With the Dayton Air Show returning next weekend, here’s a look at some of its biggest moments:
Two years that immediately stand out are 1990 and 2003:
The 1990 show revealed cutting-edge aircraft, one shrouded in secrecy and another from NASA, a Beechcraft Starship and a visit from the Russians who brought their front-line fighter jets as part of a “Glasnost,” or openness tour.
The Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter made its first public appearance at the Dayton Air Show in 1990 and was, by far, the biggest draw for aviation enthusiasts. Many air show attendees from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base who managed the stealth fighter program got their first glimpse of the Nighthawk at that show.
NASA brought one of two Grumman X-29 supersonic test jets. This odd-looking jet was built to test theories about new (at the time) carbon fiber materials for wings to make them lighter and stronger for better maneuverability. This jet is now on display in the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the thawing of the Cold War had the Russians out on tour with two MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets and an Il-76 transport/support aircraft. MiG chief test pilot Valery Menitsky put on a show with the MiG-29 and its “Cobra” maneuver, making the jet rise up like a cobra. Dayton Daily News reporter Tim Gaffney flew with Menitsky in the MiG following the show, becoming one of the few in the western world to do so.
Beechcraft displayed its aptly named Starship business turboprop as part of the trade show in 1990. This aircraft was built mostly of composite materials instead of aluminum and looked very sleek and unconventional.
The Centennial of Flight Dayton Air Show in 2003 lasted four days and featured the three premier jet teams in North America: The Thunderbirds, the Blue Angels and the Canadian Snowbirds.
Other years that saw some of the Air Show’s biggest moments:
On the heels of Operation Desert Storm, the 1991 air show had the main ramp packed with military aircraft that included a display of captured Iraqi military hardware. More than 50 airplanes ranging in size from the B-52 Stratofortress to OH-58 Kiowa helicopters represented every branch of the Department of Defense.
In 1994, hundreds of paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne filled the sky over the air show as they jumped from C-141 Starlifters and landed along the main runway. The troops then formed up and marched past the showline.
Britain’s main nuclear bomber, the Avro Vulcan, visited the air show in 1980, and I did my best to capture the big delta-winged plane with my Dad’s Voigtlander 35mm rangefinder camera loaded with transparency film.
As air show managers looked for more ways to entertain the crowd, Robosaurus was added into the mix. I was skeptical until I saw the excited faces of the crowd.
A Friday night show after the parade was added. A stunning sunset was the backdrop for a balloon glow and formation flights.
The exotic Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird came to the air show. This jet was the fastest operational aircraft in the world at the time, routinely flying three-times the speed of sound on the edge of space at 80,000 feet. The sleek jet required special equipment for the crew and aircraft alike.
A rare sight for 1998 in the U.S., Starfighters F-104 Demo Team flew a the show with one and two-seat versions that demonstrated the outright speed of this jet nicknamed the missile with a man.