All posts by Tomcatter5150

An average guy with interests in photography, aviation, 1/48th scale plastic aircraft models and cooking. I get to do some cool things and have some great friends.

2018 TBM Avenger Reunion

The third annual TBM Avenger Reunion took place on May 19, 2018 at the Illinois Valley Regional Airport in Peru, Illinois. The event is hosted and organized by TBM owner, Brad Deckert. What started out in 2016 as an Avenger fly-in and workshop has morphed into a first class warbird airshow that retains a fly-in style vibe.

On the surface, it seems as though the name would suggest strictly TBM Avengers, but that is not the case. The show includes numerous other aircraft from World War II, Korea and Vietnam wars. The ramp area is wide open allowing spectators to get up close and personal with the aircraft. The aircraft owners and support crew are usually right alongside to answer questions about the aircraft or the type’s history.

All throughout the day, aircraft of all types arrive for the fly-in or to participate in the flying portion of the show. While not looking skyward, reasonably priced vendors are available for meals and souvenirs. Fixed wing aircraft and helicopter rides are available onsite as well.

Housekeeping: The Avenger is a Grumman plane, and is known as a “TBF.” Why is this a “TBM” Reunion?

The Avenger was originally designed and manufactured by Grumman. Grumman built Avengers were designated the TBF. When the successor fighter to the F4F Wildcat was designed by Grumman, the F6F Hellcat, the Navy immediately placed an order for them. Since Grumman could not produce both the Avenger and Hellcat simultaneously, General Motors Eastern Division began production of the Avengers. These GM-built Avengers were designated “TBM”. General Motors went on to produce 7,546 Avengers, with the most prominent version being the TBM-3E variant.

All of the aircraft that participated in the reunion were TBM built aircraft, and I believe all of the flying Avengers world wide are also currently TBM versions. Hence the logical connection to call the event a TBM Reunion/Gathering.

The Main Event: Eleven Avengers!

Brad Deckert has devoted his passion and resources into his TBM. Brad started the annual “gathering” (now known as the “reunion”)as a way for the Avenger community to come together. The owners can swap information and knowledge with each other, and the airshow allows them to show off their aircraft. The show is also a fantastic tribute to all of the local veterans.

Any event that gathers eleven of the same type of warbird aircraft is going to be impressive! The event brought together TBMs that are frequently seen on the airshow circuit and several that are more uncommon at public events.

I have done my best to list the owner’s name and somehow identify each individual participating TBM. If I have something wrong, please send me a note and I will correct it!

Darrel Berry’s “Tennessee Ridge Runner II” – NL325GT

“CC” – NL293E

“96” – N5260V

Tim Savage’s North Atlantic Scheme – N4171A

Perhaps one of the most under represented contributions of WWII is the role of the escort carriers. These smaller carriers traveled with the convoys to protect them from air, surface and submarine threats.

The Avenger played a huge role in the large and small naval battles, including the incredibly important battle for the North Atlantic. Convoys of allied ships shuttled supplies and troops from North America to allied ports in England and continental Europe. These convoys were targeted by German U-Boat submarines and losses were running up quickly due to the wolf pack hunting style of the subs. If the convoys could not get supplies to Europe, the fate of the ETO may have been different. The escort carriers equipped with Avengers played a vital role in the success of the battle for the shipping lanes of the North Atlantic.

Tim Savage’s TBM is painted in the scheme worn by allied aircraft used in the North Atlantic region. The effectiveness of the paint scheme is easy to appreciate and see. Ultimately, the Avenger dropped more tonnage than any other naval aircraft, and sank numerous surface ships and is credited with 30 enemy submarines.

Brad & Jane Deckert’s “T83” – NL81865

The Deckert’s TBM saw combat in World War II during the Okinawa campaign with the Marines of VMTB-34, flying off the carrier USS Vella Gulf. She served with the Navy until 1956 and was subsequently used to fight forest fires in Canada. More information, including flights and appearances can be found on their website.

