Doing an Air Show...Like a Pro (Part 1)
It’s approaching summer, which for many of us around Air Force bases means that it’s approaching Air Show season. Cue the groans, the whining, the excuses (all coming from me). Growing up in California, I’ve hated going to car shows, motorcycle shows, and air shows for over 30 years. It’s a birthright.
I thought when I moved out of California my "sunburned in a parking lot" days were over - I was young! I didn't realize that Sexy Air Force Guys are often Secret Airplane Nerds. I was naive!
I've been to around 50 air shows in the last 17 years - not so much for a fan, but it's a lot for somebody that isn't really into it. So, I have a lot of tips for other people who want to try and have fun at an airshow even though they'd rather be at home eating cheesecake.
There are three big bullet points, and I'm going to explore them in two different posts.
- Do your research. The more you know about something, the more you will be interested in it, the more you will engage in it, and the more opportunities will be opened up.
- Commit to doing it "as if" you loved it. Things might get be hokey and boring - and if you go into it with that attitude, you will certainly be proved right.
- Be prepared. There are a lot of accoutrements that will make your day a lot more enjoyable and will enable you to appreciate the atmosphere and entertainment.
Do Your Research
- Make sure that you know your venue. If you're like me, your husband is super-stoked about getting the tickets but is totally uninterested in the logistics: there are no details on parking, schedule, weather, food concessions. It's okay. You got this.
- Spend 20 minutes on Google and figure out where exactly the airshow will be held - they're often in the back of an airport with weird entrances. If the show location is nearby, give it a dry-run the day before to see if you can find a faster route, and to check out the parking situation.
- Understand the parking lot system. Airshow parking is notoriously far off - like 1-3 miles away from the viewing area. Often, for $10-20 more you can park in a VIP lot - with a full car that's only $2-5 extra per person - and you will save that in whining kids and sore feet. I've seen some geniuses bring Razor scooters for their kids so they can zip from the parking lot and also around the actual show. Brilliant!
- But the most important part is to find the airshow's complete daily schedule - do it on your smart phone and then take a screenshot of it since phone reception will probably be very poor on the tarmac.
This schedule is your key to success. First, it tells me that the show starts at 10.40 - so I want to show up at around 10.10 to give myself time to set up, which means that I need to be parked at 9.45 to give myself time to walk to the viewing area (and yes, that's from the preferred parking). I never buy grandstand seats (no shade, you're stuck in a seat on bleachers) so showing up a little early to get a good location is key.
I also can tell from this schedule that I can just write off any chances of doing anything else that day. If I try and angle to show up around noon and leave by two, I'm going to waste a lot of money and effort and bum out my husband. And now that I've emotionally committed to spending my day here, I can also commit to not planning anything else that day - and make sure that our family calendar the for the day after reads "ALL DAY: MOM EATING CHEESECAKE AT HOME, ALONE" just in case there are questions later.
But the best part of the schedule is that it tells you what planes are going to be featured - in this case it's a historical aviation focus which is a best-case scenario. I don't know very much about any of these airplanes, but with this schedule I can start looking them up - my secret is to pick five of the planes and then research them online: we were stationed in Hawaii, so I'm going to choose Zeros, the P-40, the B-25 Mitchell, the Spitfire and the P-41 - all those sassy little planes from WWII.
I like to get through unpleasant tasks by setting timers on my iPhone. I set a 6-minute timer for each plane and just try and collect as much information as I can. When the timer went off, even mid-sentence, I moved on to the next plane.
Here's an example of how a little research created a better experience: I learned that after Pearl Harbor, the Zeros were a complete mystery - in the 1940s there was so little contact between America and Asia and intelligence systems in the Pacific were rudimentary at best. The Japanese pilots had been fighting against the Chinese forces for years and so the Americans were suddenly facing a professional air force with this brand new technology. The image of our 18, 19, 20 year old American soldiers and sailors watching helplessly on the ground during the Pearl Harbor attacks, watching these airplanes - it's almost like Independence Day.
But knowing this fact and then seeing these Zeros zoom across the sky - they're shockingly smooth, so elegant. I don't know enough about planes to describe how they move differently, but they are just graceful and ominous. It gave me goosebumps.
So, it's really hard to be interested in wingspan or fuel capacity, but a little research will help you attach a human story to every machine. Making a conscious effort to become emotionally invested is the best way to enjoy yourself.
The best part of researching a few planes, though, is the opportunity to hear first-hand accounts of flying in those planes during the war. Most airshows have static displays provided by veterans' groups, flying clubs and air museums, and the majority of guides are veterans who flew in that plane. When you take 30 minutes to learn about a handful of the planes, you'll probably find something you're genuinely interested in asking about and the guides seem to really appreciate that you took the time to learn about their plane and ask them about their experiences.
The vets who volunteer as public ambassadors are great at interpreting their experiences for various age-groups and all of the stories we heard were funny (many stories involve the pratfalls of being 18), exciting (lots of miscommunications and malfunctions), and poignant (how did these men go from being a farmboy in Iowa to the caves of Iwo Jima?)