Five Things is our regular feature to review the airshows that we attend. You already know that the performers were great, so instead of recapping who flew what, we want to jump straight to the most notable moments or stories; things that would remain in your head on the drive home and for a long time afterward.
Airshow: Cleveland National Airshow
Location: Cleveland, OH
1) Good to be Back
If there is one story about the Cleveland National Airshow, it is certainly the simple fact that it happened. When the sequestration budget cuts took effect last year, the show made the difficult decision to cancel. Many other shows have simply disappeared after ‘one time’ cancellations, so fans were rightfully worried that the airshow might never return. The 2013 show season never felt complete without the long weekend party in Cleveland to act as the big finale.
The situation was complicated further by the fact that the original 2014 Blue Angels schedule listed Cleveland as being the weekend after Labor Day, with the holiday weekend instead being occupied by the Selfridge ANGB Airshow near Detroit. Cleveland has always been a Labor Day weekend event, and having three full show days is a big part of the atmosphere. The prospect of holding it on a two day weekend was less than thrilling, especially since Selfridge would not have held a show on Monday, effectively wasting the long weekend. Luckily, Selfridge and Cleveland swapped dates and all was back to normal. After so much doubt about the future of the show, the Blue Angels roaring over downtown was an immensely pleasing sign that the “last hurrah” of summer would be a great one.
2) Static Display Disappointment
Unfortunately not everything was back to normal. With the previous Cleveland show taking place in 2012, memories of military statics and demos were still fresh in the minds of many. Cleveland has typically gotten numerous training and fighter aircraft as well as multiple military cargo aircraft to fill the large portion of tarmac near the show’s main gate. This year no such aircraft were on display, as has become the norm, and the casual airshow attendees had a hard time accepting it. Even seasoned fans who knew what to expect were a bit taken aback by the suddenly empty space that used to be filled. The show did their best to fill it, trotting out many general aviation aircraft and dedicating a bit of the formerly static display ramp space to Blue Angel parking, bringing the jets closer to the crowd than ever. They even secured a CT-156 Harvard II and a CT-155 Hawk from the Canadian Forces. United Airlines, which has historically brought a 737 in for static display, also filled a bit more ramp space this year by bringing an ERJ-145 as well. Overall it was a good effort by the organizers to make up for the bad situation so many shows have found themselves in.
3) Drone Debut
If drones are the future of airshows, then the future is here. For the first time, Cleveland featured a drone demonstration put on by the Northern Ohio Unmanned Aircraft Systems Association. Contrary to the stale “Thunderbirds flying Predators” joke, these were civilian UAVs that are currently on the market. The demonstration itself was extremely similar to the RC model aircraft demonstration that traditionally opens the show each day. Several groups of pilots stood near the runway, operating various types of drones to display their immense potential in many roles. Several large fixed wing drones flew preprogrammed search patterns to simulate a search and rescue mission. At the same time, some quad- and octocopters hovered in place as the announcers explained the benefits of such airborne video platforms. Yet another set of drones simulated delivery missions, including dropping a first aid kit under parachute. The goal of the demonstration was a noble one; to introduce the public to real drones in order to provide a counter point to the demonization of them in the media. The announcers were careful to point out that they have no desire to invade anyone’s privacy, and that the safe and responsible use of drones could herald the start of the next boom industry. If it does, this year’s airshow may indeed be one for the history books.
4) A Poor Man’s Mustang Demo
This year’s show also featured some regular visitors in a new way. Four different Titan T-51 Mustangs were on display at the show, with two on static and two flying in the show. The T-51 is a 3/4 scale, kit-built P-51 replica that is manufactured in Austinberg, OH, not far from Cleveland. These aircraft have participated in the show before, but this year saw the debut of a two-ship dogfight routine, which saw both aircraft twisting and turning quite nimbly. Unlike some dogfight routines that require long turnarounds, the aircraft were agile enough to stay in front of the crowd the entire time – a big plus when watching an act of this type. The coolest part was the dogfight’s conclusion; as the vanquished aircraft trailed smoke, it made a dramatic dive to the ground. By cleverly hiding behind the slightly raised ground across the runway from the crowd, the aircraft was able to skim the Lake Erie water and disappear from view completely. Just after it slipped out of view, a pyro blast was set off to simulate a crash. As many in the crowd started to worry, the aircraft climbed back into view and demonstrated its aerobatic capabilities before landing. Some may argue that it’s too morbid to simulate a crash at a show, but it’s not really much different than aerobatic performers diving behind tree lines or hills to disappear from sight.
Both T-51s also returned later in the show as part of the warbird flight. Although some will surely protest that these homebuilt replicas are not worthy of sharing the sky with the B-17, B-25, and TBM, they did a good job illustrating the role of bomber escorts during the war as they formed up on the B-17 “Yankee Lady”. While it surely would have been nicer to have a pair of real P-51s doing the flying, you have to appreciate the ingenuity displayed by having the replicas participate when real Mustangs were probably not an option on the show’s budget.
5) Annoying, Unnecessary, Just Plain Stupid Flags
If you’ve ever been to the Cleveland Airshow, you knew this one was coming. Year after year, the show insists on lining the show line with large flags, a mind-boggling decision that ruins so much of a good thing. The runway at Cleveland is as close as anywhere, and the lighting is near perfect for photos, particularly earlier in the day. Yet instead of allowing spectators to see, let alone photograph, things on or near the runway, the show obscures almost the entire view. It really is inexcusable and it really needs to stop. Unfortunately the show seems completely unaware of the complaints and frustration the flags cause amongst the crowd. It really is infuriating, but hopefully the show finally does away with the flags next year. This amazing event deserves to be flag free!
– Ryan Sundheimer