Air show season includes UK Red Arrows, F-35s and 747s

A British invasion and a Jumbo Jet anniversary tribute are both generating buzz around this year’s North American air show season.

For the first time in more than a decade, the UK’s legendary Royal Air Force fighter jet performance team, the Red Arrows, are touring the USA and Canada.

Red Arrow pilots — among the most talented and experienced pilots in the British military — will be flying their classic BAe Hawk T1 trainers first to Ottawa, Ontario, and then to seven additional air shows this summer and fall.

Known as “The Reds” — the team last visited the US briefly in 2008. The most recent big tour was way back in 1993.

“It’s been a long time for the team,” said Red Arrows Sqn. Ldr. Adam Collins, who supervises the Reds. “We’re really looking forward to coming back and demonstrating the best of British.”

Looking forward to a special show

Collins offered CNN a peek at what they have planned for their approximately 25-minute North American display.

The first half will mainly include all nine jets flying complex aerobatics very close together with breathtaking precision. During the second half they’ll break into groups of five and four jets — each group executing thrilling opposition passes and other dynamic maneuvers.

Depending on the terrain, weather and other factors, some pilots may fly a minimum of 100-300 feet above the ground, at terrific speeds. Highlights include a special formation honoring this summer’s 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.

Geek alert: Although they’ve been retrofitted with digital GPS displays, Red Arrow jets still have analog cockpits because the Hawk T1 dates back to the 1970s. “It’s very nimble — very agile,” Collins told CNN. “It’s the perfect platform and it’s relatively straightforward for us to keep serviced on the road when we’re touring as well — due to its simplicity.”

Where to see the Red Arrows

  • August 13: Gatineau-Ottawa Airshow, Ottawa, Ontario
  • August 17-18: Chicago Air and Water Show, Illinois
  • August 21: Thunder Over the Boardwalk, Atlantic City, New Jersey
  • August 24-25: New York Air Show, New Windsor, New York
  • August 31-September 2: Canadian International Air Show, Toronto, Ontario
  • September 7-8: Spirit of St Louis Airshow, Missouri
  • September 20-22: Oregon International Airshow, Portland, Oregon
  • October 5-6: Great Pacific Airshow, Huntington Beach, California

(As always, check airshow websites for possible schedule changes. Not all sites are currently reflecting 2019 dates.)

Oshkosh: Jumbo Jets at ‘the world’s greatest aviation celebration’

July 22-28: EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, Wisconsin

The legendary aviation-fest at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is always amazing. But this year promises to be HUGE. Literally. The week-long fly-in party put on by the Experimental Aircraft Association will be paying tribute to the Boeing’s gi-normous 747 Jumbo Jet, on its 50th anniversary.

Organizers expect several Boeing 747s to join this airborne shindig and be available for visitors to see up close.

Avgeeks will be celebrating the first widebody airliner — which opened the door to international travel for generations of Americans. Now, 50 years after its first flight, the 747 is becoming a rare species as major airlines have been replacing them with fuel-efficient widebody twin-jets.

Also, NASA engineers and at least one Apollo 11 astronaut will be on hand for a big celebration of Apollo 11’s 50th anniversary.

Other air show highlights this year

If you can’t make it to see the Red Arrows or to Oshkosh, maybe one of the air shows below might help you scratch your airplane itch this year:

(Again, schedules are subject to change. Check air show sites for more info.)

March 30-31: Melbourne Air and Space Show, Florida

What’s big: Lockheed Martin’s super-sophisticated fifth generation F-35A Joint Strike Fighter jet now has a USAF touring demonstration team. The Melbourne Air and Space Show will be hosting the F-35 demo team’s official North American debut, according to organizers.

The F-35 has been called the most expensive weapons system in history, partially due to delays in development. Not only is it stealthy and agile, the F-35’s sensor technology allows pilots to virtually “see” through the floor of the jet to spot potential threats and targets on the ground.

