Monday, August 27, 2007

Indianapolis Air Show! (11th Annual)

Pilots are nuts. I love ‘em to pieces, and they have by far the coolest jobs in the world, but they are absolutely nuts. I think you have to be at least a little nuts to do what they do for a living -- military or civilian. But there’s no doubt that pilots do what they do because they love to fly more than anything else in the world. And there was certainly plenty ‘o love-of-flying going on at the Indianapolis Air Show this past weekend.

I’ve been to several air shows, and this was a particularly good one. The Indianapolis Air Show comes to Mount Comfort airport (just outside the east side of Indianapolis) every year, rain or shine, and everyone who regularly attends swears that it gets better and better every year. Definitely, it is one of the best air shows in the USA, and it also helps to raise a great deal of money for charities.

My husband and I attended the show on Saturday, despite the fact that weather forecasters had issued warnings about scattered thunderstorms and other fun things. Yeah, well, this is Indiana, and Indiana weather has never been truly predictable. There was a tiny bit of rain Saturday, but certainly not enough to hamper the pilots (or the crowd) in any way. In fact, the pilots seemed to enjoy the weather. A good, steady breeze came out of the west through most of the day, and the pilots certainly took advantage of it -- especially those who had to fly the notoriously slow and heavy WWII-era bombers in the display of historic war planes. Planes and helicopters of all types, military and civilian, were on the ground and in the air, and it was a truly spectacular show.

On the ground, two planes that really caught my attention were the replica Wright B Flyer and the Red Bull MiG-17F. MiGs, for anyone who’s never seen one, are very small jets that look kinda like someone just stuck wings, a tail, and a cockpit on a very powerful jet engine and called it a plane. These babies were the terrors of the sky during the Cold War and the envy of pilots everywhere -- especially U.S. pilots who were unfortunate enough to find themselves combating them. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, many former Soviet planes, including MiGs, found their ways into the hands of U.S. pilots, many of whom say Soviet planes are amongst the most fun to fly.

The Red Bull MiG is meticulously maintained and happens to be brightly painted in the hues and logos of its sponsor -- though there’s also a hammer’n’sickle painted on the tail, in homage to the plane’s history.

While my husband and I gazed at the grounded plane, he shook his head and said, “It’s kinda sad, really.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Here you have this military plane, an arch-enemy of ours during the Cold War, and it’s now performing at U.S. air shows and covered with corporate logos,” he said. “They might as well paint ‘Capitalism Wins!’ across the side of the plane. It just seems -- I dunno -- undignified somehow.”

Undignified or not, when we saw that plane fly later in the day, it was a very impressive sight. Despite its age, the plane remains truly fast, manueverable, and powerful in the air, and it’s a very unusual plane to see in flight. It’s no wonder MiGs are often mistaken for UFOs. (Though anyone who thinks MiGs look weird should have seen the V-22 Osprey take to the air. Talk about a strange-looking plane!)

Then there was the Wright B Flyer, a replica of the Wright Brothers’ second plane. The replica was a bit sturdier and stronger than the original Wright B Flier, but it still came across as the “granddaddy” of the tarmac, parked there amongst vintage WWII fighters and other historic planes.

“So, how well does it fly?” my husband asked one of the pilots flanking the plane.

“Oh, it’s a real pig in the air,” said the pilot, who was wearing a TPS (Test Pilot School) jumpsuit. “But we flew it here from Dayton without too much trouble.”

“Flew it HERE?” my husband exclaimed. Clearly he didn’t think the plane looked capable of flying that distance.

“Oh, sure,” the pilot replied. Then, after giving the plane a look that was a cross between affection and disgust, he said, “We had to stop twice to refuel, though.”

Fun as it was to see all of the grounded planes, nothing beat seeing them fly. It’s always a treat to see the more unusual or vintage military planes in flight and marvel at the ingenuity that went behind creating them -- some of them look like they shouldn’t be able to fly at all! And, of course, it’s always fun to see the Blue Angels put on a show, buzzing the crowd and zooming around at speeds just short of hitting a sonic boom. My favorite planes, though, have always been bi-planes, and there were plenty of them at this year’s show. Nothing quite beats a bi-plane in sheer maneuverability.

For anyone who’s never attended an air show, I highly recommend them -- they are a lot of fun for adults and kids, and a great way to spend a day in the great outdoors. For information about next year’s Indianapolis Air Show, visit http://indyairshow.com/