Air Shows

As spring rapidly approaches with the first sighting of my feathered friend, the Eastern Robin, I find myself gleaming with anticipation of the warmer weather and shed myself of the long, cold, and dreary months of winters past. And what a better way to welcome the arrival of a beautiful summer season than planning to attend upcoming air shows! To reunite with old friends, see familiar faces, and experience the sights and sounds of those glorious aircraft!

I remember coming across a few pieces of air show memorabilia in my father’s aviation collection and thought they would be nice to share. It’s interesting to me how times have changed since the late 1940s, and as I read this literature from the past, I daydream of an exciting time for both spectators and participants that seems so distant. But in a strange twist, I find it relevant to the year 2022 and can relate to the excitement covering all things involving aviation!

Let us go back to the weekend of September 14 & 15, 1946. Harry S. Truman is our acting President, country musician Hank Williams signed a recording contract in Nashville, and American film actor Tommy Lee Jones was born on Sunday, September 15, 1946.

The Army Air Forces and Civil Air Patrol presents the Niagara Frontier Air Show at the Niagara Falls Airport, NY. This 23 paged brochure, although 11-14 are missing, speaks of the importance of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) written by Colonel Stuart C. Welch and outlines the exhibits and schedules of each event during the two-day air show. The relevance of the New York Wing of the CAP is historical, with its formation in December 1941 under Commander Beckwith Havens. Then, in March 1942, the highly publicized and successful creation of the Anti-Submarine Aerial Patrol, first based in Atlantic City, NJ, was a pivotal point in the wartime efforts.

Airplanes proudly display a familiar symbol of a white triangle in a blue circle. These CAP pilots flew their light aircraft without military status, over open sea patrolling the East Coast from Maine to the southern tip of Florida, then around the Golf Coast to New Orleans. Fitted with bombs and two-way communication, these CAP pilots successfully destroyed several enemy submarines while operating closely with nearby Naval vessels. But unfortunately, the CAP pilots who lost their lives or were seriously injured were uneligible for reimbursement or military recognition by the government.

Members of CAP Tow Target Unit No. 22 in Clinton, Md., show off their personalized target sleeve. (CAP National Headquarters)

After the Navy acquired complete control of all anti-submarine activities, the CAP continued with their Courier Service by transporting government personnel and materials between military bases and manufacturing plants. The Army authorities also requested that the CAP construct bases throughout the US for military training exercises towing aerial targets for Army Air Forces (AAF) to fire upon inflight and ground munitions.

Ok, call me crazy, but let’s reflect on that last sentence. I love adrenaline-producing, heart-stopping activities just like everyone else. Still, I draw the line at flying a light civilian aircraft towing a target for military personnel to shoot from an airplane or anti-aircraft gunners. I hope those pilots had a new pair of shorts when they landed! Are you with me?

Floyd Carlson is in the pilot’s seat.

Here’s a quick history fact that I just read in this brochure. The Buffalo CAP unit sponsored the first indoor helicopter flight by Bell Aircraft at Group Meeting 65th Armory.

Now, back to the air show. The exhibits include an AAF eighteen trailer caravan spotlighting the Norden Bombsight, captured enemy material including Hilter’s possessions seized at Berchtesgaden, and postwar equipment. Also, private aircraft displayed in a hanger, including a Globe Swift 125 that I’m sure my father was showing, but I don’t have any photos to prove it.

A Norden bombsight in the nose of a B-29 Superfortress at the Museum of Aviation. (Museum of Aviation photo)

And the best for last, aerial displays of a P-80 “Shooting Star,” a B-29, a P-51 “Mustang,” a C-47, and lastly the A-26 “Invader.” Also, two demonstrations for “control-line” model aircraft by Buffalo Miniature Aircraft Engineers featuring a 113mph model by Robert Ackley and a jet-propelled model by Harold Diebold.

