ICAS 2013 Opening Reception

Panorama Reception

The 2013 International Council of Air Shows (“ICAS”) Convention kicks off this morning after the reception last night here at Paris Las Vegas.

Although the US jet teams are back for the 2014 season, both Air Force and Navy TAC Demo support will be substantially reduced or nonexistent in the coming season, depending on the platform that interests you. I’m still working on getting a sense of the pulse of the industry and what reduced military support is going to mean for airsows in the long term if it continues. This morning is the first exhibit hall session and the first chance to really walk around and get a sense of everyone’s feelings about the upcoming season and the longer-term prospects.

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The highlight of the reception was John Klatt’s unveiling of the Screamin’ Sasquatch, a 1929 Taperwing Waco. It has a Pratt & Whitney 985 radial engine on the nose, but the real kicker is the CJ610 (J-85) jet engine mounted on the underside. Jimmy Franklin first flew a jet Waco in 1999. The unveiling here at ICAS featured the Jack Links Sasquatch himself posing for pictures.

Perhaps the most important element of the Sasquatch announcement is the fact that Klatt managed to land the sponsorship deal that enabled the ‘Squatch. Sponsorship is critical to many airshow acts, and putting together a jet Waco isn’t something that one can do on appearance fees alone.

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Klatt is a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard, having flown F-16s and C-130s. Through last season, he had flown an MXS in Air Guard livery and he participated heavily in recruiting efforts at each air show that he flew.

Klatt’s migration to the new aircraft and a private-sector sponsor might be a harbinger of things to come in the industry as military support is reduced or isn’t as reliable in light of ongoing budget issues and economic conditions. Time will tell, of course. But, in the meantime, it’s a real coup that Klatt has landed what is clearly a major deal that will bring a unique aircraft to the skies of many airshows and get Jack Links and its “wild side” message exposure to airshow and other fans.

Major sponsorships like this aren’t an option for every performer.  Or even most performers.  But  Klatt showed us that he could do it and the aircraft is gorgeous.  There’s a sponsorship breakout session at the convention and I’m planning to attend it.

Sponsorship is by no means the largest moving part in the industry and it’s by no means a new thing.  But Klatt’s deal is a ray of light and I’ll be following this and other developments.


Inside Airshows – Part 3: Tuskegee 3 – Audio Episode Show Notes

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio by clicking here:  http://traffic.libsyn.com/airspeed/AirspeedTuskegee3WithPreRoll3.mp3.  Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free!

If you want to understand a subculture or an experience, a great way to do that is to take an outsider and plunge him into the place you want to know about, wait awhile, then drag him back to the surface and wring him out to see how it changed him.  It’s even better if you can get the guy to wring himself out.  You begin to realize that not everybody who writes about the majesty of flight does it because he’s a fighter pilot.  Some of us write because we’re not fighter pilots.

You also need to talk about the world in its own terms, using the lexicon of the world, sometimes without explaining the vocabulary to the uninitiated, except maybe through context.  If you’re a pilot, you’ll understand most of this.  If you’re not a pilot, that’s okay, because you’ll feel a little of the strangeness of this world and you’ll put it together in context and in realtime.  Just like I did.  In some ways, you’re in for a better ride than the pilots.

There are three things you need to know about me.

First, I’m a pretty average Joe.  I’m 46.  By any reasonable estimation, my life is more than half over.  I live in the suburbs.  I have a wife and two kids.  I run the rat race every day about as well as the next guy.  You wouldn’t recognize me if you ran into me in the grocery store.

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Second, I always wanted to be an astronaut.

Third, I realized a few years ago that it was entirely up to me where between that baseline and that dream I would live each day of the rest of my life.


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Listen to this.

[ICAS hall noise.]

This is the sound of a magical zone in spacetime.  It’s a room with about 60,000 square feet of floor space.  It’s at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.  I don’t know what happens in that room for the other 361 days each year.  I’m not even sure that this room  exists for the other 361 days of the year.  But, for four days each December, it’s filled wall to wall with just about every airshow performer who’s active anywhere in the us and Canada.  This is the exhibit hall at the International Council of Air Shows annual convention.

Standing at the back of the hall facing the doors way across the room, the Thunderbirds and the other Air Force TAC DEMO and static display pilots and leadership are off to the left against the far wall.  The Blue Angels and the rest of the Navy and Marine Corps contingent are on the opposite wall.  The Snowbirds are in the middle on this side.  Sean Tucker, Mike Goulian, Skip Stewart, Patty Wagstaff, Bill Stein, Rob Holland, Billy Werth, Greg Koontz, Kent Pietsch, Andy Anderson, Bob Carlton, Gene Soucy, Scooter Yoak, Team Aerodynamix, John Klatt . . . every one of them is in this room right now.  Hanging out.  Booking next year’s appearances. Swapping stories.  Doing whatever superheroes do when they get together each year between seasons. [Read more...]

