Air Fiesta’s lineup of aerobatic performers has never been more packed with A-list talent than it is for this year’s event, according to organizers.
At the same time, they say, ticket prices have been reduced for the event, which takes place next weekend, Feb. 22-23, at the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport.
Headlining Air Fiesta 2014 is the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team, performing precision formation aerobatics in four red-and-white AT-6 “Texans” — advanced trainers originally used during World War II and into the 1950s by the U.S. Army Air Force, the Navy and the British Royal Air Force.
The Aeroshell Team last appeared at Air Fiesta in 2010, Air Fiesta Chairman David Hughston said.
“These guys are so easy to work with and so nice,” he said. “It really is a pleasure to have them. We’re excited about that. They’re some of the best anywhere.”
Also appearing this year is Kyle Franklin in his Demon-1 high-performance aerobatic biplane, designed by Franklin and his father, the late air show performer Jimmy Franklin. The Demon-1, affectionately dubbed “Dracula,” is powered by a 515-horsepower Pratt & Whitney radial engine and took nine years to build.
“It’s one of a kind, built from scratch,” Franklin said in a phone interview. “There’s not another one like it in the world. The goal behind it when we started was to build something that had the look and sound and appeal of the old barnstorming airplanes of the 1930s.”
Despite appearances, the Demon-1 employs state-of-the-art aeronautical design and components throughout, he said, while noting that only a handful of aerobatic performers are still flying round-engine aircraft these days.
“It’s hard to beat that sound,” Franklin said. “There’s nothing else out there like it.”
Matt Younkin also returns for the first time since 2011. Younkin flies a red-and-black twin-engine Beech 18 built in 1943. He’s the world’s only aerobatic performer using the “Twin Beech,” which was never intended as an aerobatic aircraft but was built instead to haul passengers and cargo.
His late father, Bobby Younkin, performed aerobatics in the plane for 15 years before his son started doing it.
“It’s capable of doing a lot of neat stuff it doesn’t look like it ought to be able to do,” Younkin said.
Also appearing at the air show are Jan Collmer in his 300-horsepower Extra 300 aerobatic monoplane; Air Fiesta veteran Paul Fiala in his vintage Great Lakes biplane; Mike “Spanky” Galloway also performing in an Extra 300; and Aaron Taylor, who does a solo routine in an AT-6.
Randy Ball is back again this year with his vintage Russian MIG-17 fighter.
Air Fiesta 2014 also will feature a 1943 Douglas A-26 “Invader” light bomber, a freshly restored North American P-51 “Mustang” fighter, and a Curtiss P-40 “Warhawk” fighter and Douglas C-47 transport plane, both owned by the Commemorative Air Force.
CAF planes from the Brownsville-based Rio Grande Valley Wing, which puts on Air Fiesta each year, will also be on display, including a 1940s twin-engine Cessna T-50 “Bobcat,” whose nickname is “Bamboo Bomber.”
The RGV Wing’s rare, newly restored Fleet Finch biplane will fly at Air Fiesta for the first time in 15 years, assuming the weather cooperates. Hughston’s own blue-and-yellow Stearman biplane will also be on hand, as will other aircraft.
The local Mustang club will bring its cars, children’s’ activities will abound and the trade show will go on as usual inside the CAF hangar. Food and beverages will, of course, be available.
“We’ve got a lot of air show,” Hughston said. “There’s just a lot of fun stuff going on.”
Despite the all-star roster of performers, ticket prices have been rolled back to where they were a couple of years ago, he said, in recognition of the fact that “the economy still isn’t back to where it ought to be.”
Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the gate. Children under 12 get in free. Upgrading to the “Flight Line Club” is another $10 per head, plus the Lions Club is offering reserved seating. Parking is $5.
Advance tickets are available at www.airfiesta.org, Cameron County Stripes stores, the CAF RGV Wing Museum, and Brownsville Convention & Visitors Bureau. In Hidalgo County, advance tickets are available at Mail-Pak Your Box at 5111 N. 10th St. in McAllen.
The decision to hold Air Fiesta early this year — in February rather than March — was made in hopes of attracting more Winter Texans. Plus, it puts more distance between the air show and competing events like Charro Days, the RGV Livestock Show and Spring Break, Hughston said.
“We’re hoping that we get a good crowd,” he said. “We really need to. Last year, we didn’t do very well. We need to get a good bunch of folks out there. It’s good, fun, family entertainment.”
Noting that Air Fiesta is the CAF wing’s only major fundraiser throughout the year, Hughston said future Air Fiesta’s future could depend on how well the air show does this year. The hope is that the event will bring in enough money to put some of it — once this year’s bills are paid — into a building fund for a new facility across the airport, he said.
Hughston stressed that Air Fiesta is put on entirely by volunteers. Other than the performers themselves, he said, nobody gets paid. Neither could the show happen without the “enthusiastic support of sponsors,” he said.
“We just want to thank them for helping us put this air show on,” Hughston said.