From Then to Now: A History of Airshows

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  • By 14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
  • 14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

The “Wings Over Columbus” Air Show and STEM Expo is quickly approaching. There are several world-class performers, aircraft displays, and educational activities to take in during the event weekend on 26-27 March 2022. This year, the United States Air Force celebrates 75 years of breaking barriers, advancements in aviation technology and projection of global air power. However, the air shows of today wouldn’t exist without the long, rich aviation history that can be traced back to the beginnings of flight.

In August 1909, the “Grande Semaine d’Aviation de la Champagne,” or the “Rheims Aviation Meeting” was held at a racetrack in Rheims, France.  The week-long spectacle is considered to be the first international aviation meeting, which drew aviators from all over the world to compete for prizes in aviation-related challenges. Many famous early pilots participated and the event was a success, drawing thousands of spectators and new aviation fans that camped in tents to watch.

After World War I, pilots began performing at travelling air shows. These events were used to advance the field of aviation by providing a means to inspire and educate the next generation of future aviators. Travelling air shows, also called circuses, were small and traveled from town to town and usually coincided with a “Victory Loan” or “War Bonds” rally. In addition to the educational purpose of the shows, many different types of acts began to surface, such as wing walkers and air races.  In later years, air shows provided entertainment during national holidays such as Armistice Day or George Washington’s birthday celebrations.

The modern air show combines the best of military and civilian aerial performers to celebrate the advancement and history of flight. Aerial performers like the United States Air Force Thunderbirds and Air Combat Command A-10C Thunderbolt II Demonstration Team, showcase the highest standards of precision and dedication to the pursuit of Excellence, a core pillar of the Air Force Core Values. Each team inspires thousands of air show guests across the country every year. Air shows carry on a century-long tradition of providing a forum for aviators, engineers and enthusiasts to meet.

“Air shows afford us the opportunity to honor our past while inspiring a new generation of Airmen to pave the way for the future,” Lt. Col. Timothy Thoren, “Wings Over Columbus” air show director said. “This year we are expecting members of the 454th Bombardment Wing, who flew B-52s at Columbus in the 1950s and 1960s to attend the air show. “Wings Over Columbus” 2022 will bring the past together with the future so we can honor our heroes, learn from their achievements and prepare our Air Force to meet tomorrow’s challenges.”

The 14th Flying Training Wing hosts the largest training aircraft fleet while raising the bar for technological innovation to reshape the future Air Force aviator. This year, Columbus AFB aims to raise the bar again with its first large-scale STEM Expo featured at the air show. Over 30 technology and education partners have come together to exhibit advancements in virtual reality, engineering, unmanned vehicle systems, forensics, military aviation and space.

“The air show provides a unique regional recurring and public outreach opportunity for the Air Force,” Thoren said. “Our local community partners have played a pivotal role in planning and hosting this air show, just as they have for decades supporting Columbus AFB and our critical mission. “Wings Over Columbus” provides a venue for Airmen and community members to celebrate our incredible success and forge bonds to advance the mission of Columbus AFB and the interests of our community.”

The “Wings Over Columbus” Air Show and STEM Expo is scheduled to be held March 26 and 27, 2022 at Columbus AFB, Miss. Gates open at 10 a.m. both days. The show is open to the public with free admission and parking.

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