I went to my first airshow when I was too young to remember anything. My father is a pilot; initially an Air Force fighter pilot, then airline and Air National Guard fighter pilot. He spent an entire career flying, so airshows were a normal thing for my family. The best weekend for me as a kid was if my dad was home and we could spend a Saturday walking around the ramp at one of the local airports while Dad named all the airplanes and told me all about them. We'd walk up to them, peer into the cockpits. We were lucky enough to live near Van Nuys airport where we could see lots of interesting airplanes. World War II fighters painted up for the Reno Air Races, B-25s, T-6s. I have a photo of me at about age 8 standing in front of Miss America, Howie Keefe's air race Mustang on the ramp at Van Nuys from one of those airport Saturdays.
I still love the sounds and smells of airplanes. When I was in my twenties my dad and I flew up to Anchorage and spent a day walking around looking at all the variety of bush airplanes . A year or so later we went back to Dayton, Ohio, to Wright Patterson AFB and the Air Force Museum. The Air Force Museum, at least at that time, occupied a couple of giant buildings on the base, and the airplanes were just parked inside. No ropes, nothing keeping you away from them. For me, as a child, the X15 was the ultimate airplane. Nothing went faster, nothing went higher that wasn't a spaceship and there, on the floor, was an X15 that I could walk up to, touch, sniff, feel. It was pretty spectacular. We've also managed to get to the Reno Air Races a few times, and if you love airplanes and have never been there, you must go.
The Thunderbirds, the Air Force demonstration team pictured above, are a fixture at airshows, together with the Blue Angels, who are the Navy's demonstration team. They fly a very tightly controlled show, very close together, very smoothly. These days they fly the F-16 but in the past they've flown a variety of airplanes. My earliest Thunderbird memories are of the F-4, a two seat two engine fighter which was VERY loud and very impressive in a four ship flyby. For the Carter years they flew the T-38, a two seat, two engine trainer, which was considerably less impressive, even though I think the show might have been harder since they had to fly so close together in those little tiny airplanes. Now they are back in a fighter, the F-16, which isn't nearly as loud as the F-4 but is still pretty neat.
When I was a teen I would borrow my dad's Spotmatic and the big lens, a 300mm f6.8 monster to shoot airshows. Manual focus, manual metering, manual winding, needless to say, while I shot lots of film I didn't get too many keepers. When I got older I would take my Pentax K1000 with a 70-210 zoom on it. Not too many keepers there either. Sometimes I'd have both cameras hanging off of me, trying to look all professional. By the 2004 or so I had an Olympus C-4040, a point and shoot rangefinder digital with a fantastic lens, but still not an airshow camera because of the full second of shutter lag. Press the shutter then count...click. I bought the telephoto attachment for it, a giant, bulbous lens which blocked the viewfinder and took it to the Reno Air Races in 2004 and got some really good shots despite the handicap. Finally, by the 2009 airshow at Hillsboro, Oregon I had my Pentax *istDS and a Tamron 70-300 autofocus lens. Finally a camera and lens combination which would allow me to get some good shots, and this is one of them.
I'm looking forward to this year's show at Hillsboro with my Nikon gear. I'll share them if I get any good ones.