Charlie Cartledge’s “Delta 95” – NL436GM

Lake Erie Warbirds‘s TBM-3E rolled off the assembly line in Trenton, NJ in August, 1945. However, the aircraft never saw service during WWII. She was stricken from the Navy’s records in 1956 and subsequently used as a fire bomber until the 1960s. Her original flying career ended for awhile, being used for spare parts and as a wind machine for product testing. Thankfully, she was spared additional “abuse” and flying restoration began in 1985.

Tom Buck’s “George Bush” – NL683G

Tom Buck, a member of EAA Warbird Squadron 4, brought his TBM painted in the livery of President George HW Bush’s Avenger. Then Lt. Bush was flying for VT-51. On September 2, 1944, Lt. Bush’s Avenger was badly damaged while on a mission, and was forced to bailout near Chichi Jima. He was rescued and went on to received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Michael Kopp’s “Ida Red” – NL9584Z

Ida Red is another example of a North Atlantic paint scheme. Ida is a TBM-3E variant and was number 2701 off of the assembly line. After her US Navy service, she was sold and used on the west coast as a fire bomber. Around 1996 she was purchased by David Tinker and relocated to Michigan where she frequently participated in airshows around the Midwest. Ida had been absent from events for several years, and it was great to see this familiar air frame back in the air.

Commemorative Air Force – Missouri Wing’s “VT-87”- N5264V

Commemorative Air Force Missouri Wing‘s TBM was received by the Navy in May, 1945. She later served as a trainer during the Korean War with VS-27. After she was declared surplus, she was used as a fire bomber until 1977. The Missouri Wing obtained the aircraft in 2000 from a private owner in Florida.

Heritage Flight Foundation’s “IBM” – N85650

The Heritage Flight Foundation operates out of Westerly, Rhode Island and operates a distinct model of the TBM compared to the others in attendance. Their Avenger has the tail configured for radar operations.

“What is that Turkey all about?”

The Avenger is affectionately known in the Navy as the “Turkey”! Like all nicknames, the true origin is never completely known. Here are the two that I have found:

  1. On carriers that operated both the F4F Wildcat and TBF Avenger, the performance difference between these two aircraft is quite significant. Some say the nickname comes from the size and maneuverability difference of the Avenger while landing. When the gear and flaps were down to land, an Avenger was much like a real life flying turkey, ungainly and awkward.
  2. The second explanation is much simpler. The Avenger is powered by a Curtiss-Wright R-2600, a very large 14-cylinder radial engine. A radial engine is cooled via airflow of the engine while in flight. However, when on the ground, the engine cowling has large flaps that can be extended to help vent some of the hot air. When open, these flaps look like a turkey’s tail feathers.

    Both origin stories seem accurate. I will leave it to you to decide which is correct!

Commemorative Air Force – Rocky Mountain Wing’s “309” – NL53503

Commemorative Air Force Rocky Mountain Wing brought their TBM-3E

MiG Alley Airshows – F-86 & MIG-17

Paul Keppler and Jeff Kaney displayed their aircraft and performed a short dogfight demo. Paul’s F-86 Sabre is painted in the livery of James Jabara, the first Korean War ace and first USAF ace.

Jeff Kaney’s MIG-17 is painted in an artic splinter type scheme and is quite distinctive.

Wings of the North’s F4U-4 Corsair

Wings of the North brought their beautiful F4U-4 down to the event and made several notable photo passes. Arguably, the Corsair is one of the most iconic American fighter aircraft of the WWII era, and is beloved in the warbird community. The display also included some aerobatic maneuvers. There is just something special about the sound of the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engine!

Tim Savage’s A-26 Invader “Silver Dragon” – NL99420

Tim Savage brought two of his aircraft to the event. Certainly the most colorful aircraft on the field, his beautiful A-26B Invader, “Silver Dragon”. This particular A-26 is configured with six .50 caliber machine guns in the nose for assault/strafing missions.

Although not as immediately recognized as the B-25, a similar mission aircraft, the Invader continued to serve the USAF in the Korean and Vietnam wars. The A-26 is starting to become more popular in the warbird collector community with greater numbers of flyable air frames returning to flight status.

Tim, and now his son Job, are well known in the warbird community and their passion for warbirds is contagious.

