While many industries have some difficulty identifying a single date that serves as their absolute moment of conception, that is not the case for the air show business. It was January 1910 when aviation enthusiasts gathered at the Dominquez Air Meet in southern California. The event drew an estimated 175,000 spectators to a hilltop mesa outside of Los Angeles to watch aviation pioneers showcase their aircraft and create a new kind of entertainment industry.
The Los Angeles air meet was the first of three major air shows in 1910. September would feature the Harvard-Boston Aero Meet in Atlantic, Mass. that included the Wright Brothers and aviation pioneers Glenn Curtiss and Claude Grahame-White, dispersing $90,000 in fees and prizes and featuring a mock bombing run where plastic bombs were dropped on warships.
New York held the Belmont Aviation Tournament from Oct. 22-31, 1910. It was an event of historic proportions that featured an altitude duel in which Ralph Johnstone ascended to a record height of 9,714 feet, a precision landing event won by Charles Hamilton, and, finally an air race from Belmont across New York Harbor, around the Statue of Liberty, and back to Belmont. Using new navigational equipment, pilot John Moisant flew to victory.
Considering that the first manned, powered flight by the Wright Brothers took place in December 1903, it is amazing to consider that the air show industry was able to engineer such a high-profile and highly successful debut a mere six years later, says John Cudahy, president of the International Council of Air Shows.
“The air show business couldn’t have had a more exciting, more historically relevant beginning than it did in 1910,” he said. “Aviation was not yet an industry; it was still an ongoing experiment. And those early pilots were conducting their experiments in front of tens of thousands of people at air shows throughout the United States in those early years. It was exciting, compelling stuff.”
It was during the earliest air shows that aircraft speed and altitude records were broken and new aircraft designs were demonstrated. It was at one of the first U.S. air shows that legendary aerobatic pilot Lincoln Beachey first demonstrated inverted flight and loops. And it was at an air show that Cadet Ormer Locklear of the U.S. Army Air Force first left the cockpit of an airplane to walk on a wing.
“Although it is true that airplanes helped to create the air show business, it is equally true that air shows helped to create and define the aviation industry,” says Cudahy. “The pioneers of the air show industry knew exactly what they were doing. They knew that airplanes, flight, and aerobatic performances were captivating to the American public. And they knew that an engaged public would help to drive new developments in aviation.”
ICAS will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of air shows throughout 2010, Cudahy added.
For more information: Airshows.aero.