The Skies are Alive with the Sound of Airplanes

This past weekend the skies above my part of Texas were full of vintage airplanes as part of the annual Wings over Houston airshow.

The airshow, which takes place at Ellington Field Airport, allows visitors the chance to see planes up close and personal while thinking back to an age where air power involved actual pilots and crew risking their lives for freedom and not some pilotless drone or guided missile.

Nothing against pilotless drones and guided missiles but few can argue that the amount of sacrifice is the same compared to the risks taken by aviators of the past.

Airshows, such as Wings over Houston, allow visitors the chance to see planes from many eras of aviation in action. Photo R. Anderson

Airshows, such as Wings over Houston, allow visitors the chance to see planes from many eras of aviation in action.
Photo R. Anderson

I was given the opportunity to cover the “dress rehearsal” of the airshow as a reporter the first year I lived in Texas and have attended several years since as a spectator.

Covering the airshow as a reporter allowed me the opportunity to “hire” my dad for the day as a photographer. My dad is the type who will stick his head out the window while driving to look at a plane overhead so I figured the opportunity for him to see the planes up close without being behind the wheel was a win/win for everyone, especially the other motorists.

Plus, I was able to use some of his pictures in the paper which in turn made him a “professional” photographer.

Although I was only a member of the airshow press corp one time, I still made my way back to the airshow to take in the sights and the sounds. Each year I attend as a spectator includes a walk through the static aircraft displays as well as a smoked turkey leg from the vendor area. I am not sure why it is but turkey legs just taste better with the smell of jet fuel in the air.

Each time I attend gives me something new to see and enjoy and made it hard to not feel a little more patriotic and aware of the sacrifices made by all of those soldiers who came before us to give us the freedom to among other things attend airshows.

Another neat thing about the airshow is that since the planes can be seen for miles in the air one does not necessarily need to purchase a ticket to see them. Granted, the ticketed experience provides much more including access to those aforementioned turkey legs but there are plenty of spots to just pull over to the side of the road and catch the show for free.

Aside from planes in the sky visitors can reach out and touch planes on the ground such as this cargo plane on display during the 2009 Wings over Houston airshow. Photo R. Anderson

Aside from planes in the sky visitors can reach out and touch planes on the ground such as this cargo plane on display during the 2009 Wings over Houston airshow.
Photo R. Anderson

After years of being a paying customer I decided to join the ranks of the roadside viewers this year to see what their experience was like. I must admit that my roadside vantage point allowed me great access to see the planes in the sky and also included several planes flying directly above me.

Of course, this year the airshow was limited to non-active duty aircraft due to the sequestration. So instead of seeing the Navy’s Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Team carve the sky with precision, attendees were treated to the acrobatics of a plane painted to look like the lead character in the movie “Planes.”

But even without the Blues the show must go on and from what I could tell the show was filled with the same intensity as prior years.

Tora! Tora! Tora!, the reenactment of the attack on Pearl Harbor (minus the ships) is a fan favorite each year and features dogfights in the air and explosions on the ground. Photo R. Anderson

Tora! Tora! Tora!, the reenactment of the attack on Pearl Harbor (minus the ships) is a fan favorite each year and features dogfights in the air and explosions on the ground.
Photo R. Anderson

There were simulated bombing runs made by vintage World War II era bombers, aerial acrobatics demonstrations and of course the always popular “Tora! Tora! Tora!” reenactment of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

My grandfather survived the attack on Pearl Harbor so the reenactment holds a special place for me but even those with no connection to the attack other than being an American should be moved by the great bravery and sacrifices made by those young men and women who were thrust into that attack on that most infamous of days 62 years ago.

While the weather was perfect Saturday a soggy morning of rain washed out many of the scheduled events Sunday.

Aside from dealing with weather issues on Sunday, the airshow community was also dealing with a tragic loss. A couple of days before the airshow a pilot and passenger of a plane scheduled to perform at the airshow were killed in a crash near the coast.

During the show a missing man formation was flown in honor of those who died but the crash showed the inherent risk associated with keeping any plane, let alone one 60 plus years old aloft.

I often wonder if Orville and Wilber Wright could have fathomed what their December 17, 1903 flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina would usher in over the next 100 or so years.

Watching the various bombers and other planes overhead during the airshow it is hard to believe that a little over a century ago man’s feet were mostly tethered to the ground in terms of the ability to sustain powered flight.

So while there will always be an inherent risk to pilots and spectators alike during airshows they serve an important place in inspiring future generations while paying tribute to the generations that have gone before.

After missing an entire year of performances due to the sequestration the Navy flight demonstration team known as the Blue Angels will return to action in 2014. AMong the stops on their 2014 schedule is a return to Houston next November. Photo R. Anderson

After missing an entire year of performances due to the sequestration the Navy flight demonstration team known as the Blue Angels will return to action in 2014. Among the stops on their 2014 schedule is a return to Houston next November.
Photo R. Anderson

So if you have never had the opportunity to see an airshow up close and in person I highly recommend that everyone see at least one show from either the grandstands or a nice comfortable chair on the roadside.

Speaking of airshows to attend, next year’s Wings over Houston would certainly make for a good show to catch as it was announced at the end of this year’s show that the Blues would return to the skies over Houston next year.

I have had the fortune to see the Blue Angels perform several times in both Florida and Texas and certainly look forward to seeing them again next year as they never disappoint.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I hear a plane flying overhead.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson