By Chuck Weirauch
Although Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has been in operation at its Daytona Beach campus ever since 1965, the school never had its own air show until this year. According to Joni Hunt, ERAU air show director, its first-ever Florida Skyfest, held October 29-30 at Daytona Beach International Airport, was enough of a success for her to start planning for the next event in October 2007.
Although final ticket sales totals hadn’t been tallied yet a week after the show, the best estimate available at the time was that more than 25,000 people were on hand over the weekend to enjoy the aerobatics of 15 performers and view more than 40 aircraft on static display. Several Air Force F-15 and F-16 jet fighters were on the tarmac, along with A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, T-33 trainers and KC-135 tankers.
The crowd also had the opportunity to explore several exhibits, some of which featured air show sponsors. The sponsors included Bank of America, Brown & Brown Insurance, Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, GE Commercial Aviation Service, Brighthouse Networks, Progressive Communications and several others.
While there were large air shows held in the Daytona Beach area from 1989 to 1997, ERAU wasn’t involved in them. The university was one of the sponsors of the Wings and Waves air shows held from 2001 to 2003. However, it was decided that the sponsors of that event could no longer afford to support those free-to-the-public shows along the coast. Rather than have the area lose an air show, ERAU officials decided in 2004 to hold their own venue at Daytona Beach International Airport, which is adjacent to the campus.
“We feel that an air show belongs at an airport, not away from it as before,” Hunt said. “The location really lets people get a chance to get up close to airplanes and their pilots and gain a better understanding of the working of an airport. That is particularly true when we have to pause the show to let commercial aircraft takeoff and land.”
Along with having the show pay for itself, ERAU had two other reasons for moving the air show to the airport and charging admission, Hunt said. One reason was to have a convenient place for its students to view the event, while another was to have a central gathering place for alumni during its homecoming weekend.
“Overall, we’re quite thrilled with the turnout,” Hunt said.
One of the ERAU alumni at the show was “Russian Thunder” aerial acrobat Eric Beard, who excited the crowd with a performance in his red-and blue Yak 54, covered with the name of his sponsor, Embry-Riddle. Beard holds an undergraduate and master’s degree in aeronautical science from ERAU. The Florida Skyfest is just one of the 28 shows he has flown in 2005.
“This is the third time we’ve flown here. We’re excited to be at the airport this time because we’re a little closer to the crowd,” Beard said. “Sometimes over-water shows can be difficult because of the lack of the depth perception that you have over land.”
Prior to the show, Beard said he would have no new routines during his performance, but would be performing his signature high-alpha, 360-degree hover maneuver as the highlight of his aerial act. His Yak 54, one of the few aircraft that can safely perform this maneuver, is one of only seven in the world that are flying today.
Another return Daytona Beach air show performer was wing walker Teresa Stokes, along with Gene Soucy in their Grumman Showcat biplane. She’s one of only seven currently active wing walkers in the world. The couple, who have performed together for more than 15 years, now have even more in common since Stokes donated a kidney to Soucy after he was diagnosed with kidney disease.
They’ve become advocates of organ donation programs to help increase public awareness of the need to join such efforts. With Soucy back in good health, the pair has flown in 20 air shows this year. Rather than fly any new maneuvers at the Florida Skyfest, the two planned to “go with what we know works,” Stokes explained.
“We’re always happy to be at Daytona Beach,” Stokes said. “We consider it to be one of our home shows because we know everybody here and it’s such a familiar and friendly place.”
Other performers at the show included Patty Wagstaff, Matt Chapman, Mike Mancuso, Nikolay Timofeev, Lee Lauderback, Mike Goulian, Fowler “Big Dog”
Carey and Ed Hamill. Chapman and Mancuso provided one of the most thrilling acts when they performed their mirror and head-on passes as a part of their Adventure in the Sky routine. Also bringing members of the audience to their feet was Les Shockley in his Shockwave Jet Truck.