How’s this for a post-Labor Day family activity? Picture a jet-powered school bus that shoots flames 70-feet long, a spirited demonstration by some of the world’s most famous “war birds,” including the famed Spirit of Freedom C54, and Winston-Salem native Greg Koontz landing his J-3 Cub on the world’s shortest runway — the back of a pickup truck.
Toss in an appearance by the Microjet that flew through the hangar in a James Bond movie, the thrilling skills of the Aerostars Aerobatic Team, awe-inspiring demonstrations of modern air power, live music, good food and myriad land-based activities and you have the annual Winston-Salem Air Show on Saturday and Sunday at Smith Reynolds Airport.
Steve Flippin, the show director who also started the nonprofit Carolina Air and Auto Center in 2011, said he’ll put the two-day event up against any of the nation’s roughly 400 air shows.
“We have a dedicated air-show committee, 500 volunteers and close to 100 vendors that we couldn’t do this show without. …The first air show in Winston-Salem was in 1911 over the years. In the ’70s, the Blue Angels were here multiple times. Then there were issues with finances, and in 2006 and 2007, there was no show. In the fall of 2007, we submitted a proposal to revive the show by increasing sponsorships and ground activities, so the event would appeal not just to aviation folks but to the entire family.”
That formula worked and this year’s air show is bigger and better than ever, he added. “There’s a rodeo bull, a train for the kids, the Winston-Cup Museum, motorcycles, metal-working, helicopter and plane rides, antique cars, live music with Erin Diaz’s Letters from Home band, flight simulators and a Piedmont Airlines exhibit. And that’s just a short list of what people will find both days at the show. … With all this going on both in the air and on the ground, you could say a little village pops up for the weekend at the airport.” (For a complete schedule of events, check http://www.wsairshow.com/activities/.)
While wandering around, attendees are likely to bump into people like retired (USMC) Lt. Col. Art Nalls and Major Gen. Joe Anderson, each of whom will demonstrate the only civilian-owned Harrier Jump Jet in the world during this year’s show, and volunteer Frank Ovinic, who flew multiple tours in Vietnam as well as piloting Army I for Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford when they were president.
And don’t be surprised to find people dressed as famous aviators such as Viola Gentry, a North Carolina native who in 1924 became the first woman in the state to fly an aircraft and later set the first non-refueling endurance record for women.
For Flippin, as for many both inside and out of the aviation community, the thrill of flight never grows old.
“Aviation is still awe-inspiring,” he said. “Frequently, when a plane is coming in for a landing here at the airport, we see people just stop and look up. I once heard a speaker say, ‘Ground bound people go left and right. When we fly, we go up and add a whole other dimension to life.’”
At the Carolina Air and Auto Center, which will be well-represented at the air show, Flippin and his staff work to impart that thrill to young people.
“Our mission is to create an education center that targets middle school age kids after school and during the summer. In addition to teaching the kids about aviation, motor sports, science, math and engineering, we help direct them to the right courses in high school, in community colleges like GTCC aviation and the N.C. State aerospace engineering program. Often, the kids just don’t know about them,” he said.
Frank Barber, a WWII pilot, along with his pilot-wife, Pat, have volunteered with the air show for many years and will work this year greeting and signing in all the performers.
“The air show brings a lot of money into the county, and of course, it’s a lot of fun, especially for us since aviation has been our life,” said Frank Barber, 88, who has worked for the FAA as a designated pilot examiner, as a corporate jet pilot and in air traffic control.
Tom Chappell, vice president/business development for show sponsor North State Aviation, encourages newcomers to the area to attend the event.
“Aviation started here (in North Carolina) and continues to thrive. … It is truly gratifying to see the excitement on the faces of the youth (and adults) at the show. It’s hard to describe the magic of aircraft and we’re so thankful that so many folks throughout our area support this annual event. It’s both fun and uplifting.”