The USAF F-35 demo team flies the A version of the plane. The B version, flown by the US Marine Corps, can hover and land vertically, if necessary.

April 2-7: Sun ‘n Fun, Lakeland, Florida

What’s big: Basically everything. Along with Oshkosh, Sun ‘n Fun ranks among America’s biggest and best aviation events. This year, the US Navy Blue Angels will show off their prowess handling F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets.

Also check out the spectacular World War II-era warbirds and scores of other airplanes of all types.

April 27-28: Wings Over Wayne, Goldsboro, North Carolina

What’s big: The US Air Force will show off its famed stealth bomber, the B-2 Spirit — which cuts an ominous figure as it swoops in over any airfield. Hundreds of thousands attend Wings Over Wayne every year, making it “the largest free airshow in North Carolina,” according to its website.

May 4-5: Fort Lauderdale Air Show, Florida

What’s big: A lot of people love the super-cruising, thrust-vectoring Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor fighter jet. The official USAF F-22 Demonstration Team — led by pilot Maj. Paul “Loco” Lopez — will be strutting their stuff in Fort Lauderdale.

With a top speed of about 1,500 mph, the Raptor can “super-cruise” — meaning it can fly faster than the speed of sound for long periods of time without using afterburners. Afterburners inject fuel into the back end of a jet engine exhaust flow. It creates more power, but it also burns a lot of fuel.

The Raptor also has engine nozzles that change the direction of thrust — aka thrust vectoring.

When you watch an F-22 flight demonstration you can see how thrust vectoring allows the plane to almost dance in midair — so it can make tighter turns and point its nose at higher angles. This makes the F-22 a badass jet in a dogfight.

Often, the F-22 is sent to intercept Russian bombers when they get a little too close to US air space.

May 4-5: Planes of Fame, Chino, California

What’s big: Seeing the N9MB Flying Wing, a smaller cousin to the 1940s prototype Northrop YB-49, requires a pilgrimage to Chino’s Planes of Fame, which also features several other interesting aircraft.

May 11-12: Legends of Flight, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland

What’s big: Organizers say it’s the first time in 12 years the USAF Thunderbirds and US Navy Blue Angels will perform at the same venue. Here’s a golden opportunity to see many of the best precision jet pilots on the planet.

June 22-23: Vectren Dayton Air Show, Ohio

What’s big: This one is for fans of extra large flying machines. A huge C-17 Globemaster transport jet and a giant KC-135 fuel tanker will be performing separately — and together — at this show. Watching jets that weigh hundreds of thousands of pounds defy gravity reminds us that powered flight is indeed miraculous.

July 3-7: Battle Creek Field of Flight, Michigan

What’s big: Ever seen an air show at night? It’s cool. This event is billed as the “third largest twilight and night airshow in the nation.”

September 11-15: Reno National Championship Air Races, Nevada

What’s big: This is much more than an air show. (The USAF Thunderbirds will also be performing here, btw.) It’s a series of races — while flying at breakneck speed.

And it’s not for the faint of heart.

October 12-13: Atlanta Air Show, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Hampton, Georgia

What’s big: Usually, the USAF Thunderbirds precision jet fighter squadron would be enough to blow any aviation enthusiast’s hair back. But this show also will host the spectacular Canadian Armed Forces Snowbirds demo team, flying their classic CT-114 Tutors.

Set at the Atlanta Motor Speedway south of Atlanta, organizers say this will be the first time the Thunderbirds have ever performed in an “aerial stadium” venue.

October 25-27: Wings Over Dallas, Texas

What’s big: One of only two flying B-29 Superfortresses in the world, FIFI is legendary among warbird fans. Some say its “greenhouse style” cockpit window inspired Hollywood’s Millennium Falcon spaceship in the movie “Star Wars.”

If you can’t afford a flight at the show, at least get a look at it on the ground at Wings Over Dallas. This rare bird is truly beautiful.