The USAF Thunderbirds diamond formation canopy shot at the 2011 Cleveland National Air Show

The USAF Thunderbirds diamond formation canopy shot at the 2011 Cleveland National Air Show at Burke Lakefront Airport, Sunday demo.

Unlike other air shows I have covered, I sat on this review  for some time. I wanted to confirm some thoughts and ideas before writing the review of the 2011 Cleveland National Air Show beyond the air show acts themselves. I’ve been attending the Cleveland National Air Show since, well since the late 1970s. It was my first air show and has been one that I’ve always looked forward to attending.

The Cleveland Air Show has been a must see on the air show circuit for decades. Part of the reason is the bloodlines that run through to the old Cleveland National Air Races of the 30s and 40s. During the beginning of aviation, Cleveland and Ohio was a true hot bed for the industry. In more modern times the aircraft manufacturers have long since left for the west coast and the air races have been gone since the 40s. That aside, Cleveland always seemed to keep the history alive every year during Labor Day weekend with a tremendous 3 day weekend air show.

A Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188 (F/A-18 Hornet) does a really low pass on arrival to the 2011 Cleveland National Air Show

A Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188 (F/A-18 Hornet) does a really low pass on arrival to the 2011 Cleveland National Air Show on Friday before the show.

In the past few years however, the Cleveland Air Show has turned into a ghost of what it once was.  The crowds are dwindling as are the acts, and this year the static displays even dried up.The following is an overview of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of the Cleveland National Air Show.

The Good:

The single best thing about the Cleveland National Air Show is that you can almost count on seeing either the USAF Thunderbirds or the USN Blue Angels aerial demonstration teams as headliners. The teams alternate every other year and outside of a few scarce years, one of them can be found in Cleveland on Labor Day weekend.

Another good aspect of the show is the location. The Air Show takes place at Burke Lakefront Airport on the shores of Lake Erie right downtown in Cleveland. Easy access to the airport via all the highways makes it a nice drive to the show. Little rough leaving depending on where you park, but nothing outlandish at all.

Variety of aircraft performing. From pilots who fly in the shadows of the barnstormers tradition to the Navy’s F/A-18 Hornet and OA-10A Thunderbolt II, the list of acts is generally very diverse, though not as large as years gone by.

Unfortunately, that’s the end of the good list. I wish I could keep adding to it, but the last few years have been really rough for the show and there isn’t a whole lot to get excited about anymore.


The Bad:

The diversity of performers gets bad once the flying begins. Too many years now aviation fans attending the Cleveland Air Show have been treated to multiple performances from the same act or pilot with little variation. I am very well aware that many people want to see the jet car, jet truck or jet school bus but I am not sure we want to see it twice in the same show day! If we did, we’d go to a drag race.

This year we were treated to one of the performers flying three times! I kid you not, three separate demos from the same performer. The three demos were superb, but repetitive. I don’t want to come across as being negative to any particular performer, this article is about the Air Show, not the pilots.

Also this year, attendees saw Metro Life Flight Helicopter Flyby which took up 45 minutes of flying time from the schedule. Anyone living in Cleveland sees one of the Metro helicopters flying overhead weekly if not more, why do we need to watch them for 45 minutes during an air show?

Finally, the F-4 Phantom’s solo demo was too short. A couple of flybys, nothing too exciting. Most avgeeks would say this about any F-4 Phantom demo, myself included, but what pushed this to the bad list is the fact the F-4 was circling downtown Cleveland for 30 minutes waiting for the performer before it to finish. Maybe with better scheduling we could’ve seen the F-4 at the show instead of just hearing it buzz the empty buildings downtown!

The Ugly:

Fighter row at the 2011 Cleveland National Air Show. This taxiway used to be full of planes

Fighter row at the 2011 Cleveland National Air Show. This taxiway used to be full of planes in past years at the show.

The static displays were all but missing from this year’s show. Fighter row consisted of 1, yes 1 modern fighter, the  CF-188 Hornet and it wasn’t even a U.S. Navy fighter !

Years past fighter row was packed, literally, full of current fighters. Where were the A-10s? the F/A-18s? Prowlers? heck anything ! Last year’s row was thin as well, but a bit larger than one modern fighter !

