This year’s Culpeper Air Fest started with a fall chill in the air and overcast skies. Fortunately the clouds began to break up, in time for the start of the show.
Flying activities kicked off with an impressive display of remote control aircraft. These handmade planes are fun to watch, especially the flying lawnmower. Only in America can you see a “lawn mower”. Aerial performers, from the nearby Flying Circus Airshow, started the piloted show with a patriotic parachute jump to start the day’s fun. The Airshow also brought their wing walking talents to the show.
Former Astronaut Joe Edwards beat up the field in his North American T-28 Trojan, showing what this old bird still had some serious capability in it.
Art Nalls flew solo demonstrations in both the L-39 Albatros as well as his own FRS2 Sea Harrier. As the only privately owned Sea Harrier in the world, this aircraft, XZ439, is a rare bird indeed. Later on, the Warrior Flight team flew a stunning two ship performance featuring L-39s.
The Air Fest also conducts science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) activities for area students, to encourage the children’s interest in these fields. Culpeper fifth graders were treated to hands on STEM exhibits as a field trip days before the show.
The twelve ship Potomac Flight, conducted a large formation flyover with nine North American T-6 Texans, two Douglas C-47s, and a Beechcraft C-45. The previous day, the Potomac Flight took part in a rare overflight of the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery to honor disabled American veterans.
Manfred Radius flew his acrobatically rated Salto II sailplane, in an elegant demonstration of both his talent and the aircraft’s capability.
The Military Aviation Museum flew up a Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane, to take part in a heritage flight with the Sea Harrier. Sadly this flight was canceled due to unfavorable winds, though the beautiful warbirds taxied out on the field for the crowd to admire.
Tragically the show had a fatal crash, the night before when aerobatic pilot Jon Thocker was killed. Preforming a special night routine for show sponsors, Thocker was a member of the two man team from Redline Airshows. Both the NTSB and FAA were on the scene to investigate, though the cause has not been officially determined. After conferring with state and federal officials, the Air Fest organizers fittingly went on with the show Saturday morning.
The Culpeper Air Fest bills itself as, “Best Little Air Show in the East”, and this simply does not do the show justice. The show continues to improve, be it the: growing STEM educational training, increased number of performers, professionalism of the organizers, and overall showmanship. It will be a joy to experience the Culpeper Air Fest in the years to come.