What was billed as the first air show sponsored by Rotary International drew nearly 10,000 spectators to Orlando Executive Airport, over the weekend of November 6, in spite of little advance advertising outside of the aviation community and a number of other activities competing for the crowds.
The Rotary Club of Orlando sponsored the air show, aided by a long list of supporters that included WESH-TV, Bright House Networks, Orlando’s Baldwin Park community, Showalter Flying Service and Air Orlando Charter, Inc.
Aerobatic performers at the show included Patty Wagstaff, national glider champion Steve Coan, Eric Beard, the Red Eagle Team, Gene McNeeley, Gary Ward, Bud Walker, Elgin Wells and Team Sanford. They provided identical shows both Saturday and Sunday, with Team Sanford opening the show and Wagstaff closing it each day.
According to Rotary Club of Orlando President Charles Shuffield, the air show was the culmination of a two-year effort to produce a community-centered, family event dedicated to raising funds for Rotary International’s Polio Plus Project. This project is pledged to eliminate polio from the world, particularly in third-world countries, by the end of 2005, Shuffield explained.
Pat Phillips, who is the chairman and coordinator of the annual Sun ‘n Fun EAA Fly-In held in Lakeland, Fla., served in that capacity for the Rotary Air Show. He said the goal for the event had been to draw more than 20,000 people to the show. Phillips, who has been flying in air shows for 25 years as a performer in his Stearman, is an Orlando Rotary Club member.
“There has not been an air show at Orlando Executive Airport since the 1940s,” Phillips said. “We had originally planned to hold a show at Orlando International Airport last year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of flight and to dedicate the opening of the new runway. After 9/11, there were security problems with that, and we decided to move the event to Orlando Executive this year.”
A key factor in moving the show was the support of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, another of its sponsors, Phillips said. Along with its support, there had to be a great deal of coordination between the two airports, since air traffic to and from Orlando International flies directly over Orlando Executive, he added. At times, to air show spectators, Airbus A320s and Boeing 767s seemed to be flying in formation with the aerobatic performers, who had an altitude ceiling limit of 2,500 feet.
Rotary Air show performer Bud Walker seemed unfazed by the ceiling limitation. At 80, he is the oldest aerobatic performer in the U.S.
“I’m often asked why I continue to do this at my age, and my answer is that I will quit when it’s no longer any fun,” Walker said. “I’m here with my little Pitts to show the inherent beauty of flight and to let people know that you don’t have to spend $300,000 to have an aerobatic airplane. I also want people to know that you don’t have to be a young spring chicken to enjoy flying.”