In the world of airshows, two names quickly jump to mind: AirVenture Oshkosh and SUN ‘n FUN in Lakeland, Florida. These major events draw hundreds of thousands of pilots and capture the world’s attention.
Little shows, not so much. But…
Most readers may recall the childhood story of the “Little Engine That Could,” and that captions my view of these small venue shows. With giants like Oshkosh and SUN ‘n FUN, why does anyone bother traveling to places with a fraction of the traffic?
Two words: Intimacy and immediacy.
Still don’t get it?
You are hardly alone if you still don’t get the appeal of smaller airshows, or perhaps more correctly, trade shows.
By my view, airshows are public spectacles where powerful, sponsor decal-laden aircraft twist and tumble around the sky in the hands of incredibly talented pilots. The “oohs” and “aahs” generated by their aerial gymnastics rival or exceed a top-notch fireworks display.
That they draw millions from the general public is wonderful, but pilots may prefer an aviation trade show where they can examine the latest and greatest of airframes or a thousand other components of modern aviation.
The small shows can easily compete with the big guys in the trade show arena because they are sector focused. That phrase identifies the appeal, perhaps, because at such small venue events, you may see all of what one segment of aviation has to offer but without the aerobatic ballet or the vast throngs of people.
In fact, the lack of people may be precisely why these shows are growing in popularity. If you’ve stood patiently (or not) at a booth or aircraft exhibit, several people deep, trying to get a few seconds to ask a couple questions, you know how frustrating that can be. Sure, it’s nice to know others share your enthusiasm, but if you want to know what engine or what features or what price, it can be irritating when the folks ahead of you hold the attention of the company rep.
At the littler shows, you can generally have all the conversation you want.
One more thing: You can generally get a demo flight or other product demonstration much easier and much faster.
One Down, Two to Go, and One on Deck
In the light aviation sector — encompassing Light-Sport Aircraft, light kit aircraft, and ultralights — four shows dominate the landscape. Three are well established and one is brand spanking new.
One Down: The Midwest LSA Expo just finished in early September, its now firmly embedded spot on the calendar. This was the eighth running of the show in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, about an hour’s drive east of St. Louis. Located at the municipal airport, the Midwest LSA Expo benefits from using the airport terminal building as its headquarters.
Indoor displays greet visitors coming in the main entrance. Out the rampside door leads to displays of 40 to 60 airplanes arranged around tents for airplane vendors who share the shaded space (in a nice spirit of cooperation, I should add).
The airport terminal building offers a restaurant, a military veteran display, forums, and — always needed at airshows — restrooms, complete with flush toilets. Those who have visited a plastic porta-potty on a hot summer day learn to appreciate this otherwise mundane aspect of a show.
Two to Go: Up very soon is the Copperstate show, one of the best established of all shows and certainly so for the underserved western states. While Copperstate has a wider range of aircraft and is a larger event than the others discussed here, it has a clear focus on the light aviation segment.
Copperstate is about to host its 44th annual event Oct. 28-29, making it one of the country’s best established shows. For the 2016 edition, the show is moving to Falcon Field Airport in Mesa, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix on the southeastern quadrant of that metropolis. Motivated city leaders of Mesa traveled to the 2015 event in Casa Grande when I attended and urged the move. Indeed, being closer to an immense population and at a field that has long welcomed a range of aviation, this may be its best location yet.
All-new DeLand: What could be harder than starting a new airshow when you have the unpredictability of weather and the competition of longstanding events? Two solutions spring to mind. First, host the show in Florida during a well-examined time of year when weather should be very accommodating. The timing, Nov. 3-5, also provides a warm escape from parts of the country where winter is approaching.
Secondly, seek a seasoned veteran to run the show for you. DeLand has hired Jana Filip to direct the action and she brings a strong credential, which may explain the nearly sold-out premiere event.
It doesn’t hurt that DeLand is a very recreationally-oriented airport. One of the busiest sky diving centers in the world (dozens of businesses employ hundreds of workers), DeLand is also home to several light aviation businesses and planning for more with its new Sport Aviation Village.
One on deck: As the new year begins, the most established of the pure-play LSA shows (including aircraft other than LSA) is the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo. That name is a tad long so most abbreviate it to Sebring LSA Expo or merely Sebring. It’s on again for 2017, the 13th running of this central Florida event slated for Jan. 25-28.
Established partly to draw attention to the airport facility in the mid-state town of Sebring — a goal it handily achieved — this is the granddaddy of LSA-focused events. Except for Copperstate, the others here have all taken their lead from Sebring, along with several other events, some of which continue, others not.
One of the great things about Sebring is — like Midwest or DeLand — the ease of taking a demo flight or three or more. You love flying…so, go do some!
Go Fly, Maybe Buy
You don’t have to be in the market to buy an LSA, light kit, or ultralight. Tire kickers or those just excited about recreational aviation are all welcome. You may want to attend a forum or check out the newest avionics or some other accessory item. Maybe you just love airshow food.
Whatever your motivation, attending one of these smaller shows is like joining your favorite club. You get to hang with fellow flying fans and you get to check out the newest hardware, with or without wings.
However, if you are in the market, the small venue shows are the best yet for truly examining the flying machine of your choice. All four shows mentioned here will afford you ample opportunity to do that.
C’mon down…to Copperstate for those in the west or to DeLand or Sebring for those in the southeast. In fact, wherever you call home, you can’t miss by attending one of these sunshine events where smiles are commonplace and blue skies beckon.