Let the Shows Begin!
What's hot on this summer's airshow circuit.
- By The Editors
- Air & Space magazine, May 2010
Since January 1910, when audiences crowded the bleachers for what promoters called an “aviation tournament” in Los Angeles, Americans have made flying a favorite spectator sport. But U.S. airshows do more than entertain. They inform audiences about airplanes in the current U.S. military inventory and educate them about aviation history. All U.S. services send aircraft to shows for static displays, so fans can get a close look
at what their tax dollars bought—and can pepper the pilots with questions. Shows also let owners of rare, vintage aircraft show off their beauties. We’ve canvassed airshows across the land to find out what will dazzle the fans this year. Flying or not, these airplanes are worth a trip to a local show, where you can gawk to your heart’s content.
In the Beginning, There Was Blériot
1909 BlÉriot XI (and other vintage aircraft and reproductions)
Approximately the front third and rear third of Old Rhinebeck’s Blériot was original when it was donated in 1952. It is the oldest airworthy aircraft in the United States.
It has been my honor to fly the Blériot at Old Rhinebeck. Since it has no flying instruments, I have no idea how fast it flies, but would guess around 30 mph. At such slow speeds, the wing warping it uses for roll control is marginally effective. The four-cycle, 35-horsepower engine has a single magneto and starts and runs well, but having only three cylinders, it fires every 240 degrees of rotation—which is to say firing is not the smoothest. Who knows how much horsepower it still produces? The aircraft barely makes enough speed for takeoff, and with its highly cambered airfoil, it seems to levitate as much as fly. In flight it feels like I imagine a butterfly would, affected by the slightest wind change. The margin between stall and level flight is only a couple of knots. I don’t recommend flying the Blériot any higher than you are willing to jump.
The landing gear is nicely sprung on bungees, so the airplane lands graciously. The gear will caster for any drift, which makes for a nice crosswind touchdown, but also a total lack of directional control. On the ground, the airplane cannot be manuevered unless people hold the wingtips.
The Blériot is the worst-flying airplane I have flown, and one of the most satisfying. Sitting in its wicker seat, surrounded by a century of incredible history and patina, I fly it with the same anticipation of the unknown as Louis Blériot must have felt.
-- Hugh Schoelzel, president, Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome Air Shows
- Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, Norton Road, Rhinebeck, New York (Exit 19, New York State Thruway) Shows every Saturday (History of Flight 1909–1939) and Sunday (World War I), June 12 through Oct. 17, 2–4 p.m., weather permitting. Museum open daily 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
When the Raptor Arrives, Look Up
Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor
When the U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor comes to an airshow, static displays don’t cut it; you have to see it fly. Since 2006, U.S. Air Combat Command has been sending its premier air dominance fighter to perform at airshows—12 in 2009—perhaps to build support for adding more F-22s to the inventory. (That dream died with a Senate vote last July to hold production at 187 aircraft.) With thrust-vectoring engines that together produce 70,000 pounds of thrust, the Raptor combines agility and power in an aerobatic display that nothing else on the show circuit can approach. In one of its most breathtaking maneuvers, the F-22 does a vertical climb, pauses and hangs at the top for what seems like seconds, then executes the tightest somersault you’ll ever see a fighter perform. When it resumes flying like a normal airplane, the audience feels a sense of relief, and the pilot gives a wink by cycling the bomb-bay doors.
Demo pilots are fond of saying that the super-maneuverability they exhibit at airshows, while handy in the unlikely case of a dogfight, isn’t the quality that will make the Raptor dominant in combat. What makes it fearsome are its speed, stealth, and networked avionics. What scares adversaries about the F-22? The one that shoots you is not the one you see.
On the ground, don’t try to sneak up behind a Raptor with a camera. In fact, you can’t. The Air Force is very protective of the classified thrust-vectoring hardware in the engine exhaust nozzles. You can only gawk at the Raptor head-on.
- Visit www.acc.af.mil/aerialevents/f22a for updates on where the F-22 will perform.
Love Is a Many-Bladed Wing
1932 Pitcairn PA-18 Autogiro
Over the past 11 years, Jack Tiffany, working with the Leading Edge Aircraft restoration crew in Spring Valley, Ohio, led an effort to return a Pitcairn PA-18, the model Tiffany says was meant to be Everyman’s Autogiro, to flying condition. “Been enamored by autogiros all my lifetime,” Tiffany says. “Evidently as a child I saw one fly at Wright Field when the Army Air Corps was testing them. I was told I saw it fly; I don’t remember!”
What Tiffany restored is a descendant of the aircraft that aeronautical engineer Juan de la Cierva first demonstrated in 1923, when he introduced rotary-wing flight to Spain. Six years later, American aircraft designer Harold Pitcairn purchased the rights to Cierva’s invention, and in the early 1930s he built some 50 autogiros, some for private use, some for the U.S. Navy. Ultimately, the technologies derived from the development of the autogiro gave rise to the practical helicopter.
Tiffany’s stepson first alerted him to the autogiro’s existence in Mojave, California. “We drug the carnage home and pulled it in the shop,” says Tiffany, “and [Leading Edge crew member] Don Siefer put numbered tags on every part and took photographs of it before he’d let us touch it.”
Well before Tiffany even thought he might someday find an autogiro, he called Harold Pitcairn’s son, Steve, looking for drawings. “I told him I’d like to build one. He said, ‘You could not build that airplane without one to look at, even if you have a plan in your hand. It is unbelievably complicated.’ And I’d been building airplanes for 30 years.”
Challenges included identifying, locating, and fabricating parts, virtually all of which were unique to the autogiro. The fuselage required welding repair, and the rotor dampeners had to be rebuilt. “We hunted for the rotor brake—it turned out to be a Crosley brake, and there were a lot of Ford car parts in it too,” says Tiffany. We had the biggest problem with the mast head that the rotor attaches to—it is a weldment, or tubing that is jigged up and welded together at precise tolerances. Nothing was square; it had to lean over a degree and a half, it had to tilt back two degrees, and then it had to be welded to the front and rear mast poles. It was a nightmare; we went to four different machine shops, and all of them threw up their hands and gave it back to us. A machinist in Albuquerque ended up making it.”