What makes a good airshow or fly-in?

For the month of February, we are going to focus on airshows and fly-ins, so we wanted to ask our readers “What makes a good airshow or fly-in?” What are the elements to success? What do organizers do that make it more enjoyable for you? What detracts from the experience? You can comment below or send your comments to janice@generalaviationnews.com


  1. Kimberly says

    Experience: Oshkosh twice; Wings Over Whiteman once; Milwaukee Air Show once; Peoria Air Show once; Springfield Air Rendevous once; Charlie Wells Memorial Scholarship Breakfast four times.
    The ideal fly-in would include:
    • the local community
    • college groups looking for fundraising opportunities at food stands, as local drivers/tour guides in return for a guaranteed return. (Can’t pay the drivers or for the vehicles, but tipping is allowed)
    • at least two local radio stations having a Battle of the Bands ala live remote, with the winner determined by ‘votes’ of canned goods for local food pantries
    • some sort of formal ceremony honoring veterans, as well as some sort of token of appreciation
    • discounts of minimum 20% at local hotels/motels with pricing based on one guest, regardless of number (subject to local fire codes)
    • at least one example of every sort of flying class, by broad category (homebuilt, bizjet, prop plane, helo, commercial jet, warbird, etc) with someone nearby who can explain about their aircraft
    • lots of ‘loot’ to take home for free. I like all the business supplies I brought home from the Illinois Aviation Trades Conference, but my granddaughters were more impressed by the balsa wood airplanes and stress reliever yo-yos. They have also appreciated the coloring books.
    • postcards, and maybe a Print Station, so that digital photographers could print out on the spot.
    • Pilots willing to autograph photos printed out at the Print Station.
    • Local businesses that are not Aviation-related could still post a banner on the fence, for a fee.
    • directed parking is nice, with or without trams/shuttles
    • maps of where vendors and static displays are located. Might incorporate a scavenger hunt into this idea. Get your map stamped at a certain number of places and either everyone gets a ________ (token prize) or your name goes into a drawing for a _____________(bigger prize, more than one?)
    • a patch. Pins are nice, but I can only fit so many on one hatband. I have a patch jacket that I add to yearly.
    • a commercial jet that included a run-through of an actual flight, including beverage service. (to take place on the ground)

    And now I am going to go hide my head in my cast iron Dutch oven, so let the arrows fly.

  2. Kimberly says

    Here is a small thing that might have a wider impact:
    At Oshkosh this past year, I filled out a card and received an AOPA luggage tag, laminated, in return. (I thought they were going to type it in and give me something besides my handwritten, but anyway…)
    I put it on the handle of my purse. Most of the time, the AOPA logo side is up and it is a great conversation starter.
    Why couldn’t you set up a stand where you are making a laminated name tag (one-sided) with my first name and the AOPA logo on it? Someone would surely donate lanyards (I get loads from the military recruiters just by explaining what I want them for). If this was a first stop, just inside the gate of the event, and people are coming and going (as in the case of a 2 day event) or could request them ahead (as in the case of the AOPA Fly-ins), outsiders might notice and ask “What’s that all about?”

  3. says

    I have been a part of organizing small fly-in’s over the past 17 years and my hat is off to those that are behind the scenes making the events work. We were invited present at the forums during the Sebring LSA Expo and I was impressed with the organization spearheaded by Mr. and Mrs. Filip. Developing a core of dedicated volunteers is ultra important. The fly-in’s I have been involved are centered around aircraft flying into the event, seminars, vendors, flight training and good food. At one event this year we added music and hands on workshops to the agenda and it was a hit. We work hard to keep the event fresh with good activities and programs. Sponsorship is a specialty all in itself, requiring the right person for the job. Great question!

