Let the Shows Begin!

What’s hot on this summer’s airshow circuit.

At Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, Hugh Schoelzel channels Louis Blériot in the nation’s oldest flying aircraft. (Gilles Auliard)
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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.


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.”

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