John O’Connors AU-1 Corsair – N965CV

John O’Connor surprised the crowd with several passes of his newly restored AU-1 Corsair (actually an F4U-7). The AU-1 variant of the Corsair was designed to serve as a low-level fighter-bomber, and had additional weapons hard-points added. A fully loaded AU-1 weighed approximately 20% more than an F4U-4 variant!

Sadly, the aircraft is now back in the repair shop after an accident on takeoff a few months after this event. Fingers are crossed to see her in the air again soon.

Michael Gillian’s FM-2 Wildcat – N909WJ

Mike Gillian’s FM-2 (a GM built version of the Grumman designed Wildcat) is an example of an aircraft that attends many smaller airshows and fly-in style gatherings. His aircraft is in beautiful condition and is a prime example of the early US Navy and Marine fighter aircraft of early WWII.

The Wildcat was considered inferior to the Japanese Zero at the start of the war. However, aerial tactics improved as did the skill of the Aviators and soon there after, the Wildcat could effectively fly and defeat the Zero. Grumman later improved the design and the mighty F6F Hellcat was born. The Wildcat held the line while American designers and manufacturers made fighters that could meet or exceed the performance of the Zero. The Wildcat is a a fairly rare breed these days, and it is a treat to see this Naval Aviation icon.

T-6 Texan & SNJs

T-34 Mentors

Around the field

Usually, general aviation aircraft do not interest me much unless I am going flying. However, this Cessna 195 is one sharp bird!

1952 Cessna 195B

You just never know what will show up…!

A pleasant and unexpected surprise to see was this lovely F-86 on static display. Having two F-86s at a show is amazing these days, and this one is extra special. This is the oldest flying F-86 in the world, and may be the oldest jet currently flying in the world (this is always debated, hence the emphasis on “may be”).

This is an early F-86A Sabre, and was the 5th off North American’s Inglewood, California assembly line. The aircraft, formerly serial number 48-178, served with the US Air Force and was destined to become a “gate guard” to end her flying days. Instead, she was sold in 1970 and made airworthy again using parts from several other F-86A air frames. She was a regular on the US airshow circuit until 1990, when the aircraft was again sold and exported to England. There, she continued airshow flight demonstrations until around 2015 when she was sold again and returned to the United States.

Recently, the jet was acquired by Heritage Aero, Inc. and returned to flight worthy status again for a collector client. The first flight back in the US occurred in October, 2015 in Rockford, IL.

What a fantastic, and unexpected treat to see this piece of FLYING history! Sadly, she did not participate in the flying portion of the show, but it was still exhilarating to see an aircraft of some historic magnitude on the ramp. Hopefully the next time is in the air!

The End!

This is gathering and reunion a truly unique experience these days. If you are a warbird fan, this is an event you should not miss. Details for the next Avenger Reunion can be found on the web at https://tbmreunion.org/

Apollo: The Bois Blanc Eagle

Like most photographers, I have a bucket list of places, things, or opportunities that I would like to photograph sometime. One near the very top was a bald eagle in flight in a natural habitat. My dream became a reality in 2018 while on a family vacation on Bois Blanc Island, Michigan.

I was told ahead of time that several baldies were near the area we would be, and I came prepared with the camera gear. After a few hours staring out over the Mackinac Straits, we caught a glimpse of this beautiful large bird. I grabbed my gear and ran to the water’s edge.

I could not believe my eyes as this magnificent bald eagle flew circles around the area. The whole time he was watching me and also keeping a close scan on the water below. After a few passes, I think he grew comfortable and focused less on me and more on the water. Eventually, he dove into the water and brought out a fish in his talons. Again, something I NEVER thought I would see with my own eyes!

After he swooped down and took his next meal, I watched him fly just a hundred yards or so from me into the top of a tree. Unfortunately, I did not have a good vantage point to photograph any further. My family asked if I had any luck and asked where the eagle went. My response was simple…”the eagle has landed.” And from that point on, my bald eagle “friend” had a name. “Apollo.”

