Many aircraft fly over the U.S., but only a select few partake in the top shows. These airshows can be categorized by history, culture, and specialty.
Aviation has a wonderfully storied past, and as a result, attendees at air shows expect a bit of history. Enthusiasts prepare throughout the year to display their collections. The best historically themed shows include Planes of Fame Air Show in Chino, California; National Warplane Museum Airshow in Geneseo, New York; and the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum WWII Weekend in Reading, Pennsylvania.
There was a time when pilots were looked upon as celebrities, and this celebration of aviators remains alive and well in many parts of the country. Among the best of culture-driven events in America are Wings Over Houston Airshow in Houston, Texas; Great Tennessee Airshow in Smyrna, Tennessee; and Cleveland National Air Show in Cleveland, Ohio.
The state of Florida hosts numerous airshows, as the weather allows spectators and pilots to enjoy themselves throughout the year. Two of the most highly regarded annual airshows are Fort Lauderdale Air Show in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and SUN ‘n FUN International Fly-In & Expo in Lakeland, Florida.
Some shows only come together when pilots’ schedules allow for it. Daytona Beach, Florida hosts one of these: It is not an annual spectator event, but instead the gathering of aviation enthusiasts. Expect such events to fly every other year or so.
There are airshows and then there are air races, and few people know about these races even though they are global events. Reno, Nevada hosts what is regarded as the very best in air racing—the National Championship Air Races. The race is a show unto itself, but the weekend long event also hosts demonstration teams.
Most airshows occur over a weekend. However, one known throughout the aviation community is a fly-in, week-long gathering. Often referred to as just “Oshkosh”, it popularized the town for which it is named. EAA AirVenture Oshkosh is by far the most widely recognized airshow of all time. It’s actually less like a show and more like a vacation! Spectators are not there for the day. They come to spend time in the town of Oshkosh for this one week out of each year.
It’s harder to find a more exciting hobby than flying. Regardless of whether you’re taking your first flight or going up for the millionth time, nothing beats the rush of watching the world shrink beneath you as you climb into the clouds. Take it from me: For years, I’ve flown fixed-wing aircraft, and I wouldn’t trade my time in the skies for anything. But before you hop in the pilot’s seat, you’ll first need to earn your pilot’s license. This process isn’t too complicated, but it does require patience, focus, and dedication.
To qualify for a pilot’s license, you must be at least 17 years old, and you must also be able to speak, read, and write perfectly in English (English, interestingly, is the international language pilots and air traffic controllers around the world use to communicate with each other). There is also a medical component in order to be qualify for your pilot’s license that requires you to be in good health and pass a physical examination.
This is one of the easier items to check off the list. You can obtain this by either submitting an application to a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Flight Standards District Office or to an FAA examiner. Conveniently, when you receive your aviation medical certificate, the document you receive at that time doubles as both a student pilot certificate as well as a confirmation of medical fitness, so you can handle two birds with one stone then.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) website includes a database of licensed flight schools if you need to find one. Make sure that you’re comfortable with both the school and the instructor before committing. This stage of the process is where you’ll actually fly; you’ll also need to pay for this time, however, and flight school can cost around $5,000 throughout the learning and licensing process depending on your location. I went to a very affordable flight school at Brown Field in San Diego, California.
Note that some flight schools will require you to take the FAA written exam before they let you into the cockpit, but either way, you’ll need to pass it to earn your pilot’s license. It consists of 60 multiple choice questions, and by the time the two-and-a-half hour test period is over, you need to answer at least 70% correctly in order to make the grade. The test comes with a $70 fee.
Administered by an FAA examiner, the checkride is the last obstacle standing between you and your pilot’s license. It typically lasts between one and two hours with the examiner joining you as a passenger and asking you to perform certain maneuvers and quizzing you on practical test standards (PTS). If you pass—congratulations! You’ll have to file some paperwork with the examiner, but you’ll have earned your pilot’s license.