  4. says

    Good comments. I would like to respond to one point that has come up several times. At Copperstate, we have just about everything people have asked for. Our parking is a bit of a walk but we have trams to pick you up. You never have to wait more than maybe two or three minutes for the next one. We have rental cars available at the terminal and we have buses to take you to your hotel down town (about 3 miles). We also have several food vendors. We spend thousands each year on an exhibitor tent plus we have displays outside. We have a shower and bathroom trailer for the campers plus dozens of portable potties.
    Because we elected to not have a control tower this last year (cost), we could not have any control over aircraft in the air. They could still do the fly-bys and we had a guy with an antique bi-plane giving paid rides. I think we had about 350 planes fly in. All types.
    We are starting our planning right now for this coming show in October. We have just about everything we need…
    Except more people interested in aviation!
    The point I would like to address is having non-aviation exhibitors. I am encouraging it. But with limits. I am a great believer in crossover marketing. I want to encourage exhibitors to come who offer products that someone with an aircraft or who is building an aircraft might be interested in. This would include anyone who offers materials, services such as powdercoating, metal sales, etc. We do have real estate folks selling airport property and package resort sales. I would like maybe a trailer company, motor home dealer, and a hobby store offering RC model aircraft. Anything that a pilot AND HIS OR HER FAMILY might be interested in. Of course, we do not want parking lot vendors. But, we need to expand a little to include more than just those people who own an airplane.
    The last point is that personally I am trying to build interest in 103. Why? The average person can afford it. Let’s face it. We need to encourage more people to get involved in aviation and 103 is a good door into the sport. Not many newbies are going to say, ” Wow, I think I might like to learn to fly! I’ll take that $150k LSA over there and give it a try.”

    • Greg W says

      Indeed part 103 is likely the least expensive way to fly, they are also extremely fun as well. A problem is that many in aviation are quite derisive to any flying that is not what they do and the less expensive the more derided it is. The aviation ” community” is so fractured that we will likely watch personal flying disappear as we will not work together to help each other stay in the game. It is great to read that Copperstate is trying to be all inclusive. Other motor sports are also a good fit with aviation including cost ( with used acft. or new 103’s). Here in northern Michigan a new snowmobile is not expensive at $10k+, but an ultralight at $5k is thought out of range, a boat at $30k+ is okay yet the $25k airplane is not. It is all about choices and the aviation industry tends to say that if not the newest and most advanced ($$$) it is not the thing to have, so the less expensive options are ignored or unknown by many.

  5. Brett S says

    A couple thoughts which I didn’t see addressed …

    I find it is often very difficult to find information about fly-ins, and for smaller airshows. When I look for information I go to one place: the internet. Whatever your event is called, if I type it into Google, there should be a link to a decent web page on that first page of results. Sometimes there is nothing to be found, or I can find a site, but am not quite sure if I’m reading info about this year’s fly-in or last decade’s fly-in.

    If I am forced to pick up the phone and call the airport (oh the humanity!) there should be good information available. I went to my very first fly-in as a private pilot last summer at a southern Maine field. When I called the airport they had almost no information, including whether or not a NOTAM or TFR would be issued the day of the event. In the end it worked out, and the event was much bigger and more interesting than I expected. But, to attract newer and younger pilots, organizers need to make it easier to understand how to be involved.

  6. Edwin Nass says

    Solid organization with good parking flow, reasonable cross section of reasonably priced food vendors, well placed viewing areas, wide variety of performers, good restroom facilities, an a strong effort to promote aviation.

  7. says

    “What makes a good Air$how (profit?) or Fly-In (non-profit*) – one that makes MONEY – so a BIGGER and BETTER one can be held the following year”!
    * “Sorry Vern, the pancakes aren’t FREE but the syrup is”! And Herman; you CAN bring your own BYOSP (six-pack!)

  8. says

    Airshows and fly-ins are to often used as synonyms but the truth is that you can have a great airshow as part of a fly-in or as a stand alone event and the same holds true for fly ins. Heck my favorite fly-in doesn’t have an airshow and I am an airshow pilot!

    So what makes a great Fly-In?:

    First off it needs to be a FLYING fly-in where pilots feel comfortable just flying around the patch, and better yet hopping a ride while they are doing it. In fact, rides hopping should be encouraged!

    Reasonably priced admission/camping fees: There is NO fly-in if people don’t fly in. Remember that.

