The Commemorative Air Force is hosting their annual AIRSHO this weekend in Midland, Texas, home of the CAF's Headquarters. Many of the Wings (local CAF chapters from around the country) fly their vintage aircraft to the Midland International Airport to display and participate in the daily performances. AIRSHO also features modern military aircraft so, for the aviation enthusiast, it's a biggie.
Air shows have come a long way since the first one which was said to have been held in Texas in 1910. Those were the days (I guess). Aviation was in its infancy and the public's fascination with it really kicked in after World War I. News stories about the exploits of military pilots like Germany's Manfred von Richthofen a.k.a. The Red Baron and America's Eddie Rickenbacker made the prospect of having other war-time pilots flying in their own neighborhoods practically irresistible.
It didn't take the post-war (and unemployed) military pilots long to figure out that
a.) you could fairly cheaply pick up a surplus Jenny (Curtiss JN-4, used to train 95% of American and Canadian pilots for the Great War - see photo to the right), Fokker, Standard, DeHavilland or Sopwith Camel (which Snoopy the cartoon beagle would make famous again many decades later) for your very own and
b.) barnstorming gave you a rush similar to dogfighting with the additional benefit that no one was shooting at you..
Of course, pilots couldn't just show up in a town and expect to start flying. For one thing, there were often no airfields to speak of. When that was the case, the pilots had to hire locals to clear and flatten a farm field before the big day so they could land and take off. The pilots had to check out where the ditches and slopes (and livestock) were so they could avoid them. They had to advertise. They had to pay for gas and repairs. One thing was free, though - a way to figure out the wind direction. Barnstormers would simply note which way the local cows were standing and go from there. Cows always stand with their rear ends facing the wind!
To raise money, barnstormers would charge for the show and give rides, sometimes for "as low as" $1.00. Seat belts were rudimentary and cockpits were open so the passenger was expected to hang on tight.
Barnstormers' stunts - which became more and more extreme as the competition for audiences escalated - became part of aviation legend. We'll talk about those and some barnstorming pilots who went on to actually create aviation history next week.
In the meantime, here's a very funny video that has absolutely nothing to do with aviation but is a study on cow behavior. They're smart enough to know to stand with their tails into the wind, but silly and curious enough to allow themselves to be herded by - well, take a look.
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.