I’ve never been one for camping. Why fight bugs and sit on the ground when there is a…MOTEL….RIGHT….THERE! I have money, let’s go.
But parking your airplane, hopping out onto fresh cut grass, unloading all your camping gear, and then meeting your neighbors while planes fly overhead is a whole new adventure. One that previously I’d been vaguely aware of, but had no real experience prior to our almost camping at Oshkosh last year. This time we’d be on the field and able to experience real camping at a real airshow!
The day of our arrival at Sun N Fun was the first night airshow. I’d read some articles in different airplane magazines about the night airshows when they were first introduced a few years back. Basically they were (insert radio announcer voice) The Greatest Airplane Show in History!
Uh huh. I’m kinda burned out on airshows themselves. They are neat but after a short while all the flips and loops kinda all look the same. The Blue Angels/Thunderbirds/Snow Birds/Viper Demo Team are really awesome, but after you’ve seen them a few times they end up being really just loud. You get jaded. But this night airshow thing was supposed to be cool. I kinda felt like maybe it was more of the same, but the latest new thing and that was all that was really good about it but we’d see.
Last year at Sun N Fun, we were staying offsite. When the day airshow ended, I asked Spork if he wanted to stay for the night airshow. Immediate answer, “Nope.” No interest. We went back to the Air BnB and read a book instead.
But this time, we were onsite with nowhere else to be so we’d be seeing our first night airshow. As the sun started going down, we’d already had dinner, and I’d already had a celebratory small glass of whiskey.
As we sat down in our chairs to await the airshow, the nice breeze that had been blowing started mixing with the lack of sunshine to make things a bit cold. As I started to get chilled I realized I had a warm blanket on the bed right behind me and we’d smartly faced the opening of the tent towards airshow center. I suggested we get in the tent and watch the airshow from there. What followed was the best airshow experience I’ve ever had. We couldn’t hear what the announcer was saying. We didn’t have the airplanes buzzing directly overhead, nor right in front of us. We were 90 degrees off of the display. However, I had a full belly, a glass of adult beverage, my now 6 foot tall son beside me, and a warm blanket over me. I was viewing the airshow through the frame of my tent, which blocked out most of the wind but allowed everything else, sight, sound, smell, to penetrate.
Let me see if I can describe what a night airshow is. I’m not sure who has blackmail pictures of the FAA folks who allowed this, but they must be mighty impressive pictures. So we take an airplane, say a Beech 18.
We place some LED lights on the airplane that flash and chance colors, putting on a nice little light display. Kinda like a flying Christmas tree. That really isn’t a big deal, airplanes already have lights. And LEDs are safe, which is important because this airplane is filled with 100 octane aviation fuel. But wait, there is more.
So an airplane, already lit up by lights, full of fuel, is now trailing 100 foot plus long ribbons of fire. Oh, and it is doing aerobatics. But that would just be boring. What we need are roman candles, shooting off of the sides of the airplane because trails of fire isn’t enough, lets launch fiery projectiles as well, while we are upside down.
I don’t know what alcohol was involved in the conversation when some airshow pilots thought this up, and I have NO CLUE how they got the FAA to approve it, but snuggled in bed watching this airshow I was in awe.
However, prior to this part of the night airshow, we had another memorable event. Remember that Navy crew that did a bit of drawing the sky?
As the show got started there was still some daylight left. The first airplane starts his show, and as you would expect uses smoke to accentuate the loops and rolls he is doing. We are directly downwind. As the smoke drifts our way, my boy says, out of the blue, “That is a terrible penis!”
I immediately realized what he was referencing, and how appropriate and hilarious the comment was. Not all heroes wear capes.
The next day, our neighbor Ken, in his beautiful Beech Bonanza, told us he had scored a ride with the AeroShell flight team. He is a Honda dealer and Honda sponsors the flight team. He was kind enough to share some of the video from his ride. This isn’t just some random video, this is the guy parked next to us going out and doing all this stuff.
Don’t let my text in the video fool you. Ken was EXCITED to go do aerobatics. Me, not so much. But I was excited to hear all about it.
Our neighbors on the other side were a group of pilots who flew for the airlines. We plopped down in their area and started talking, making friends. Turns out one of the guys was part of the interview team for their airline.
“Well sir, my boy here is an aspiring airline pilot. Any interview stories, tips, worst interview experiences, etc. you could share?”
45 minutes later we had a master class in how to interview for the airlines. Aerobatic rides on one side, career tips on the other. Airshows with fire and sparks. None of this is really even part of the regular airshow. You only get it when you camp. Our plan is to go next year and do it again. We had a large time camping at Sun N Fun.