    Some form of toilets and showers.

    Available, reasonably priced, and reasonably healthy food and drink: Its damn near impossible to bring a few days worth of food and drink + camping stuff, etc in a small airplane, esp if every seat (that could be just one seat ya know) is filled. Having a pub for nighttime activities is pretty nice too.

    Vendor space should be for aviation related stuff only.

    By the way, all of the good stuff above describes Blakesburg to a “T”, it’s heaven on earth to me.

    Now Airshows!!!:

    A great announcer is a must. Remember that airshows are held for the non-flying public, they don’t know what they are seeing and do need, and want, to be told. A great announcer has a broad base of aviation knowledge and a gift for gab, but they need to know when to talk and when to be quiet, and to check their ego at the gate. I have seen a poor announcer ruin a great act by talking about themselves instead of doing their job. Conversely, a great announcer can make a mediocre act seem great.

    Variety of acts is absolutely essential! It doesn’t matter how awesome an act is, it is human nature to get bored seeing the same thing over and over. Every show needs at least one hard core act, a smoke and noise act, and a comedy act. (Full disclosure, my main airshow gig is a comedy act). Ideally a show will also feature a warbird and a formation act, and maybe a jet truck too. If a show has enough money for several acts the order of flight should keep the concept of variety first and foremost.

  9. Colleen says

    I think it depends on the Airshow really. A conference style show like Sun-N-Fun and Oshkosh should offer a wide and varying selection of aviation related options from the newest technologies to classic and historical. Something like a local fly in should pick a theme and base their options around that theme. What gets tricky is the mid level airshows like your Manassas, VA airshow that are too large to pull of a local FBO style mom and pop Airshow but not big enough to garner support for an Andrews AFB sized show.

    The key is to have a strong sense of vision for what you want your Airshow to accomplish. Is it profit? Is it education? Is it showing off the latest and newest aviation technologies and toys? Is it just to get a bunch of people together to swap stories? Or is it to reenact the barnstorming days of old? Once you have leadership and vision, you can market and try to obtain your sponsorship and advertisers. You need to garner the support of your local community to succeed and remember, what you as a pilot thinks is “so cool!” may not appeal to a non-aviator.

    Personally, I like a little of it all. I attend Sun-N-Fun each year and I volunteer for a local barnstorming Airshow. What I do prefer is cohesion over loosely thrown together.

  10. Jeff J says

    A good airshow is one I can attend with my family, where there is adaquate food available, adaquate seating available, there are enough toilets / facilities, and where the entertainment is on-par with what was promoted / advertised.

  11. Peter says

    I prefer the fly-in to the airshow due to the personal, hands on, meet and greet experience with both planes and pilots. I think if there was more of a personal approach to the airshows it would be by far a winner. Let us get amongst the planes and really see and appreciate them.

  12. Keith Freeman says

    Being very negative – this is what I *don’t want*.

    Quite a few years ago, in Sardinia an airshow was announced. The hotel where we were staying was also putting up a bevy of military pilots who were friendly and told us they expected to be able to put on a good show.

    We drove to the airport terminal – found we were the wrong side (BAD OR NO DIRECTION SIGNS). Drove around and got to where the car park/entry was for the airshow. Had to queue to get in (which was expected and not a problem). Having got in the parking was reasonably well organised (a good point!). Airshow started at 11am – we, even after the detour, were there about that time.

    There were a few stalls – worthy of attention for ten minutes or so. Thereafter we stood and waited. About noon ONE micro light took off and flew sedately up and down for a couple of circuits and then landed. After another half hour we gave up and went off… there was NO FOOD facilities, NO REFRESHMENTS facilities (on a pretty hot day) and NO ACTION.

    That’s a list of what I don’t want! If you can’t get at or anywhere near parked aircraft (all on the other side of the runway) then at least give the onlookers SOMETHING to occupy their time before and between flying (and have SOMETHING flying from shortly after the official opening.

    Talking, in the evening, to the fighter jocks they told me they had been told the airshow was from 3pm!!!

