That '70s Airshow
Business, babes, and barnstormers. For awhile, Reading, Pennsylvania, had it all.
- By Roger Mola
- Air & Space magazine, September 2001
(Page 3 of 7)
(Dick Aarons remembers Joe’s: “A mushroom restaurant on the first floor of a Victorian house. Every dish had some component of mushroom and the walls were hung with mushroom portraits. Joe’s martinis were served with a mushroom garnish. It was hard to find a mushroom tough enough to stand up to a martini.”)
“I think exhibitors would return every year for the food and parties, not the airshow,” says Czarnecki. “During show week it was like every night was Saturday, a party. You would have large aviation fuel companies like Texaco and Mobil, airplane design companies. This was the day of the three-martini lunch and no end in budget,” he says.
Cessna’s representative at the 1978 airshow defended such expense to the Reading Air Show Daily News, saying, “There’s talk about the high costs of attending shows like Reading, but our dealers invite prospects here as their guests and show them some of the models that they might not have in stock. We are convinced that the resulting sales more than offset the cost of the [hospitality] program.”
“I don’t remember that we sold anything at Reading,” admits Torch Lewis. “We developed good pros-pects, especially if Bill Lear came. He was a great attraction.”
Former air controller John Cianci speaks in a confident voice known to tens of thousands of pilots as Reading Three. (Those who don’t recognize the voice would be tipped off by his license plates: “RDG-3.”) An area supervisor when he retired from the FAA in 1990, Cianci has amassed a collection of 4,500 photographs taken at Reading shows between 1946 and 1980, news clippings and memorabilia from those years, and a few unusual artifacts. The lights in his basement rec room are controlled by levers on a panel that looks like part of a sound system but is in fact the airfield lighting control panel from the old Reading tower. Switch on Runway 18/36, and runway end indicator lights over the bar come on. What were once runway threshold lights illuminate his front walk.
Cianci was one of 12 full-time controllers at the Reading Airport; during the shows, 20 or more crowded the tower cab. “We would have holding patterns in three locations around Reading,” he explains. “In 1966 there were 118 waiting. [The FAA] had regulations that the whole runway was yours once you got clearance for landing or takeoff and that really backed them up. One pilot finally had to return to Wilmington, Delaware, to refuel.”
That year FAA officials sat in on cab operations and, based on Reading patterns, amended air traffic procedures (ATP) 7110 to apply not just to airshows but to all commercial operations. The procedures thereafter eliminated the need to reserve the entire runway for a single arriving or departing aircraft. For the first time, single-engine Cessnas could arrive in trail at 3,000-foot intervals, or depart when the aircraft ahead was 2,500 feet down the runway.
The tower was the best seat in the house for flight demonstrations, which filled the afternoons and were interrupted only long enough to allow Allegheny Airlines to fly its scheduled runs to the airport. Each commercial product was alotted a six-minute slot for display, though exhibitors could buy two slots and fly for 12 minutes. Airshow star Bob Hoover demonstrated Rockwell’s Aero Commander. “Reading was Hoover’s first civilian airshow,” says Breithaupt. “He was young and we took a chance, and paid him cash on top of Rockwell’s fee. As a Commander dealer, we always had a plane on the rack for him.”