Viewport: That's Entertainment
- By J.R. Dailey
- Air & Space magazine, May 2001
In this issue we celebrate the return of the airshow season, which kicks off every spring and runs through November. Airshows showcase aircraft and pilots while providing excitement and education for millions of people. The International Council of Airshows estimates that up to 18 million people will attend airshows throughout North America this year—a staggering figure that reveals how appealing it is for many people to sit back and enjoy this unique form of entertainment.
In this issue, you'll read about how the Lockheed F-104 has become one of the hottest additions to the airshow circuit. The Museum's F-10—a rare example of a Starfighter that saw service with NASA—was not acquired because of its airshow role (although we can now add that to the type's list of accomplishments), but our collection does include several aircraft that represent the best of what airshows have offered for nearly 100 years. Some of these--the Curtiss Pusher, the Blériot XI, and the Wright Vin Fiz—flew at exhibitions before World War I. The Golden Age of flight is represented by Al Williams' Curtiss Gulfhawk I and Grumman Gulfhawk II, Woody Edmondson's Monocoupe 110, and Bevo Howard's Bücker Bü 113 Jungmeister, first flown in the 1930s in Germany by European aerobatic pilots.
Betty Skelton performed at airshows in the late 1940s and early 1950s in her Pitts S-1C Little Stinker (and also won the Feminine Aerobatic Championship in it for three years running), and today, you'll see a Pitts at just about every airshow around the country. Art Scholl's de Havilland DHC-1A Chipmunk thrilled airshow audiences and served as an aerial platform for motion picture and TV cameras. Patty Wagstaff flew her Extra 260 in countless airshows while also competing; she became the first woman to win the title of National Aerobatic Champion. Each of these aircraft—and the story of its legendary pilot—has a place in our collection.
Three recent acquisitions add to the collection's legacy of airshow artifacts: aerobatic champion Leo Loudenslager's Laser 200, the Rockwell Shrike commander flown by Bob Hoover, and the Pepsi Skywriter, a Travel Air D4D that has been writing "PEPSI" in smoke since 1931. We are pleased to be able to preserve these historic aircraft, which have delighted the public for many years. Only the Curtiss Pusher, the Blériot XI, and Patty Wagstaff's Extra 260 are on display right now, but they will be joined this fall by a temporary exhibit of the Pitts S-1C Little Stinker and the Laser 200. The other artifacts in the magnificent collection will be displayed so that they appear to "fly" at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, now under construction at Dulles Airport.
Our curators attend airshows to identify aircraft that might be suitable additions to our collection. Recently, the Museum has also exhibited at airshows to let the public know aboutt the Udvar-Hazy Center. This summer we'll attend the Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and we hope you'll stop by and visit us. Throughout the summer and fall, if you attend any of the airshows around the country, you may see a performance by the next addition to our collection.
—J.R. Dailey is the director of the National Air and Space Museum.