    That kind of organisation almost put me off going to airshows – and you can well imagine the effect it had on my wife who’s only a reluctant attendee at the best of times.


  13. says

    At the Flying Circus Airshow we believe in focus, and we focus on the fun of barnstorming. All of our airplanes are antiques from the Golden Age of Aviation through WWII. We strive to be entertaining with flying demonstrations, aerobatics, death defying wing walkers, classic comedy routines and more. There are plenty of airshows and fly-ins that have the same line-up, static displays, fly bys and modern aerobatics and I really enjoy them. But we are the only ones that I know of where you can buy an aerobatic ride in an antique Stearman.

  14. says

    GA News, thanks for asking this question and being one of our long time corporateo supporters. I’m one of the team of volunteers who’ve been putting on the VA Festival of Flight; 18th year coming up May 31-June 1 at KSFQ, the Suffolk Executive Airport in Suffolk, VA. We struggle each year to make this a pilot friendly and attractive event. It takes an amazing amount of time and effort months beforehand to put on a diverse event which includes the elements you see at the large civilian fly-ins: forums, workshops, aviation product vendors, aircraft vendors, kid activities, Young Eagles and Eagles flights, food vendors and pancake breakfasts, fly-bys, and an aerobatic air show. We are a two-day event, so after all this work we can be nailed by the weather as we were last year with windy, IFR conditions. Unfortunately, it does cost money to put on such an event. We’ve found it to be very difficult getting sponsors, especially the big names because of our size. Therefore, we must have a gate fee for the drive-ins, and a smaller fee for the fly-ins to pay for a professional air show, tent rental, Port-a-Poties, advertising, golf cart rental, food for volunteers, WiFi on the field and more. This year we have contracted with the marvelous Tuskegee Airmen to bring their red tractor trailer museum, present special school kids programs the prior three days, and bring the Red Tail P-51. The fee for this is many $1000 of dollars and so far we haven’t convinced sponsors to step up to the plate to cover the cost fully. We’ve studied other airshows and fly-ins and see no magic bullet to provide the things so many pilots and the aviation pubic like, without major sponsor support, vendor fees and entrance fees. But we keep trying to please a wide range of aviation oriented people. Out volunteer registration site is open now!

    • Michael Dean says

      Oh, by the way… Things I DON’T want to see at airshows/fly-ins.

      Vendor booths for: Ginsu Knives, Miracle in-soles, any kind of cookware, silly hanging chairs, cheap junk jewelry, or anything else NOT having to do with aviation.

    • says

      I wanted to let you know of an fly-in at our airport in Manning South Carolina. We offer a breakfast which you will not forget. Just the best and a lot of it. Afterwards you can enjoy talking to all the other pilots and sharing your experiences. This is truly a fly-in not to be missed. We are located at SC41.

  15. Ray says

    Military base shows are good (was based at Cherry Point MCAS) But Grass roots fly-ins are best. And the best by far is Triple Tree Aerodrome in Woodruf SC. every september! Look it up, this will be my fifth year in attendance and it get’s better every year.

  16. says

    As a member of the board for the Copperstate Fly-in which is held each year about the third week in October in Casa Grande, AZ, I would like to hear as many comments as possible. This last year we did not have an FAA control tower. Everything went smooth. We had no organized in air activities. Everything was on the ground. We are currently in meetings to make decisions for this upcoming year.
    The big question has always been, “Who is our market?” Is it the pilots and owners or is it the general public who is interested in aviation. Because part of what we are is education, we try to include as many student activities as possible.
    Personally, I am 103 so I am trying to build that part of the mix.
    Any ideas, suggestions or observations would be greatly appreciated.

    • Michael Dean says

      Diversity of aircraft, from Ultralights to Warbirds. Vintage to latest/greatest. Educational and/or entertaining (they aren’t always one-in-the-same) seminars. Of course good food, at reasonable prices.

