Sean D. Tucker asked if I would be willing to make a photo pass with him during the Centennial of Flight Air Show in 2003.  He knew what I would capture...
Photo: Ty Greenlees
Photo: Ty Greenlees

10 times that planes, events and metal dinosaurs took things to a whole new level at the Dayton Air Show

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  F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter is surrounded for its Dayton public debut.
Photo: Ty Greenlees

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. 

Grumman X-29 after arriving at the Dayton Air Show in 1990.
Photo: Ty Greenlees

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.

» READ MORE: 8 things you didn’t know about the Air Force museum

Flanked by two MiG-29 Fulcrums, the Il-76 lead the Russians to Dayton, along with an armed F-16 escort, not pictured.
Photo: Ty Greenlees

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.

Futuristic is probably the best way to describe the Beechcraft Starship business turboprop at the time.  Canard design, pusher propellers, composite construction and a glass control panel.   Only a handfull of these are still flying due to a long list of shortcomings.  But those that still fly them wouldn’t sell them back to Beechcraft.
Photo: Ty Greenlees

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.

U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds at the bottom of a loop in uncharacteristically clear skies in Dayton.
Photo: Ty Greenlees

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Blue Angels in the dirty diamond formation with landing gear and arresting hook lowered.
Photo: Ty Greenlees
Canadian Snowbirds in the line abreast loop.
Photo: Ty Greenlees

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Other years that saw some of the Air Show’s biggest moments:


No fewer than 50 military aircraft packed the ramp after Desert Storm.
Photo: Ty Greenlees

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. 

Lines to see the jet cockpits like this F-15E Strike Eagle were long in 1990.
Photo: Ty Greenlees
F-117A Stealth Fighter was constantly surrounded by aviation enthusiasts in its Dayton debut.
Photo: Ty Greenlees
F-117A Stealth Fighter is towed into position in front of a B-52 Stratofortress as part of the Desert Storm display in 1990
Photo: Ty Greenlees


A sky full of 82nd Airborne soldiers dropped from C-141 Starlifters.
Photo: Ty Greenlees

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.

82nd Airborne troops run past the crowd line after jumping from C-141 Starlifters.
Photo: Ty Greenlees


Gray and green camoflage pattern seen on the belly of Britain’ s Avro Vulcan bomber
Photo: Ty Greenlees

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.


A WWII vintage Sherman tank fires blank rounds at Robosaurus.
Photo: Ty Greenlees

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 formation of three WWII era T-6 Texans loops through a painting-like sunset.
Photo: Ty Greenlees

A Friday night show after the parade was added. A stunning sunset was the backdrop for a balloon glow and formation flights.


Fast, sleek, mysterious, exotic - the SR-71 Blackbird
Photo: Ty Greenlees

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. 


F-104 Starfighters Demo Team screams past the old Emery control tower with full afterburners lit.
Photo: Ty Greenlees

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.