2010 Florida International Air Show – Punta Gorda, FL
Punta Gorda is on the western coast of Florida, south of Tampa. It is one of the nicer small shows in the country. I’ve never been to that part of Florida and never to Punta Gorda in particular; so this was a good opportunity to see it all. The weather on Saturday was great and it was a nice venue. Hotels were within a couple of miles and traffic wasn’t a problem. Parking was pretty close to the show. Of course this is a real operating airport (with the airshow on the same side of the field no less) with several commercial flights departing and arriving. The security level was high with them searching everything coming in, with lots of Federal Officers hanging around. There were TSA and even US Marshals all over the place. At least I felt sort of safe.
The show had a nice static display are with aircraft ranging from a Harrier to a C-130, a Stearman, L-39 jet, an A-10 Monster Truck, several others. Well, the truck was a monster truck used by the USAF for recruiting. It has some body work that makes it look like an A-10 Thunderbolt II and it really is different. I’ve never seen anything like it before and it sure does attract attention. There were a group of WWII reenactors set up, representing a local museum. The AC-47 Gunship “Spooky” was there, as well as a TBM Avenger and the Commerative Air Force’s Helldiver. A pair of B-25s came in for the show, Panchito and Barbie III. The Grimes Aircraft lighting company brought in their Beech 18 flying laboratory. That airplane literally has hundreds of aircraft lights on it of all types. An amazing ship, which I’d love to see fly at night someday.
Entertainment in the sky came from the AeroShell T-6s who put on their normal above exceptional performance. Matt Younkin flew aerobatics in his red and black Beech 18 and he took the time to show us what that airplane could do. There was even a sailplane doing an aerobatic routine.
A real and rare treat was watching a P-51 doing low level aerobatics. “Scooter” Yoak flew in the family P-51 “QuickSilver” from Lewisburg West Virginia for the show. Scooter’s father is Bill Yoak, who is probably the finest sheetmetal artisan in the warbird restoration business. Bill spent 14 years restoring and building QuickSilver into what many consider the perfect Mustang. Even though Scooter is only in his early 20’s he has over 4500 hours of flight time and 250 hours in the P-51. His routine is exceptional and very precise. Few pilots put on this kind of a display in P-51 and after Bob Hoover retired, it’s something rare to see. This is a great change of pace from watching warbirds do repetitive passes over the active runway. They take a lot of pride in that airplane and you can see it when Bill carefully wipes it down between flights. I know it made the people in the crowd happy.
High energy aerobatics were preformed by John Klatt in his Air National Guard sponsored plane. John is an F-15 pilot and he can really twist a plane around the sky. John’s routine was very impressive. Another high energy performance came from Rob Holland in his MX-2, another monoplane, who literally tore holes in the Florida sky. Rob is a heck of a showman.
There were a session of flybys of the warbirds with QuickSilver, the Helldiver, and a pair of B-25s. Of course there were those crowd pleasing explosions, which make everyone happy. I’m sure it really makes the pyro crew happy since they spent a lot of time and effort setting up display.
The military demos were fun to watch. There was an A-10, which put on a low level display of agility and grace. There isn’t much that is more impressive than seeing an airplane as large as the A-10, do maneuvers that were as tight as some of the other planes on the field. When the A-10 flies, everyone pays attention.
The Marines have a lot of commitments for their Harriers. The main one seems to be using it to defend our country and fight in two wars. I understand that there are only going to be four military Harrier demonstrations this air show season. This doesn’t take into consideration any of the demos done by Art Nalls who happens to own the only civilian Harrier as well as the L-39 jet at the show, but that is another story. The Harrier is simply the loudest flying machine you will ever see short of the Space Shuttle. When it flies, not only do the people pay attention, they also move to the font of the crowd line. The Harrier did a short takeoff, made a few passes and then hovered for a few minutes. The demo ended up with a short landing. Everyone watched, virtually with their jaws hanging open, nobody was talking, a lot had their hands over their ears and it was nothing short of the high point of the show. It was also the end of the show too.
The weather for the Sunday show started out looking bad and quickly went to worse. About 9:30 AM, I talked to security and they said a storm was about two miles off the airport. People were running for cover. Betsy and I headed for the car and in a few minutes it started raining. Three hours later it was still pouring rain and we left. As you may well guess the show was cancelled. So we headed to Naples Florida, I’ve never been there and I managed to get to see it on the day they got more rain than any other day in history. Lucky me.
Punta Gorda was a great show. Moderate crowd, reasonable food prices and normally nice weather; it was well worth going to. The Sunday weather was a fluke and shouldn’t deter anyone from going. Contact me at TNMark@Me.Com