Guide to the Great

A performer searches the airshow circuit for this season’s top acts.

Erik Hildebrandt (Erik Hildebrandt)
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Pull up your lawn chair for a front row seat at the airshow. Here are eight examples of top acts you’ll see this summer. (Click here to download a schedule of 2007 shows in PDF format.) Some are old favorites, some have new airplanes, some you’ve never seen, but all are outstanding entertainers.

Patty Wagstaff

Cirrus Extra 300S

Patty Wagstaff is famous for getting right down to business, so on takeoff she pops her red and white Extra off the ground into a neck-wrenching roll, then pushes it around into an inverted turn. She keeps up a steady stream of motion from start to finish.

Wagstaff is a three-time U.S. National Aerobatic Champion, a world-level competitor, and the winner of a multitude of awards. When you watch her fly, you see not only the energy that drove her to her championships, but also her sense of fun. Duane Cole, an aerobatic legend, once described her style as “out there killing snakes.”

She turns technically precise flying into art and adds complicated details to make the maneuvers more exciting, such as a perfectly level, 360-degree turn with snap rolls all the way around. Her eight-sided loop with rolls on each line looks like a braided stop sign. “It’s fun because it’s tricky,” she says.

“It’s boring to just do a half Cuban eight,” says Wagstaff, “so I like to add rolls, so I’m rolling all the time.”

Her airplane is similar to a production model Extra 300S, but with a

bigger rudder. It has a 350-horsepower Lycoming engine, a 4,000-feet-per-minute rate of climb, and a 420-degree-per-second roll rate.

Red Baron Pizza Squadron, 2007

With the Red Baron Pizza Squadron, there’s the grandeur of four red and white Stearmans looping across the airfield, and then there’s the noise — a quartet of radials, 1800-hp worth of Pratt & Whitney growls, that build to a crescendo as the airplanes loop closer and closer in their formations, then erupt into more agile pairs.

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