      And one thing I really miss at AirVenture is the parade of this, that, and the other thing. When I first started going, 20+ years ago, the morning was filled with parade fly-bys, with narration. Vintage, homebuilts, LSA, sea-planes, etc. They don’t do much of that anymore. Unless, of course, it’s a info-mercial for HondaJet.

  17. Chris Fraser says

    I think a fly in like Blakesburg is the best, old airplanes, friendly, like minded people, and a laid back atmosphere.

  18. Ray L Rivera says

    This area’s premier airshow/fireworks display (Thunder Over Louisville, the three-week prelude to activities leading up to the KY Derby in May) has evolved over the years – and not exactly for the better. The Blue Angels are scheduled to participate in this year’s airshow, making it more attractive. Otherwise it’s usually the same parade of military aircraft flybys and the same civilian air performers.

    On Saturday mornings before Thunder (the airshow starts at 3PM Eastern) the KY Air National Guard base would have an open house static display of all military aircraft participating in the airshow. This changed forever on 9/11. It’s still possible to see some civilian aircraft used in the show at Bowman Field (KLOU), about five miles away from Standiford (KSDF) and the KYANG apron, but the static display at KYANG is no longer allowed.

  19. Greg W says

    I agree with Michael, I prefer the “fly in”,lots of aircraft flying at an operating airport. The “airshow” with closed airspace aerobatics and jet powered trucks “racing” airplanes down the runway is just not for me.
    To promote aviation and the airport, a FLY-IN.
    To entertain the general public and make gate receipts once a year, the AIRSHOW.
    So what does your airport want to do?

  20. Jerry Morris says

    A loaded question indeed. I’m an Airshow pilot and attend 15 to 20 shows a year ranging from AirVenture to Halls, TN. big or small, I love the sounds and excitement of them all.

    Watching the extreme aerobatics of Sean Tuckerm, Mike Goulian or Skip Stewart never ceases to amaze me. My personal favorites are the graceful types like John Mohr and Matt Younkin. To me, that is aerobatics at its best. Of course, I’m also extremely biased toward formation aerobatics.
    And can you beat the excitement of the Jet teams?

    I guess what I’m saying is for me a good Airshow is a diverse Airshow. A mixed bunch of acts, not to long, very well timed and no dead time.

    Overthepast 7 years I’ve been involved in almost 100 shows and the crowds have a pretty long attention span if the shows mixed up a bit. Good announcing keeps them involved and different type of acts from jets to jet powered tricks keep them on their feet.

    Where else can you get a days worth of excitement and fun for usually free or a very low admission? Airshows keep the no flying public involved in a small in supporting our very valuable industry.

  21. Bruce Wright says

    The must be a large number of aircraft (50+): mostly new LSAs, a few warbirds, and military. I also look for product demonstrations and hands-on experiences (e.g., painting, composites, welding, woodworking). Pilot seminars can be good (flying with an Pad, tips on keeping your medical), but no FAA bulls#!^. NOBODY wants to hear another government goon say; “I’m from the FAA, and I’m here to help you”.

  22. Michael Dean says

    Wow. Now there’s a loaded question. I suspect you’re going to get a wide range of answers.

    Personally, (and I know I’ll catch some flack for this) I don’t particularly care for “airshows”. While I certainly appreciate the training, practice, and commitment, that acro pilots exhibit, to me one tumbling airplane looks pretty much like every other tumbling airplane. (Besides… my stomach isn’t THAT strong.)

    What I prefer are the quite, grass-roots, type fly-ins. Where one can sit and enjoy the company of like-minded aviators, Or walk the line and admire the varied examples of aircraft.

    And, of course, how can anyone not love the $106 pancake breakfast? (By the way, speaking of pancake breakfasts… the best in the would [My opinion. But I stand by it. ] takes place every Father’s Day – June 15th this year – in Palmyra, WI (88C). Plan to be there.)

  23. Bob says

    First – the announcers MUST know what they’re talking about & stop talking to hear themselves talk. most are more distracting than entertaining. Less can be more.
    Second – diversity of acts. 4 monoplane with era similar routines is boring to anyone.
    Third – quality of acts. people can tell a so – so act.

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