Brainteaser Airshow People’s Choice Award


Brainteaser People’s Choice Awards

By Paul Berge

The Brainteaser #220 Bonus Question asked readers to name their favorite airshow performers or performances. The results are in, and no one appearing on the upcoming November ballot made the cut here. Readers are picky.

[Editor’s Note:This article is also available as an audio recording by the author.]


Military performers, whose individual names are rarely known, drew loud applause with the Navy Blue Angels clocking in slightly ahead of the Canadian Snowbirds for wow factor. The Spanish Air Force Patrulla Aguila (“Eagle Patrol”) in their Casa C-10 Aviojets earned bronze in this survey and turned paparazzi heads on the red carpet prior to the awards banquet.

Sorta military in its appearance and very popular with crowds is the now defunct Red Baron Pizza Stearman Team. Sadly, the frozen foodstuff lives on, but you do have to admire whatever marketing genius pitched the idea of equating a deadly German fighter pilot with pizza. Perhaps Baron Manfred von Richtofen — a.k.a., the Red Baron — was a fan. “Yah, Lothar, das ist sieg nummer achtzig; pizza’s on me!” Perhaps not.

Other group acts earning one vote each include the Aeroshell T-6 team. “Noisy, smoky, close in, low altitude!” And there was a lone vote from the UK for Richard Grace and Dave Puleston in the Trig Aerobatic Team.

This EAAer was proud of his heritage: “Remember the EAA Red Devils?” Why, yes, I do. They flew Pitts S1s. Please continue: “Saw them finish their act with formation torque rolls at the 1972 aerobatic nationals in Texas. Never saw them do it at a public airshow.”

And one voter preferred short and slow to the flash and smoke of the more popular acts and voted for “Helio Courier STOL and Slow Flight demonstration.” Goodyear Blimp high-speed flybys didn’t seem to impress anyone … or perhaps their votes are slow to arrive. Stay tuned.

Individual Acts of Aerial Wow

In no particular order, here are the recipients of single votes and voters’ comments:

“The Flying Professor in a Cub”

“Corky Fornoff in a Bearcat”

“Jeff Boerboon and the Jack Link Waco Taperwing”

“Harold Krier who coupled grace with precision.”

“Charlie Culp, whose flying farmer act was better than most, and really looked the part.”

“Erik Edgren … a real farmer who flies a knockout comedy act in his clipped-wing Cub.” (Ed. note: Edgren flies a Taylorcraft)

“Doug Rozendaal — warbird pilot; Corsairs, Mustangs, Zero, B25 … the list is seemingly endless” (Watch Doug in a holy-shlamoley takeoff over the cameraman in this video.)

“Gary Ward does some amazing things with his MX-2, such as an outside loop with squared corners and flying the dang thing sideways in a knife edge pass. Before I saw him do this I would never have guessed it possible in a propeller plane (in other words, no thrust vectoring).”

Also receiving a single vote each were Rob Holland, Matt Chapman and Skip Stewart but without commentary. Sometimes awe is best expressed silently.

Performers receiving two votes each include the following:

“CAF founder, the late Lefty Gardner with his P-38 White Lightnin’.” Someone voted for honky-tonk singer-songwriter, Lefty Frizzell, but they may have meant Gardner, so we counted it as two votes.

The late Leo Loudenslager, holder of seven national aerobatic championships, gleaned two votes, as did Matt Younkin and his Twin-Beech routine. Darrel Massman picked up two votes. Jimmy Franklin, who died in a 2005 midair collision with “Masters of Disaster” co-star, Bobby Younkin (Matt Younkin’s father), earned two votes. Art Scholl, known for his de Havilland Chipmunk aerobatic routine received two votes. Scholl died in a Pitts in 1985 while filming Top Gun.

And rounding out the two-vote category is Julie Clark, with one voter writing, “I love the smooth, graceful, perfectly performed way she flies her T-34.” On a personal note I had the honor to be Julie Clark’s last-minute announcer at an Iowa airshow a few years ago. Luckily, she couldn’t hear my play-by-play in flight, because the notes she’d provided blew away immediately after takeoff, and mostly I just said, “Wow! Ooooo! Ahhhh …” Never been asked again … by any performer.

Moving on to airshow performers who garnered three votes each. Duane Cole — like Erik Edgren — competed for airshow eyeballs with a diminutive Taylorcraft, but his act was anything but small. “His aerial ballet always seemed so easy on the aircraft, no hard yanking on any controls at any time,” a Cole fan wrote.

Patty Wagstaff took 3.5 votes, because one voter split the ticket between Wagstaff and aviation pioneer, Bessie Coleman, the first African-American pilot. She (Coleman, not Wagstaff) died in 1926 on her way to an airshow. Another reader voted for Peggy Wagstaff, but we tallied that one for Patty. If Peggy turns out to be real and feels cheated, we’ll recount.

The ballot returns almost doubled when Sean Tucker’s name entered the box, although there was some confusion over the spelling. “Sean Tucker” took two votes, “Sean D. Tucker” picked up three, and “Shawn Tucker” took another vote. Enthusiasm for the Oracle aero master culminated in one vote for “SEAN TUCKER!!!” All CAPS and three exclamation points doesn’t begin to describe Sean’s long career from California ag pilot spraying artichokes from a Stearman to international airshow superstar in whatever that shiny red biplane he now flies is. Oh, and one person voted for Shawn Trucker, which sounds like a 1970s country/western singer, but we counted it.

And the Best Airshow Pilot Is …

As popular as the various Tuckers were, airshow maestro Bob Hoover grabbed over three times as many votes (24) as Tucker. Face it, the guy is untouchable. Reasons for choosing Bob Hoover included, “For his precision aircraft control married with perfect energy management. A great guy, and a great role model for all pilots of all aircraft types.” Yeah, we’re all agreed there. “For his sheer mastery of the aircraft in all flight regimes,” was another voter’s reason for naming Hoover #1. And at least one voter remembered how in 1994 the FAA declared Mr. Hoover unfit to fly and temporarily grounded him. Oddly, in our survey there were no votes for the FAA groundling who’d made that bonehead call. Probably promoted into upper management.

That’s the statistically suspicious lot. Biplanes, Mustangs, jets and even a couple of T-crafts in the hands of talented pilots who view the sky as their stage, giving the rest of reason to look up, smile and — every now and then — dream what it must be like. So keep the ball centered and never give up that dream.