If this was any other year, General Aviation News would be chock full of stories and photos from EAA AirVenture Oshkosh right about now. Of course, it’s not any other year and the COVID-19 pandemic has cancelled all the big shows.
With that in mind, we decided to give you a rare look at a classic air show from an earlier era.
Slip back in time to 1976. Gasoline cost 57 cents a gallon. That January saw the first commercial Concorde supersonic transport flight. The Winter Olympics were held in Innsbruck, Austria. Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs started a new company called Apple Computers. And in Harlingen, Texas, the Confederate Air Force gave an air show for the ages.
Many Americans know the CAF today as the Commemorative Air Force, an organization with 85 units around the country that have, collectively, 175 aircraft with which to tell stories of military history at air shows. The legacy of the CAF includes its era at Harlingen, Texas, where the group honed skills in flying diorama presentations and pioneered the use of spectacular pyrotechnics to punctuate the action during their air show.
Between Oct. 7 and 10, 1976, the skies over Harlingen were filled with warplanes from the Second World War, modern military jets, air show performers including Bob Hoover, Art Scholl, Duane Cole, and others, the Blue Angels, and a six-helicopter Army demonstration team, the Silver Eagles.
Events that have become staples of air shows, like the CAF’s Tora! Tora! Tora! reenactment of the attack on Pearl Harbor, had their roots in Texas.
In 1972, CAF fliers began flying replica Japanese aircraft that had been converted from AT-6 and BT-13 trainers for the movie “Tora! Tora! Tora!” By 1975, pyrotechnics were a part of the act, and the calamities of that fateful attack have been seen by millions of air show attendees as the team takes its show on the road.
Salient impressions linger from that 1976 gathering in Texas: The CAF was populated by can-do aviators who extended a hearty Texas welcome to visitors. That spirit can still be found in today’s Commemorative Air Force.