Although my initial experience was only a quick couple of minutes, it brought out a flood of emotion. The visual grace and beauty of this bird was something I cannot articulate. Perhaps it was the excitement of seeing an eagle in the wild and photographing him. Perhaps it was seeing the nation’s symbol and feeling a little pride. Whatever that feeling was, it has not left.

I saw Apollo again in 2019 and plan to return again in 2020. I am excited to see him again, and hope for many more photo opportunities. Maybe some friends will join him on the island.

PHOTOS…OR IT DIDN’T HAPPEN!

Apollo seconds after grabbing his next meal outta the Mackinac Straits.

Mackinac Bridge Sunset

I captured this image while on a family vacation in Mackinaw City, Michigan. A variety of weather came through that day, with the end result being a spectacular sunset. While I have witnessed sunsets on the Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, I think the ones I have viewed on the Great Lakes are equally as beautiful.

2018 NAS Oceana Airshow

The 2018 NAS Oceana Airshow was held on September 21-23. Friday was open to military family members, and was also an open house for local 5th graders as a STEM laboratory. The event was the largest in several years, and included headline performances by both the US Navy Blue Angels and the RCAF Snowbird jet demonstration teams.

The weather varied all three days, which can be evidenced by the photos. However, flying was able to be completed all three days and provided some wonderful vapor opportunities as well as some nice cloud backdrops. The variety of acts was a good blend of civilian and military performers.

The Aircraft of the Fleet

The Fleet Demo is perhaps the highlight of the airshow each year. This years squadron participants included VFA-105 Gunslingers, VFC-12 Fighting Omars, VFA-131 Wildcats and VFA-106 Gladiators.

Bandits! The art of dogfighting with VFC-12 Fighting Omars

NAS Oceana is home to own adversary training squadron VFC-12 Fighting Omars, callsign “Ambush”. The squadron flies F/A-18 Hornets painted to resemble aircraft the fleet pilots may encounter while on deployment. Here, the Hornets are in a “splinter” paint scheme to resemble the Russian SU-35.

The squadron is made up of a combination of active duty and reservists and is tasked with training the fleet pilots in the art of dogfighting. Unlike the fleet ready rooms, this squadron is made up of high time and veteran pilots who have mastered the skills required to best aerial adversaries. Much like the Blue Angels flight demonstration team, the members are hand picked and must be approved by the other members of the squadron. The pilots are selected for their flight skills and personality due to the small size of the squadron and teamwork required to accurately train the fleet pilots.

The pilots are training using tactics of potential adversaries such as Russia and China using some of the oldest aircraft in the Navy.

VFC-12 and VFA-105 Gunfighters demonstrated a vertical 1×1 engagement, as well as a 2×1 horizontal dogfight.

Air-to-Ground Demo

VFA-105, VFA-131 and VFA-106 demonstrated various air-to-ground bombing and strafing tactics used by fleet Aviators while on deployment.

Passing Gas…Flattop style

F/A-18 Super Hornets from VFA-105 Gunslingers demonstrated the buddy air refueling system during the fleet performance at NAS Oceana.

The Fleet Flyby

US Army Black Daggers Parachute Team

USAF F-22 Raptor Demo

Major Paul “Loco” Lopez provided a stunning demonstration of the USAF’s F-22 Raptor. The jet is considered by many to be the world’s best air superiority fighter. Abilities include “super cruise” (ability to exceed the speed of sound without afterburner), thrust vectoring and stealth. Stealth is achieved by carrying all ordinance internally in three bays. Thrust vectoring provides the aircraft unparalleled maneuverability, even compared to the F-16 and F-15. The jets two Pratt & Whitney F-119 engines provide 35,000 of thrust each, and in afterburner provide ample “freedom thunder!!”

US Navy F/A-18C Hornet – The Final “Legacy” Hornet Demo

The Gladiators from VFA-106 flew the last F/A-18C Hornet demo while at their homebase of NAS Oceana. The squadron serves as the fleets F/A-18 training squadron and also provides the aircraft and crew for the Legacy Hornet Demo Team. The Hornet has been the backbone of the fleet attack duties since the early 1980s.