The Static displays over all were few and very far between compared to shows in the past. Many staples were not here, and have not been for many years. No C-5 again this year, one C-130, one C-17 which was rumored to be scratched, and a few other token aircraft. Granted each one was excellent, just not what the Cleveland Air Show has seen in prior years!

2011 Cleveland National Air Show Static Display Main Area with room

2011 Cleveland National Air Show Static Display Main Area with room for many, many more aircraft.

With all the ANG bases on the East coast, why are we seeing such a low amount of static displays in Cleveland ?

For roughly the last 10 years, Cleveland has chosen to place air show flags on the crowd fence roughly every 200 feet or so. Who’s brillant idea was this? You know that awesome view you had of the (fill in blank with any performer) on taxi? You have a split second to snap a picture of it now, and seeing as this practice has been going on for so long now, it’s likely to continue. The speaker stands at an air show were enough obstacles, now we have flags on the flight line too!

Flags at the Cleveland Air Show Block the view !

From the 2010 Cleveland National Air Show, this photo shows the promo flags are placed in the sight line of the crowd.

Oh yeah, the flight line. Want a great seat of the line around show center? No such seat exists in Cleveland anymore. They have placed box seats over approximately 50% of the show line and of course at show center. In addition to the seats there are concession stands at the entrance to the box seats, tents actually, not just stands. The tents make awesome sight line obstacles for anyone not in the box seats! Although the photos above and below are from 2010, this year was no different, flags were on the fence as usual.

2010 Cleveland National Air Show Speaker and Flag in crowd sight line

The bigger the aircraft, the more obstacles the crowd has to look through or around at the Cleveland National Air Show (2010).

The final and largest ugly of them all when you take into account the facts above are the admission prices. Here’s the list:

General Admission $19 advance or $21 at the gate

Youth Admission (6-11yrs) $12 advance $14 at the gate

Reserved Box Seat $30

Parking $15 (more or less at areas off site)

Sure, prices are going up everywhere for everything under the sun, but these prices do not make any sense when you look at what the show holds. Cleveland is really close to the edge of becoming a show no one but locals will attend.

I am holding out hope however, throughout the air show this year I heard it was the 98th year of the show. Not sure this is factually accurate unless they are counting the National Air Races as part of those 98 years, but if they are looking at 2013 as the 100th anniversary for the Cleveland National Air show, maybe, just maybe, they are banking a boatload of cash in preparation for the 100th anniversary show, let’s hope so !

As a reference for this review, here is a comparison between this year’s show and the 1993 show:

2011 CNAS Schedule: (Saturday and Sunday)

Gates Open
10:00AM – NOON

U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team

Metro Life Flight Helicopter Flyby

Civic Welcome Ceremony

Cleveland Aeromodeling Society, Radio Controlled Aircraft

Kent Pietsch – Jelly Belly Extreme Comedy Act

School Time Jet Bus

U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet Demo

NOON – 2:00PM

U.S. Coast Guard Search and Rescue Demonstration

Jim Maroney – Top Gun Flying in the “Super Chipmunk”

Jason Newburg – Viper Extreme Solo Aerobatics

Kent Pietsch – Jelly Belly Dead Stick Landing

Canadian Forces CP-140 Aurora Flyby

WWII B-17 Flying Fortress “Memphis Belle” Flyby

U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II Demo

U.S. Air Force Heritage Flight (A-10, F-4 Phantom and P-51 Mustang)

2:00PM – 4:30PM

Kent Pietsch – Jelly Belly RV Top Landing

John Klatt – Air National Guard Solo Aerobatics

School Time Jet Bus

U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team


U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds


1993 CNAS Schedule: (Taken from the program)

  • US Army Golden Knights Parachute Team
  • Dave Dacy (Super Stearman)
  • US Air Force KC-10 Extender Flyby
  • Patty Wagstaff (Extra 300S)
  • Les Shockley (Shockwave)
  • US Navy F-14 Tomcat Demo
  • John Kazian Wing Walking (Dave Dacy Super Stearman)
  • Lockheed JPATS T-Bird II (Aermacchi MB-339A)
  • US Air Force F-117 Nighthawk Flyby
  • Sean Tucker (Randolph Challenger)
  • Team America (Marchetti F-260)
  • BD-10 demonstration
  • US Navy Blue Angels
  • US Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon Demo