Douglas A-26 Invader

Harry Barrie, “Red” Williamson, and Edward Evers will demonstrate formation and acrobatic flight in light aircraft. Twenty minutes later, “Red” Skelton of Jamestown will perform “How Not To Fly An Airplane.” Finally, Bell Aircraft Corporation presents a helicopter demonstration “flying from zero to ninety miles per hour backward, sideways, up and down as well as straight away.”

Before the finishing ceremony and the ending of the first day of the show, the CAP Cadets demonstrate a parachute jump. “These boys and girls are members of the Parachute Squadron, Michigan Wing, CAP and are between the ages of 15 and 18.” My hats off to them!

I highly recommend downloading the full brochure to read the complete article on the CAP and enjoy the vintage advertising! Click the link below.

Do you have plans for Sunday, August 31, 1947? Good, neither do I, so meet me at the air show presented by the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce at the Hamburg Air Park in Hamburg, New York. I read over their flyer, and it looks like fun!

The featured attraction is Roland Maheu, Minot, Maine, Pathe & Paramount newsreels star. “The man that thrills his daring stunts. Walking on a plane wing at 100 miles per hour. His display of non-excelled aerobatic flying. Square Loops, starting from the ground. Snap Rolls. The whole book of tricks.”

Roland Maheu (courtesy Sun Journal)

“Plus, that Believe It or Not stunt featured in Ripley’s Column of climbing out on the landing gear to restart his engine, while the plane glides free in mid air.”

Click the link below to download this 4-page flyer and read the “Spot Landings” article starting on page two. It’s a fascinating piece and enjoyable to read about general aviation in that era. Unfortunately, I’m sorry to say that the answers to the “Plane Quiz” on page 4 are missing, so do your best, and I’ll leave it up to you to self-check your answers. Good luck!

And lastly, in the collection, a couple of newspaper clippings about the first annual air show at Buffalo Air-Park was on Sunday, July 11, 1948. It looks as though my father, Tony, gained inspiration from the other previous airshows.

Tony convinced the West Seneca Chamber of Commerce to sponsor the event. With approximately 5000 to 8000 spectators, the air show is a great success and scheduled for the following year by Authur Lewis, Chamber president.

The show started promptly with formation flying led by my father Tony and two other BAP employees, Niel Smith, sales manager, and Clarence Sheldon, assistant chief pilot.

The feature event is an eight-person mass parachute jump coordinated by Bobby Ward of Philadelphia PA and his Sky Devils. “After circling the field several times, the Sky Devils jumped from the two-engine ship, one motor of which had been shut off, from an altitude of approximately 1000 feet.”

Bell Aircraft Corporation gave a hovering and spot landing demonstration with Floyd Carlson, chief test pilot of the Helicopter Division, at the controls. Delbert Reed of Buffalo, NY, presented a glider demonstration and Pete Wilkins of Cornell NY put on an “airobatics” show.

H. Lloyd Child, Curtiss-Wright Airplane Division test pilot. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test & Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

Former Curtiss-Wright chief test pilot Lloyd Child gives a Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) cross-wind landing gear demonstration. In addition, Cook Cleland, Thompson trophy winner at the 1947 Cleveland Air Show, made a personal appearance.

Cook Cleland (courtesy City of Pensacola)
Tony Riccio, 1948 BAP Air Show. Notice the wing of a Republic Seabee on the right.

Tony needed an excellent closing act for the air show than just formation flying, so he teamed up with Wallis McGinnis of Hatboro PA, one of Bobby Ward’s Sky Devils. The two men attempted to start the silent motor on an airplane, piloted by Tony. McGinnis stood on the strut at an altitude of 800 feet but pretended to slip and fall with a delayed parachute jump finishing out the act. Sound familiar, at least hand propping a silent motor? Roland Maheu must have left a lasting impression on Tony from the 1946 Niagara Frontier Air Show.

A Republic Seabee, 1948 BAP Air Show.
Globe Swift 125, 1948 BAP Air Show.
Unknown spectators at the 1948 BAP Air Show.
Cessna 195
Luscombe 11 Sedan (Thanks, Doug, for the correction)