Top Ten Ways to Become an Airshow Insider

2035287760057782051nvZtLX_ph Well folks, it’s summer and the airshow season is in full swing. The oil crunch has been unkind to quite a few shows out there, causing cancellations for some and scale-backs for others — but thanks to loyal fans, airshows still stand as tip-top entertainment.

I was supposed to be at my hometown airshow this weekend in Geneseo, NY — appropriately named “The Geneseo Airshow – The Greatest Show on Turf.” It’s one of the few grass-field shows left out there, and is something like a field of dreams for many aviation enthusiasts. Unfortunately the gas crunch hit me hard and made the trek of 2600 miles from AZ to NY impossible, so I am here soothing my sorrow for not being there with a blog post.

I will admit, I am not a die hard airshow fan like some — I rarely go to large shows with multiple jet teams and huge crowds. I prefer smaller, more intimate venues. I like the kind of shows where you can do a little talking with the crews and pilots and get hooked up with some behind-the-scenes access that the public can’t get usually. I like being an airshow insider.

But being an airshow insider is way more than the exclusive access and whatnot — it’s about getting more out of the show than just what’s happening in the air.  It’s about finding new ways to enjoy the event, or even just survive the harsh environment that they sometimes present to allow yourself to enjoy a show without feeling pain.

So based on that, I came up with ten ways to become the “Airshow Insider” — or ways to get the most out of your airshow experience.

10) Don’t be stupid – bare essentials
OK, this one is simple — bring what you need to survive. Wear a hat, bring sunglasses, wear sunscreen, drink water (lot’s), and make darn sure you have something to protect yourself and any expensive cameras and the like if it rains. Prepared with the basics will allow you to enjoy the show more without that trip to the EMS Tent due to heat exhaustion!

9) Friday afternoons are great
Most people going to shows plan for Saturday or Sunday, which is fine — but if this is a big show for you, and they have an “arrival day” pass, grab one and go on a Friday too. Much smaller crowds mean you’ll get more access to pilots and planes and can get some of those good taxi, takeoff, or landing shots without those heads in front of your lens. f there is no Friday show, then plan to be there early — or take advantage of photo tours if they offer them (like at Thunder Over Michigan).

8) Plan for an overnight
Since most “good” shows are a trip for many people, I recommend planning for an overnight stay. Even if you leave in the dark hours before dawn to get to a show, you sure as heck won’t have the enthusiasm for driving home after a long day on the ramp!  For your own enjoyment and safety, get a room and sleep up before heading back. That way you won’t have the urge to leave early, and you might even be able to take advantage of some afterhour activities. Oh yeah, book your rooms early, or else you may risk staying a good drive away from the show as well!

7) Know before you go – ASB
The Internet has been a great asset to the airshow world! Websites have popped up all over the place for airshow nuts — and the best one for the enthusiast is ASB is filled with insights on the performers, kick-butt videos and photos, and a fantastic forum for airshow enthusiasts to get the inside scoop on upcoming shows, reviews of past shows, and hot news with the performers. A stop at ASB will give you the lowdown on what to see and do at the shows you love, and maybe meet some friends…

6) Make friends before you go
And what better way to connect with friends you make on ASB than to meet up at the show!  Teaming up with buddies at the show can make a show a lot more enjoyable.  Each person may have a unique insight on the show or performances, giving you a great new point of view. Perhaps these friends might have inside access to something at the show… making you an insider by association! Either way, it’s a great way to make friends and enjoy the show on a social level.

5) Afterhours sometimes works wonders
Staying around until they start to close the gates can sometimes work at the right shows. Some shows push everyone off the ramp and that’s it… but others may have activities after the public creeps out of the parking lots and the sun starts to go down. Hangar parties, crew barbeques, or even hangar dances add a whole other dimension to the event. Investigate these at the show you are going to… who knows, you might be able to buy a cold one for your favorite performer — even though it’s most likely going to be a soda anyhow!

4) Get the membership
Quite a few shows are sponsored by a local group or air museum. It goes without saying that these groups need your help — so buy a membership if you like the show. Most times you’ll get a free show pass with a membership anyhow and you’ll definitely get the extra dollar value with the newsletters and information you’ll get from the group. Plus you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’ve done your part to help a bit more. If you are a fan of the Oshkosh AirVenture… prepare in advance and get a membership to EAA Warbirds of America before you go — it’s worth it. It may sound funny, but it allows you access to one of the most sought-after elements of any show… flush toilets.

3) The VIP Tent
Now this one is not easy for most… but if you gain access to it, you are airshow insider extraordinaire! This tent usually comes with food and drink, shade, and show line seating for those with the hallowed wristband that allows them access. Getting that wristband is the problem. Try to make friends and ask around on ASB for folks helping out, or if you’re a local, find out what companies are helping to sponsor the event and see if you can wrangle a pass from them. Either way, it’s well worth the effort if you can make it happen and will assure a very enjoyable show for you.

2) Crew or “How Wiping Aeroshell 120 got me the best seat in the house!”
Sometimes the best seat in the house is the one under the wing of a favorite plane… with the crew. Every show performer, big and small, has a crew of some sort — and many are volunteers. Join a warbird group and offer to help crew the plane (eg: running errands, giving tours, wiping oil, selling knick-knacks, etc.). Even if you don’t fly aboard the aircraft arriving to the show, offer to drive in and help. Your effort will help secure you a crew wristband or pass so you can be part of crew-only airshow activities and the like. Keep in mind that this isn’t a pass for sluffing off… you need to work and get sweaty for this one, but it’s fun and rewarding in the end.

1) The Press Pass
OK, this one is the biggie if you want real inside access. In this day and age of blogging and social media, “press” doesn’t just mean newspapers or TV. Coverage of an airshow can take many forms, and savvy airshow marketers should know this. Getting a great airshow blogger on their side is well worth the extra press pass for Friday for them. If you are an enthusiast that wants to work up to a higher level to become an insider, being a member of the press is your best bet. Airshow press day offers up-close access to the people and the planes that make the show great, and you even might get a chance to bum a ride yourself. Press passes during the show may get you behind the ropes and in areas exclusive to crews or staff alone. Beware, being a member of the press isn’t easy work though, and expect to be taking lots of photos or writing. Show coordinators want to see the fruits of your effort, so don’t let them down! Plus, you want to be asked back next year right?

Of course, the press pass requires a higher-level of skill than just being a spectator — you need the skills to write, the skills to interview, and the skills to document (photo) — but if you have these, then you are a marketable asset with some worth. Look at some of the Internet and print aviation news organizations and answer their calls for stringers if they make such an announcement. With any luck, you might have what it takes to be an airshow insider of the first degree!

Good luck airshow insiders to be!

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