Inside Airshows – Part 2: With a Mic in My Hand – Audio Episode Show Notes

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio by clicking here:  http://traffic.libsyn.com/airspeed/AirspeedNarratorWithPreRoll2.mp3.  Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free!

A narrator can make or break an airshow act.  Especially for an audience that doesn’t understand what it’s seeing.

You’ve heard me say it before.  John Mohr, Greg Koontz, Kent Pietsch, and others cast pearls before swine.  I don’t mean to sound rude or elitist.  It’s just true.  Most of the audience has no idea how difficult some of those maneuvers are.  You and I know that it’s very often not how fast but how slow, and not how high but how low, that is the really amazing thing about an airshow performance.

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If the announcer isn’t there telling the crowd  what to look for, there’s no way they’ll get it.  Take John Mohr.  He rolls a stock Stearman inverted low to the ground.  He holds it there until the engine sputters and eventually quits from fuel exhaustion.  The Stearman has a very slow roll rate.  If John doesn’t do a lot of things right – and immediately – he’ll make contact with the ground inverted in an open-cockpit aircraft.  He has to know without a doubt that he can get the aircraft rolled upright in time to either get the engine restarted or land on the wheels. [Read more...]

Inside Airshows – Part 1: Running Away to Join the Circus – Audio Episode Show Notes


These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio by clicking here:  http://traffic.libsyn.com/airspeed/AirspeedCircusWithPreRoll.mp3.  Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free!

There are three things you need to know about yourself.  Who you are, what you want to be, and, if there’s a difference between the two, what you’re going to do about that difference every day for the rest of your life.

Sometimes, the act of answering those questions creates a change that alters who you are in profound ways.  I answered those questions in 1998 after I watched the Tom-Hanks-produced HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.  Being honest, the answers were (1) law student and soon-to-be-lawyer, (2) astronaut, and (3) – well, what?

Shortly after passing the bar and beginning law practice, I decided to look into flight training.  Even knowing that becoming an astronaut was a non-starter, being the pilot in command of an aircraft was a pretty good step in that direction and it gave me most of what I needed in the way of inspiration.

It wasn’t long after becoming a pilot and beginning to add additional ratings and endorsements that I began to regularly go to airshows.  The desire to get close to airshows largely spawned the podcast to which you’re now listening, still active more than seven years and 200 episodes later.

I’ve been in the photo pit and on the ramp and actually inside the airshow box during shows for years.  I remain thankful to Roger Bishop, Patti Mitchell, Brett Bailey, and others at airshows from Battle Creek to Indy and otherwise for truly wonderful access.

But the perspective that I had, and that I conveyed, was that of a fan.  There’s nothing wrong with being a fan.  But I wanted to go deeper.  I wanted to know what it was like to be a part of the show.  To get so close to the performers, the crews, the air boss, the announcer, and the others who actually put on a show that I could tell a real story from that perspective. [Read more...]

ICAS Convention – Wednesday

It’s Wednesday.  Although the convention goes on through tomorrow, I’m bugging out on a red-eye flight this evening.

Every day at ICAS is cool, but today is doubly so.  It’s flight suit day.  All performers are encouraged to wear their flight suits.  In years past, I have either not worn a flight suit or I have attended in CAP uniform representing CAP.  This year is a little different.  By dint of having flown a couple of shows with the Tuskegee Airmen Flight Demo Team this season, I’m an airshow performer and I get to wear my zoom bag for real.  I’ll be posting new content soon on that process but, in the meantime, it feels really good to have earned the right to wear sage green on this exhibit hall floor with these people.

I spent this morning at the Air Force and Navy/Marine Corps forums.  These are opportunities for the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps to talk to airshow organizers and others about what it takes to get a military demo or static display and how to host them when they arrive.  It’s also an opportunity for me to get up close with the people who might ultimately be in a position to arange the kinds of media flights that Airspeed listeners have grown to expect.  I’ve had a great experience so far and have a few people to whom to send proposals, so it’ll again be a busy post-ICAS couple of weeks.

My hotel check-out time is looming, so I need to pack up and check my bags.  Then it’s off to another exhibit hall session and hanging out with my airshow bros until it’s time to head out to KLAS for the flight home.  Watch my Facebook page and my Twitter feed for more information and news from the 2012 ICAS Convention.