This was my first visit to the Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show. I was completely happy with the entire experience. Due to their excellent presence online, it was very easy for me to plan from my home in northern Virginia. They have a web page, a Facebook page and a Twitter account. What really impressed me was how interactive they were, especially on Facebook where they would respond to most questions or comments the same day. As a result, there were no surprises for me during the two events that I chose to attend during the four day long festival.
I dragged the family out Saturday night to see the twilight air show. I'd been to one of these before and it was so awesome I couldn't wait to go to another one. Unfortunately, twilight shows are pretty rare, so I jumped on this opportunity. The evening was going to start with a balloon launch, but it was too windy to safely launch the balloons. A number of people left after it was announced that the balloons would not fly, which really surprised me. They missed a heck of a show as the sun went down. Several aircraft took to the air to do aerobatic routines against the setting sun. The picture above is the Red Eagle Airsports team.
Well they didn't launch the balloons, but they did do the Balloon Illume. If you've never seen one of these, put this show on your calendar for next year. If it doesn't impress you, it will impress the kids as each balloon has a flamethrower that they use to heat the air that keeps the balloon upright. When you get a large number of balloons and light them all up at once, it makes a great racket and the sight is one you won't soon forget. Once they have lit them all up at once, they like to do this thing they call "Sparkle." This is where the balloon pilots all light their flames up for short bursts at separate times.
Another great feature of the Battle Creek Field of Flight show is their midway. Not just food, like you find at most air shows, but lots of cool things to do. The tower that they drop you from isn't exactly my thing, I might be more into the Ferris Wheel as they didn't have any roller-coasters. Lots of rides and the USTA even brought their "Smash Zone" to show kids how to play tennis for free! And just in case you were worried about what to do on hot days, there was the Water Wars Challenge where it was very easy to cool off. Back to the show!
Did I mention the jet powered school bus? Paul Stender drives a rather fast bus. But at night he likes to create clouds of smoke with that jet engine. Once he makes a nice large cloud, he fires up the afterburner. The afterburner itself is fairly impressive all by itself, but when he fires it off inside the cloud he created, the results are, well... night and day! If you look closely at the left side of the picture you can just make out the nose of the bus, which should give you some idea of how big that cloud really is.
I dragged the family back on Sunday. It wasn't too difficult after the impressive twilight show, they were ready for more. One of the first acts was the Hoppers, a civilian jet team that flies the L-39 Albatross. The four aircraft put on a fantastic formation flight demonstration with numerous passes, making it a great for us photo geeks.
The Horsemen, seen above, are another great act and one that is difficult for air shows to get, only the best end up with these guys. Another formation flight team, these guys fly one of the most recognizable aircraft from WWII, the P-51 Mustang. As if the sound of their engines weren't enough, these guys have their own score that enhances their performance.
Elgin Wells custom built his own plane to fly at air shows. He's impressive during the day, but at night his aircraft does a little dance on the ramp to its own soundtrack, courtesy of Elgin Wells himself. It also has thousands of lights all over the aircraft to light it up at night. He was another one of the performers during the twilight show.
Rob Holland is a blur as he passes behind Jack Knutson during their Firebirds X-Treme performance. These two performers were part of a total of four who flew a number of preformances during the air show.
Speaking of the entire group, here are the Firebirds in their 4 ship formation performance diving into their act: Matt Chapman leads in the yellow Embry-Riddle 231EX, Jack Knutson is in the red Extra 300 with "Firebirds" on the side, Rob Holland in the black and blue MXS and Bill Stein in the multi-colored Edge 540.
I am a huge fan of the older aircraft. The current high performance aircraft are impressive, but watching the older birds strut their stuff is super impressive. This was the first time I had seen a North American F-86 Sabre in flight. Paul Wood of the Warbird Heritage Foundation did an amazing job showing off this bird to the crowd, including this perfect picture pass.
Continuing with my obsession for older aircraft I was impressed with the performance of John Mohr, which ended with this waving pass barely 10 feet off the runway. The really impressive part was that he held this height off the ground for the better part of the length of the runway in front of the crowd. Definitely appeared to be a crowd favorite.
Overall, I had a great time at this show and I am looking forward to returning in 2013. It's a great excuse to get the family together in Michigan. Next year I'm not missing the fireworks though. Hope to see you there!