Oakland County International Airport’s 2019 Open House
While they lack the epic lineup of a show like Oshkosh, or the military presence of your local airbase’s airshow, grassroots aviation events at one’s local general aviation airport are often a key bridge between the public and the aviation community as a whole! Seeing the Blue Angels or Thunderbirds might make someone think “Wow! That would be so cool to do!”, the local airport open house can help show people exactly how to make those dreams come true!
Oakland County International Airport hosted just that sort of event in early August of this year, opening the gates of Southeast Michigan’s busiest General Aviation airport to the community to help show off that the airport as a good neighbor. The airport clocks in as one of the busiest non-commercial airports in the country, and serves as a flight training and charter hub for the region. This year’s open house was held on August 11th, and featured a short airshow program in addition to a wide variety of static displays from PTK and the local GA community, affordable aircraft rides, and local vendor/organization booths.
Before the show kicked off, attendees were treated to hours of normal airport operations, ranging from helicopters and single engine props to large business jets. On top of that, the local flight schools, both fixed and rotary wing, were offering rides to guests in Cessnas, Diamonds, Robinsons, and even a vintage Bell Model 47! Additional ride opportunities were given in a New Standard D-25 biplane dating back to 1928, which certainly held the title of the oldest airframe flying at the 2019 Open House. The gathered photographers certainly appreciate KPTK’s show orientation, with the crowd being located on the south side of the field, and the primary runways and showline being oriented in an East-West direction (09-27) allowing for nearly perfect lighting conditions for the aircraft movements and eventually the airshow.
Better known as the driving force behind the Detroit River Days airshow, Steve Tupper served as the voice of the airshow portion of the open house, which kicked off at 2:00. The flying was started by the Phillips 66 Aerostars in their Extra 300L/330LX aircraft. While many Extra airshow performances focus solely on advanced aerobatics, the Aerostars add a teamwork element with a variety of formations in addition to solo maneuvers by their #4 pilot: Gerry “Fossil” Molidor in the sole Extra 330LX in the team. In addition to “Fossil”, “Boss”, “Rocket”, and “Cupid” in their 300Ls criss-cross the box in a series of dynamic maneuvers including formation loops, rolls, and opposing passes.
The agile nature of the Extras and the design of the show allows for nearly constant action in front of the crowd, and the team is a strong addition to any show lineup, combining precise formations with unlimited aerobatics. The Aerostars would return later in the show to perform a tribute flyover for longtime Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who passed away prior to the show.
Sticking with the aerobatic theme, Michigan native Bill Stein took to the box in his legendary Zivko Edge 540. Bill’s Edge is well known for having a color shifting paint job that changes from purple to green and gold depending on angle and lighting, which adds an extra layer of excitement to seeing the unlimited class monoplane being put through its paces.
During the performance, Stein makes gratuitous use of the Edge’s control surfaces (particularly the rudder) and power to show off the limits of the plane and keep the audience on their toes for the duration of his time in the box.
Following Bill’s recovery, the warbird portion of the show started featuring two aircraft from the Illinois based Warbird Heritage Foundation: The P-51D “Moonbeam McSwine” and the AD-1 Skyraider “Bad News”. For airshow fans, Moonbeam needs no introduction, having been flown by the late Vlado Lenoch, and “Bad News” is believed to be the oldest flying AD-1. The show box at Oakland County International is limited to only the smallest and slowest of aerobatic aircraft (Category III), with larger and faster planes being limited to non-aerobatic maneuvers due to a secondary spectator area (T-Hangars) across the field from the main show grounds.
Even with this restriction in place, the warbirds put on a great show with a series of flat and photo passes from both sides, delighting the photographers with topside passes in near perfect light, and a great opportunity for panning on landing.
Here are three on-board videos of Kyle Franklin’s “Dracula” performance:
Closing out the show was Kyle Franklin with Dracula, a highly customized Waco biplane based design powered by a massive radial engine. Franklin’s act is a callback to the days of barnstorming, with a modern twist in the form of power (500 hp) and control authority (full span ailerons) that was all but unthinkable in the early days of flight. For the pilots in attendance, the highlight of Kyle’s show was an inverted flat spin from 3,500 MSL with a heart stopping recovery just above the surface. PhotoRecon had an opportunity to install a camera aboard Franklin’s plane, providing a view back at Kyle in the cockpit along with the world and sky twisting and turning in the background as Dracula was thrown around the show box in the hands of the veteran airshow performer.
Dracula is a single purpose show machine built over a 9 year period with a special focus on safety and performance. The aircraft is so specialized that the aircraft only carries enough fuel for the act, and is trucked from show to show in a trailer towed behind Franklin’s RV. Additionally, Dracula has the “Amanda Switch”, an automatic system that cuts off fuel and smoke oil to the engine in the event of an impact to reduce the risk of fire. Franklin’s numerous low passes looked great to photographers, with the red and silver colors on the upper portion of the plane popping very well against the trees!
All too soon the sound of thundering warbirds, unlimited monoplanes, and a rumbling radial faded and the ramp slowly cleared of spectators. Normal operations picked back up, and the sound of 4 cylinder Lycoming and Continental engines with the occasional turbine once again filled the skies over Oakland County International Airport. With any luck some of the patrons of the show went home inspired to fly, or at least had a new understanding of what all those crazy airplane people do at the local “small” airport with no commercial operations.
The author would like to thank Michelle Stover for her assistance in gaining access to the show as well as narrator Steve Tupper for providing a lovely spot to rest the camera bag while wandering the ramp. Additional thanks are owed to Kyle Franklin for making the video that accompanies this article possible. Enjoy the ride!