REPORT: Tarkio Greatest Little Airshow 2017

What would you call it if you had a fly-in at some small, out of the way, airport and were able to get pilots like Michael Wiskus, Gary Rower, and Matt Younkin to come and perform? The people at the Tarkio, Mo. airport did just that and have appropriately called it “The Greatest Little Air Show”. Last spring, I was looking at this year’s airshow schedule and couldn’t help but notice that Tarkio was right in my backyard as airshows go. The more I looked at their list of scheduled performers on their website, the better it sounded. The Aeroshell team of T-6 Texans were also scheduled as well as several classic World War II warbirds.

Although there are no contact details on the show’s website, I had been told by the one person I had been able to contact that there was going to be some night flying on Friday, so I arrived early. As I pulled onto the road leading to the airport, a flash of blue flew past me and landed on the runway alongside. It was the Commemorative Air Force’s B-25/PBJ “Devil Dog” which, while not taking part in the flying display, did appear as a static exhibit. After watching four P-51s fly in a finger four formation and learning that the main flying display was not due to start until 9 o’clock, I made a quick trip up to my motel in Shenandoah, Iowa thinking I had plenty of time before the flying started and the road to the airport would be closed. I arrived back at the airport to find the road already blocked by a fire truck and Gary Rower performing in his Super Stearman. Although the end of the runway made an interesting point from which to watch him fly, it was too far away for many photos. I had resigned myself to watching it from here until one of the fire truck crew told me of a back route which would bring me right back to the airport. I was then able to see the entire night shows of the Aeroshell team and Matt Younkin in his Beech 18.

Before flying began Saturday, a meeting was held in one of the hangers to discuss the possible affects of Air Traffic Control privatization on the airshow industry. One of those speaking was Missouri representative Sam Graves who would later pilot a beautifully restored Curtis P-40 in the markings of the famous Flying Tigers alongside a beautifully restored P-63F.

Saturday’s flying was kicked off by Mike Wiskus in the bright orange Lucas Oil Pitts. Wiskus put the Pitts through a nice routine with hammerheads, tail slides, and an impressive slow speed knife edge pass down most of the length of the runway at around a 45° angle the whole way – and this was just his preview, as he would return later doing all of these and more.

Next up was Greg Shetterly in his DR 107 One Design, one of the few airplanes that makes the Extra 300 look big. Usually flying with his sons as Shetterly Squadron, he did two solo performances today throwing this diminutive plane around the sky like an old pro. As he was performing, a familiar yellow airplane was pushed out of a hangar near the staging area. It was the familiar 1942 Interstate Cadet of Kent Pietsch: it’s always a pleasure to watch Kent fly, whether it’s his “beginner pilot” act or his dead stick aerobatic show where he shuts the plane off at around 6500 feet and gracefully loops and rolls his way back to the ground.  Gary Rower followed Pietsch in his beautiful red and white Super Stearman. Although the plane is nowhere near as nimble as a Pitts or an Extra, Rower does most standard maneuvers, just a little more slowly than they can. After their performances, the pilots demonstrated another advantage to this small venue: when they taxied by to wave to the crowd, they did so close enough for the crowd to see the smiles on their faces.

Matt Younkin then took his turn in his twin-engine Beech 18. Younkin, who is carrying on a family tradition, makes another non-traditional aerobatic plane look graceful. Obviously stopping short of hammerheads and snap rolls, his is always a very impressive performance. Younkin was followed by Jim Pietz flying a very average looking 1986 Beech F33C Bonanza and even proceeding to fly aerobatics! Again, this is not a specialized aerobatics aircraft so the routine was limited, but it was nonetheless interesting seeing such an aircraft performing.

The warbirds were up next. Four P-51D Mustangs (“Gunfighter”, “Cripes-a-Mighty”, “Alabama Rammer Jammer” and “Charlotte’s Chariot”) flew information together, followed by the P-40 and P-63, flying as a two-ship. After several formation passes, each aircraft ran individually down the runway several times.

Mike Wiskus and Greg Shetterly then returned separately for their second flights of the day, interspersed by a flypast from apair of USAF A-10 Watrhogs between their shows. Wiskus added a ribbon cutting to his performance as well as flying inverted under the ribbon prior to cutting it. Greg Shetterly was then joined for part of his show by Philipp Steinbach showing off his very sharp looking Game Composites GB1, which he designed. Looking much like the Extras, this is a very agile little plane with seemingly similar flight characteristics as Steinbach capably demonstrated in an all too brief brief solo performance.

The show was headlined by the Aeroshell team in their T-6 Texans. They fly a very tight formation and perform such manoeuvres as cuban eights, barrel rolls and opposition passes. Once the team has returned to the ramp, they do their signature “burnout” where they stand on the left to brake and rev the engine as smoke billows from their exhausts. Within moments the entire airfield is blanketed and white smoke. By the time it clears, the pilots are standing in their seats waiting to the crowd. After this grand finale, the flyover of a B-2A Spirit stealth bomber was almost anticlimactic.

Overall, this is more like a fly-in where the attendees decide to put on aerobatics demonstrations for one another than a traditional airshow. While the public was welcome, it appeared that at least half the crowd was flyers or their families. It makes for a unique airshow experience which I recommend all aviation fans to experience for themselves.

Tim Passmore is a Vietnam-era veteran of the US Air Force and a lifelong aviation enthusiast. He also covers auto racing and musical events.