Dayton Air Show: 50th anniversary event showcases Birthplace of Aviation

Dale Ross, former chamber military manager, recalls those first days

The CenterPoint Energy Dayton Air Show marks its 50th anniversary this year, a journey that started from relatively humble beginnings at a small county airport.

A witness to those beginnings, Dale Ross was sitting in his office at the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce in 1974 when it was suggested that a public “General Aviation Day” fly-in event move from the municipal airport in Miami Twp. (today known as Dayton Wright Brothers Municipal Airport) to the airport north of Interstate 70 — Dayton International Airport.

“Well,” Ross recalled replying, “let’s check it out.”

What became the Dayton Air Show has been at Dayton International since. Last summer, the show set a record attendance with some 85,000 attendees over two days, surpassing the 2022 record attendance mark of about 83,000.

Ross, who lives near the Dayton Mall, will celebrate his 82nd birthday soon. As the chamber’s aviation and military affairs manager, he was a key member of the team involved in coordinating the show’s first four years. He also served at what today is the Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, as an Air Force Reserve officer.

Ross had only the vaguest idea of what putting on an air show meant.

“I didn’t know what that entailed,” he said. “I was new.”

Birthplace of Aviation

If one counts spectators gawking at the Wright Brothers’ formative flights above Huffman Prairie, air shows have been a Dayton-area specialty for more than a century.

Residents could watch planes flying above McCook Field north of downtown Dayton in the 1920s. What was Dayton Municipal Airport (now Dayton International) hosted the 1953 National Aircraft Show. And for years, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base held an annual open house.

But the starting point for the Dayton Air Show has been pinpointed to an “Aviation Days” showcase at the Miami Twp. airport in 1974.

The chamber set up an independent board to oversee the event, and what started as a public “fly-in” at the municipal airport grew into an air show of national renown.

“We had great expectations,” Ross said.

Over the years, the local show has routinely appeared in readers polls and on national rankings of the “best” air shows. Each summer’s event attracts aviation writers and fans from across the country.

From the start, the Dayton event had a not-so-secret weapon — its proximity to a growing and increasingly important Air Force base.

“This show is heavily dependent on the military,” Ross said. “That’s what makes this show go. Because Wright-Patterson (Air Force Base) supports it.”

As an officer, Ross could bridge the civilian world and the “top brass” at Wright-Patterson.

Companies also supported the event. Ross recalled that General Motors typically provided cars to Thunderbirds and Blue Angels pilots. By the 1976 show, Ross recalled having 70 golf carts for volunteers and vendors.

“We had a truly community-wide event, because people, I think, were really proud of their city, and people wanted an identity to their city,” Ross said. “People jumped into the activity.”

Histories of the show say early performers included area pilots such as Harold Johnson and Bob Wagner, both with ties to Moraine.

Twenty-six-year-old Pat Wagner, a wing walker, and her husband Bob, who piloted a Boeing Stearman biplane, were one of the acts that helped draw crowds to that 1975 show at Dayton International.

The couple’s “girl on a wing stunt,” as it was described in a 1975 Dayton Daily News article, was a high-flying stunner.

Today, the Dayton show is one of the few national events that can count on the participation of the two chief military flight demonstration teams, the Air Force Thunderbirds and the Navy Blue Angels. This year, the Blue Angels are the headliners.

Other acts reliably expected to appear are the U.S. Army Golden Knights, an Air Force F-16 Viper Demo, a C-17 Globemaster III, the Tora! Tora! Tora! reenactment of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and many others.

The show will also have a MQ-9 Reaper drone as a static display at the show for the first time.

The anniversary show represents staying power, Ross said.

“I think that’s the thing I’m most proud of,” he said. “Something of this caliber has lasted this long and brought this kind of prosperity and recognition to Dayton.”

“This air show puts longevity and vibrancy into Dayton’s aviation heritage, as does the museum (the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force),” he added.


50 years of the Dayton Air Show

The Dayton Daily News will have coverage of the CenterPoint Energy Dayton Air Show through next Sunday.

Inside today: Building relationships has made the show a success and photo coverage of past shows. Page A???

Monday: Volunteers, media coverage help make show go

Tuesday: Air flight invention here reason for Dayton Air Show

Wednesday: History of the air show

Thursday-Sunday: Live coverage of acts at the show

Dayton 2024 CenterPoint Energy Dayton Air Show Presented by Kroger

How to go

When: June 22-23. Gates open at 9 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Air show organizers ask visitors to arrive early. Expect large crowds and heavy traffic.

Tickets: Go to daytonairshow.com. There is no call booth. Tickets include general admission parking.

Where: East side of Dayton International Airport: For general admission parking, take the Northwoods Boulevard exit from Interstate 75 and follow the signs.

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