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
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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.