The beginning of autumn seems to bring a string of airshows to the Midwest of the United States. One of these events is held at Waukesha, Wisconsin, and Rob Edgcumbe travelled along for GAR to see the show.
While the big airshows in the United States have suffered as a result of the lack of military participation resulting from sequestration, those that have had a stronger local flavour seem to be thriving. Indeed, it has provided a good opportunity to refocus attention on the smaller events that provide a very different experience. Whether it is the closeness of parking to the airfield, the individual nature of some of the ancillary attractions or the general friendliness of the event, there is much to be said for such shows.
Waukesha is a town just west of Milwaukee in Wisconsin. The Wings Over Waukesha event has been running for a while but it is growing in popularity due to the quality of what it offers. Held at Crites Field, it certainly has something for the family day out as well as the die-hard aviation enthusiast. The airfield is home to the Wisconsin Wing of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) so there are many interesting vintage aircraft already available to support the show. Add to that a strong selection of aircraft across this part of Wisconsin and Illinois and you can bring in a great selection of participants.
A nice feature is that the event, while receiving sponsorship from local businesses, does not have the fence line dominated by sponsor tents. Consequently, the visitors can get a good spot to watch the flying. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the sun is behind you all day, allowing the flying display to be viewed without staring into the sun. Given that the weather was perfect this year, that was a big bonus.
The lack of military participation, at least from the United States does hurt somewhat. However, the Canadian Forces were on hand with two aircraft on display from the training fleet. The crews were available to talk throughout the show and got a steady stream of visitors. With military flying absent, the focus was strongly on the civilian acts and the warbird fraternity. If you wanted to go flying yourself, that was possible either side of the flying display. The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) had two aircraft on site. The organisation’s Ford Trimotor was taking up a steady stream of passengers for a flight around the local area while those looking for something a bit more functional if equally historic could opt for a ride in EAA’s B-17, Aluminum Overcast.
If rotary flying was more your interest, a couple of Robinson R44 helicopters were also undertaking pleasure flights. At one point during the day, there was a steady flow with one on the ground switching out its passengers while the other was airborne before they switched positions. The team on the ground was kept quite busy with the line of customers.
The civilian acts were a good selection. Gene Soucy flew twice in his elaborately painted Showcat. He flew initially on his own for a display of aerobatics that kept him close to the crowd at all times. Later he flew again, this time with Teresa Stokes taking her place on the upper wing. Greg Koontz put on a couple of displays too. One was in a brand new Xtreme Decathlon which only had a few hours on it. It has a 210hp engine in it and certainly seemed very capable in his hands.
Later in the show, he came back for a light-hearted demonstration with the Cub. This involved some rednecks showing up for one of them to have a lesson. While no-one is looking, the guy hops in the Cub and takes off. Much crazy flying follows while “Grandpa” on the ground takes pot shots at him. This has been at a number of shows I have attended in the past but usually I am a long way away from the centre of things and it loses my attention. In the smaller venue, I found the whole thing a lot more enjoyable. Greg certainly made use of the Cub’s capabilities as well as some dips and trees on the airfield behind which he could disappear, usually eliciting some gasps from the crowd. The landing on the top of a pickup truck finishes off the display nicely, although later they come back out to reverse the procedure!
Some higher performance aerobatic aircraft were also displayed with Mike Vaknin showing the Extra 300L and Bob Davis flying a Sukhoi Su-29. Mike’s display was certainly the more energetic of the two.
The display of warbirds took up the centre section of the display. A great mix of aircraft took part at various times. First a bunch of North American T-6/SNJs launched followed closely by a number of other aircraft including a couple of Cessna O-1 Bird Dogs, a PT-19 Cornell, a T-34 Mentor, a Yak-52 and a Nanchang CJ-6. These flew a bunch of formations and patterns. As the smaller aircraft landed, they were replaced with some beefier piston warbirds with a Mustang, T-28 Trojan and a TBM-3E Avenger joining the display. The last section consisted of the jets. A T-33 in Canadian markings, an L-39, a T-37 and an F-86 provided plenty of noise and speed. They then joined up to provide a quite unusual formation for a few passes.
The final display of the day was John Mohr in his Stearman. While the stock Stearman is not a powerful aircraft when compared to many of the others displaying, in the hands of John it is a very impressive machine. He certainly knows his aircraft well and can keep it in front of the crowd. The accuracy of his flying is clear and he knows how to make the best use of it. Whether it is flying inverted long enough to stop the engine and get a nice blast of flame from the exhaust, making use of his surface level approval to scoot across the field or his signature sideslips barely a few feet from the ground, he seems at one with his plane. He even keeps it up after landing, combining power, brakes and elevator authority to taxi the aircraft back in on two wheels. A great way to round out the display.
The event was a fine day out for visitors of all types – enthusiast or casual. The show is a credit to the team at Waukesha and will continue to grow as its reputation becomes more widely known.