Cleveland Rocks! The 2023 Cleveland National Airshow

11Cover-EagleStory and photography by Shawn Byers

Cleveland has long been on my list to attend but I never committed to it until 2023. The kick in the pants was the scheduled performance by the Marine Corps AV-8 Harrier. Having very few appearances remaining, I didn’t want to miss it.

I have always known Cleveland to be a spectacular show. Hosted at Burke Lakefront Airport over Labor Day Weekend, the 2023 edition was no exception with great weather and spectacular views of Lake Erie and Downtown Cleveland.

I was not media at this show. Hardly anyone is. Credentials are only awarded to local or national network news media and the best of the best media photographers. I waited for my expected denial and then bought a ticket and waited in line with everyone else for the Saturday show. Since it runs through the Holiday Weekend, a Monday show was also available.



I traveled on Thursday so that I could see any practices or arrivals on Friday and to have time to photograph the two F-4 Phantoms in the colors of the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels in front of the airport. I did see a few practices and a number of static arrivals from the west end of the runway near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. These arrivals included three Army Helicopters and a Navy P-8 Poseidon.


One aircraft already on the ramp for static display was the legendary “Vandy 1” black scheme, currently worn by an F/A-18F from VX-9 out of Naval Aviation Station China Lake.

As we streamed in on Saturday morning, my first priority was to grab a spot and position my chair for the duration of the day. I was happy with show left as I saw the mass of people entering from a second entrance. I was not aware of the fence bump out closer to show center. It was a factor to my view toward the east but ended up being a non-factor for photos. The hot ramp was to my left and the show runway before me was 06L/24R at 6,604 feet in length.

About the show. For a private event, there were certainly a lot of military performers represented. How about 8 different airframes with flying routines. The F-22, the F/A-18F, the AV-8, an F-15C, a KC-135, a C-130H, an MH-65 Dauphin, the Thunderbirds and the Golden Knights.


Civilian performers included the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team, Patty Wagstaff, Tom Larkin in his minijet, the Metro Life Flight Helicopters and the Hot Streak II Jet Truck.
The early September weather was excellent and the show got started with the Army’s Golden Knights dropping in from a De Havilland Dash 8. They would also perform a full show in the afternoon.

Other military demonstrations in the first half of the show included a single pass by the KC-135 and multiple passes from a C-130H, yes, an H Model, of the Ohio Air National Guard out of Youngstown which based out of the hot ramp.


The Coast Guard performed a rescue simulation but did not have an actual person on the ground for the litter.

An F-15C from the Louisiana Air National Guard made a few high speed passes and based out of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. All of the Air Force jets were based there.
The Metro Life Flight Helicopters made a few passes and Tom Larkin flew his mini jet to round out the first half.



The F-22 Raptor jump started the second half. In addition to the usual routine, the benefit of Lake Erie allowed for an awesome flare deployment during the power loop.
The Navy followed with their F/A-18F Super Hornet, also known as the Rhino Demonstration Team, which based out of the hot ramp.

The Aeroshell Aerobatic Team launched from the opposite direction of the runway which worked out great for my position. I do not see them very often in the East and the T-6 is no favorite of mine in the warbird community but I do appreciate Aeroshell. Four aircraft, not too many, just right.


The Golden Knights performed their afternoon show and then it was Harrier time. After launch, I packed up my chair and started walking east toward show center.


By the time the hover routine occurred, I was in focal range. The Harrier is an old aircraft and there are only two squadrons left. They still deploy with Amphibious Ready Groups and I wondered where this Harrier was and when it returned. The nose cone was missing a lot of gray paint.


I also photographed a Cleveland Police Hughes Helicopter taking pictures of the crowd just before the Thunderbirds show. They entered from behind the crowd as the sun angle started to deteriorate. I stayed late to catch up with friends and photograph more static aircraft.

This is usually where I thank someone for the media access and accommodations but there is no one. Everyone I interacted with at the show was pleasant and I had a great time. I do not know if I will make this a regular show but it is a good one. We’ll see.

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