbird performances made up for the show’s short two hour duration.

At just five years old, the Owensboro Airshow is a relative newcomer to the US airshow circuit, established in part to introduce and showcase the city’s riverfront assets. From a photographer’s perspective, there are several reasons this is one of my favorite airshows:  the high vantage point provides a unique angle that is difficult – if not impossible – to recreate at shows located at airports. Furthermore, general admission to the airshow is free, as is the ample free parking on the surrounding city streets, making Owensboro the most family-friendly airshow I have attended. Smothers Park, just east of show center, has over 1200ft (370m) of river frontage, with plenty of swings and things to explore to keep little aviation enthusiasts busy if their attention lapses.

The show started precisely on time with the US Army Special Operations Command Black Daggers Parachute Demonstration Team. Once the jumpers’ parachutes were deployed, The Aeroshell team circled the team with smoke on as they descended for precision landings. Next up a Beech AT-11 Kansan and Beechcraft T-34 Mentor performed several passes in front of the crowd. While you are probably familiar with the T-34, you may not have heard of the AT-11, which is a military variant of the Beech 18 “Twin Beech”. While the duo flew mostly flat passes with moderate accents to overcome the bridge on the east side of the airbox, the aircraft paired well and were a nice surprise considering they were not on the published list of demonstrations.

Once the AT-11 and T-34 cleared the box, the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation Sky Soldiers Demonstration Team took the stage, with their AH-1 Cobra entering the box first. The thump-thump-thump sound of the Cobra’s blades is unmistakable. The narrator did a fantastic job of guiding the audience through the demonstration; first the AH-1 Cobra gave several passes up and down the display line to identify hostile activity, following which the AD-1 Skyraider was brought in to terminate the target. A UH-1 Huey was then flown in low and slow to simulate what a water rescue might look like. A dummy was dropped from the Huey at show center while the local water rescue agencies responded.

After the Sky Soldiers program concluded, Dell Coller, crew chief for John Klatt airshows performed in the Extra 300L. Dell demonstrated the power to weight ratio of the Extra by “hanging the aircraft on the prop”. This is achieved when the pilot climbs vertically and then hovers solely using the thrust of the propeller. To exit the maneuver, Dell “puts the aircraft in reverse” and backs out of the accumulated smoke rudder first. It’s truly amazing how much power modern aerobatic aircraft produce.

The weather during the show was excellent, with barely a cloud in the sky. It was a warm day, by September standards, with temperatures of 90°F (32°C) and low humidity. This was a stark contrast to 2016’s show, when rain showers delayed some of the displays – although the high humidity had allowed for plenty of vapor during the USN F/A-18 Hornet Tactical Demonstration. This year, the “TACDEMO” were back, with Nick “Bearshark” Green executing the display with precision. Excessive vapor or not, the TACDEMO is always crowd pleaser.  

Patty Wagstaff is one of the best-known names in the US airshow circuit, not to mention a member of the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Patty demonstrates mastery of the Extra 300. Knife-edge, slips, spins, snap-rolls; any aerobatic maneuver you can think of, you’ll likely see it perfectly executed in her 15 minute performance.  Another surprise aircraft, the L-39 Albatross, flew immediately after Patty. The L-39 flew a very mild demonstration compared to the military jet performance teams, but is still interesting in that many are finding their way out of military training duties and into civilian hands due to their relatively low cost.

The deep blue sky may not have been conducive for vapor, but it was an awesome backdrop for the Aeroshell team. The white and red AT-6 Texans really stood out against the sky. Aeroshell’s performance is photogenic to begin with, but while processing photos I really began to appreciate the skill and precision the team demonstrates. If you haven’t witnessed an Aeroshell team performance, it’s worth going out of your way to see the show – certainly some This is Flight reporters rate them above the country’s more famous military jet aerobatic teams.

The last demonstration of the show was the F-16C Fighting Falcon. It has been quite some time since I’ve seen a full F-16 solo demo. Before the show, I had the opportunity to briefly chat with the F-16 Viper Pilot Major John “Rain” Waters.  I’m happy to report he knows exactly what military jet enthusiasts want from a jet demo: noise, speed, and vapor. That’s one I love about smaller airshows – the pilots are able to easily work the crowd and are more accessible than large events. “Rain” performed a series of riveting passes including a precision knife-edge pass and one of my new favorites, the “Rocket Launch”, a high alpha pass followed by a quick transition into muscle climb to 4,000 feet, designed to demonstrate the F-16’s thrust-to-weight ratio.

The 2018 Owensboro Airshow is scheduled for September 14th-16th and will feature the Blue Angels in what is sure to be an entertaining event. This small but action-packed airshow will appease your need for aerobatics, helicopters and military jet action, and I for one can’t wait to head back.

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.