A Different Perspective: Twilight Airshows

The early evening sky can offer some of the most vibrant and beautiful views of the entire day. Thousands of people flock outdoors to glimpse Mother Nature’s beauty daily to watch the evening sunset. For aviation lovers, a twilight airshow combines the beauty of the sunset with the beauty of the flying machine.

“Twilight shows” are popularly hosted on the eve of the formal airshow, on Friday for example. It allows the casual fan to come onto the show grounds and get a teaser of the formal show, usually at a lower gate price. For others like me, the evening show provides an extra day of the weekend “holiday”. These evening shows are usually a blend of aerial talent, food/beverage and live talent. In other words, it is a Friday night airport party! The overall atmosphere is usually a little more relaxed and the crowds a bit easier to tolerate. The sometimes oppressive summer heat is reduced making the early evening much easier to tolerate.

My exposure to twilight shows began in the late 1990s at Michigan’s popular Muskegon Air Fair. The Friday evening show started as a casual way to party before the show and eventually morphed into a widely successful event in and of itself – the “Friday Night Runway Bash”.

F-14 Tomcat Demo Team performing pre-flight checks during the Friday evening 2004 Muskegon Air Fair

Ever since those early Runway Bashes, I was hooked on the evening shows. I always try to attend them when the timing works out with the travel schedule. I like the different views and early sneak peak into the weekend show. I have even met some of the performers casually walking around the grounds.

The Early Evening…

Early evening is when the magic sky transformation begins. The sky begins to grow darker as the sun lowers on the horizon. The yellow tones begin to show on the polished finishes and gloss coatings of the aircraft paint.

The Mid-Evening…Golden Hour!

This is likely my favorite time of the day and is no exception during evening airshows. The aircraft begin to darken and they sky begins to pop with the vibrant evening sunset colors of various reds and oranges. Exhaust flames and afterburners begin to become evident.

The setting sun casts a golden hue on the F-22 Raptor Demo Team taken during the 2015 Planes of Fame evening show.

The Late Evening…

As the day turns into evening, the last bits of color erupt over the horizon, casting the final hues of red and orange for the day. With the loss of visual cues, the skill set of the pilots increase.

Many performers have developed a specific routine for evening shows to showcase the elegance of flight in the late evening sky. Some have even catered to this type of performance by adding special lights to the aircraft to make them easier to track in the darkening skies. The hours and hours of practice are evident as the routine unfolds as flawlessly as a daytime performance.

Has the sun set on evening shows?

No! But ultimately, an airshow is a business. Like all businesses, decisions are made based on the economics of the times. People outside the industry do not understand that an airshow is not put together just a few weeks prior to the scheduled date. Instead they are planned a year, sometimes longer, in advance. Budgets are set and performers are signed based on those budget figures. A brief look into your own checkbook will likely reveal the costs of daily life are rising. Aviation is the ultimate motor sport and like all motor sports is a wallet draining hobby without a sponsorship to offset costs. Vintage piston and jet warbirds are costly to own, maintain and fly and therefore charge an appearance fee. Civilian acrobatic performers use equally expensive aircraft that can handle heavy g-forces.

An evening show simply adds to the overall costs. Performers get paid more, additional volunteers are needed and municipalities require payment for the additional police and traffic control. If it rains, those costs are likely not recovered. With today’s economics, an extra day is usually just too costly and risky to plan. However, there are planners and performers that enjoy the evening shows and take a chance. Some shows are even beginning to plan the airshow later in the day to take advantage of the timing to incorporate the airshow, ground entertainment, concerts and a fireworks display.

If you are fortunate enough to have an opportunity to attend a twilight airshow, take advantage. Vendors get a bit of extra business, the airshow’s profits increase and the performers get to show off their talents. A lot of time and effort went into the planning for the evening. Enjoy the casual atmosphere, visual beauty and the people that come with you to share in the evening fun!

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