US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet Demo

VFA-106 also serves as the fleet’s F/A-18 Super Hornet training squadron and provides aircraft and crew for the USN Tac Demo Team. The F/A-18 Super Hornet is the fleet’s primary fighter aircraft and also serves as a multi-role air-to-ground platform. The TAC Demo focuses on the fighter configuration while demonstrating the performance and maneuverability of the Super Hornet.

Greg Shelton FM-2 Wildcat Aerobatics

Greg Shelton provided some naval history by flying an aerobatic routine in his FM-2 Wildcat. The Grumman F4F (and its General Motors license built FM-2 version) was the backbone of the US Navy fighter force at the start of World War II. Although outmatched by the lighter Japanese Zero, it held the line until America’s manufacturing might could provide better designs such as the F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair.

Bill Leff T-6 Texan Aerobatics & Final Show

Veteran warbird aerobatic pilot, Bill Leff, flew his final acro routine at NAS Oceana. He has flown many times at Oceana and his performances will be missed. Although not as glamorous as the fighters from the WWII era, it has been said that if you can master aerobatics in the T-6 Texan, you can fly anything. The T-6 airframe was the advanced trainer for the United States and many of its allies and continued to serve until the late 1950s. The type is widely known as “the pilot maker.”

Michael Goulian Extra 330sc Aerobatics

Flashfire Jet Truck

Canadian Forces 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, the Snowbirds

NAS Oceana was blessed to have two headlining jet teams for the 2018 event. The Canadian Forces Snowbirds made a rare appearance over the skies of Virginia Beach. The team is equally as skilled as the pilots from the American teams such as the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds, but their demonstration is much different. Their jets are trainers and not as powerful as the American Team’s jets. Therefore, the demonstration is more graceful and includes nine aircraft. This allows for larger formations and different variety of formations than the American Teams.

Of note, the team “crop dusted” the Blue Angels over the weekend, as seen in the first picture below. “Crop dusting” is a term of art and is basically the team blowing smoke over the other team. This is a gag between all of the North American teams and is done for humor and inter-team bonding. It is not uncommon for the teams to do so when one team flies over the other while transitioning to a show location or headed to a remote flyover.

Kent Pietsch Jelly Belly Aerobatics and the World’s Smallest Aircraft Carrier

Kent Pietsch is an amazing performer. His aircraft, an Interstate Cadet, weighs just 800 pounds and has 90 horsepower. The Cadet is not your typical aerobatic airplane, yet Kent makes it look routine. In fact, the routine is filled with maneuvers that require a high degree of skill and control. The climax may be the landing of the aircraft on top of the RV, which is billed as the world’s smallest aircraft carrier. It usually takes a couple of passes, but Kent is usually very successful in landing the Cadet and subsequently taking off again from the RV. Note below on the right photo that the main gear are not locked into position and the tailwheel is not on the RV on this instance.

The Wounded Warrior Flight Team

The Wounded Warrior Flight team flies two L-39 Albatross jets. The aircraft are former advance trainers from the Soviet Union and are now used to bring awareness to the needs of various veterans across the United States. The jets are flown by two veteran US Navy pilots and perform a “grudge match” aerial dogfight.

US Navy Legacy Flight

This year’s Legacy Flight included the F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-106 Gladiators and the F4U Corsair owned by Jim Tobul. An iconic formation considering both aircraft were used by the fleet similarly – both as a fighter and as a multi-role support aircraft. A good comparison of the size of the two aircraft can be seen below. The finale was enjoyable as both aircraft folded their wings simultaneously in front of the crowd.

Jim Tobul F4U Corsair “Korean War Hero” Aerobatics

US Navy Blue Angels

The Navy’s flight demonstration team looked amazing as ever for the 2018 shows over Oceana. The skies were challenging at times with clouds and high winds, but the team looked sharp as ever. At least with clouds and moisture the vapes come out!

334th Fighter Squadron F-15E Strike Eagle

The 334th brought their commemorative F-15E Strike Eagle for static display. The jet celebrates the 75th Anniversary of the 4th Fighter Wing. The paint scheme was starting to show some wear, but it still looked great, and would have been amazing to see in the air.

