by Geoff Sobering
Producing an air show every year is quite a bit of work, and a biennial schedule can have advantages. Obviously, some of the organizational effort can be spread out over two years instead of one, and volunteers and sponsors are less likely to burn out. The Chippewa Valley Airshow at the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport (EAU) in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, is very successful with this format. Two years ago the show won the U.S. Navy Blue Angel’s “Air Show of the Year” award, and they hoped to repeat that in 2010. As in 2008, the headline act was the Blue Angels. Filling out the bill were a collection of outstanding civilian performers, along with the U.S. Air Force “Viper West” F-16 demonstration team, and the Army Golden Knights parachute team.
The civilian acts were a good mix of action and entertainment. High-powered aerobatics were provided by Greg Poe with his ethanol powered Fagan MX2, and Mike Wiskus in the Lucas Oil Pitts. Kent Pietsch brought his Jelly Belly Interstate Cadet and “pickup-truck landing strip” for a more fun-oriented act. For pure smoke and fire-fueled entertainment, bolting a jet engine to some kind of vehicle is hard to beat, and Paul Stender filled that niche with his jet-powered school bus.
There is an old adage in aviation that airplanes do not fly because of lift, but rather money. The same can be said of air shows. Sponsorship is crucial to the success of any event. Major sponsors of the Chippewa Valley Airshow were Menards, Mega Foods, and Xcel Energy. Events like air shows are also often the focus of other charitable giving. This year, Michael DeRosa, a local Burger King restaurant owner, presented a check for $450,000 to the Unmet Needs program of the VFW Foundation that assists the families of deployed military personnel. The Chippewa Valley Council of the Boy Scouts of America sponsors the Eau Claire show. The council paid $85,000 to local community groups who helped with the concessions and other services during the show. In addition, the Friday practice show is not open to the public, but members of various local groups, along with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, were invited in for a private performance.
The Boy Scouts also held a “Camporee” on the air show grounds, and helped with setup, tear-down, clean-up, and parking over the course of the weekend. Saturday night, Blue Angel #5, Lt. Cmdr Frank Weisser, talked with the Scouts about his experience as an Eagle Scout.
Weather is always a potential problem for outdoor events like air shows. In 2008, Saturday’s show was completely rained out, with ceilings that never rose above 700 feet. This year looked like it might be a repeat, but the important parameters (visibility and ceiling) held out, even though a light rain fell all day. All the performers were able to fly. The front blew out Saturday night, and Sunday was much nicer with more warm temperatures and a mixture of clouds with some overcast. Despite the weather, attendance was good and the show was a big success. I am not sure what it says about Midwest air show fans, but attendance during Saturday’s drizzle was actually higher than on Sunday.
Even though the 2008 show was successful, the event’s organizers attempted to make improvements for 2010. They doubled the number of people working on parking and other services to help get the fans smoothly into and out of the airport area.
Being named “Air Show of the Year” by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels in 2008 was quite an honor, and one, which the airport should use if ever questioned about local funding.
The two-year air show format certainly works for me. I am already looking forward to heading back to Eau Claire for the 2012 edition of the Chippewa Valley Airshow!