The Final Legacy Hornet Squadron VFA-34 Blue Blasters

The “Blue Blasters” of VFA-34 recently returned from their final cruise in the older “Legacy” model of the F/A-18 Hornet. In April, the squadron recently deployed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) for a three-month WESTPAC deployment which included a port stop in Vietnam, the first by a US carrier since the war ended. The Blue Blasters returned to sea on August to participate in the multi-national war exercises called “RIMPAC”. VFA-34 is the final Legacy Hornet Strike Fighter Squadron and is scheduled to transition from the Legacy Hornet to the Super Hornet in early 2019.

“That’s it, you’re not going to see a Hornet on an aircraft carrier – at least with U.S. Navy paint on it – ever again.”

Lt. Kevin Frattin – USNI News, February 4, 2019

Around the field…

The USAF brought a specially painted T-6 Texan II, and the VFA-213 Blacklions squadron car made an appearance. Check out a special article related to squadron cars I recently wrote here.

I had a great time at the 2018 NAS Oceana airshow. It is always amazing to see the fleet aircraft at the East Coast’s Master Jet Base and meet the aircrews. As long as the base continues to have shows, I will do my best to return to see them for years to come. Fly Navy!

Squadron Vehicles: Gaudy and Spectacular!

In the air, a squadron can be identified by the type of aircraft being flown and squadron logo or tail codes. On the ground, a squadron’s identity is reflected in their vehicle. For semi-truck drivers, wood in the cab is the decor of choice while chrome is king for most “hot rods”. In a squadron vehicles, anything goes. The more gaudy and outrageous the better! Everything from wild paint schemes to spare aircraft parts can be seen on what has become the squadron’s ultimate alter ego.

The tradition appears to have started with the Navy. According to lore, official transportation was generally unavailable to squadrons that were deployed or on training detachments. Accordingly, the squadron car was born out of necessity. Several members would chip in a few dollars and buy a cheap vehicle to get around. Usually, the junior officers were tasked with driving the senior officers around to the base functions and parties.

VMFA(AW)-225 Vikings hurst squadron car. A fitting ride for sure!

The original squadron cars were plain and simple, what my generation would call a “beater” – cheap and usually in need of some sort of repair. Over time, the cars started to get custom paint jobs that reflected persona of the squadron. Standard cars morphed into retired limos. Not to be outdone, limousines transformed into old school buses and RVs. As the type of vehicle changed, so did the exterior details. Modern squadron vehicles are adorned with anything and everything to make their ground transportation match their aerial rides. Retired tails are mounted, maybe a refueling boom or perhaps simulated missiles/guns. Basically, the rule of thumb is this: it has to be bigger, wilder and more flashy than the other squadron’s ride yet, reflect the squadron’s history and culture. The early cars were very politically incorrect and crass. When ladies began to incorporate into the flying units, the crude references were mostly stricken. However, a few may still have a reference or two if you look close enough.

VFA-32 Swordsmen RV . Note the unit awards painted on the upper portion.

Ultimately, the squadron car is a symbol of pride for the unit. It gives the men and now women a fun diversion from the everyday routine and shows the wild imagination and creativity these people have. While the members of the squadron may rotate, the squadron vehicle passes to each successive generation to modify and carry on the tradition. The legacy builds as more customization or modifications are completed.

The fire engine of VMFA-232 Red Devils is a fantastic example of the squadron’s symbolism reflected in the squad car.

The “squadron car” has become such a legend that the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida displays the Lincoln Continental limo formerly of VAQ-134. The automobile was driven all the way from NAS Whidbey Island to NAS Pensacola to be put on display in 2003!

I imagine the VMFA-314 Black Knights former fire truck is probably now the ultimate party bus inside!

Next time you are at an airshow or open house at the local military base, keep an eye out for the unique and imaginative works of art from the Navy, Marine and USAF/ANG units.

Here is the 107th Fighter Squadron “Red Devils” Limo, an example of a USAF ANG squadron car. Plenty of room for a group and/or some fun times!

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!