Denton Airshow thrills with flights at 575mph and vintage planes
By: Stacy Powers
Denton Live Jan-June 2012
Looking down from the air traffic control tower, Brigadier General Tommy Williams sees a sea of people filling the grounds of Denton Airport. They’re looking down the runway, waiting for a first in Denton – the first U.S. Air Force F-16 Viper to take off from the airport. The general has the best seat in the house high up in the air-conditioned tower, but Tommy Williams knows there’s an even better seat. He wants to feel the F-16 engine rippling his skin as it zips across the sky at 575 miles per hour.
Minutes later, at the general’s suggestion, everyone in the tower is piling out onto the metal catwalk. The F-16 appears on the horizon, at the end of Denton’s newly extended 7,000-foot runway. There is a roar as Captain Garrett “Mace” Dover starts up the engine of his Viper. The crowd whips around to watch takeoff as the F-16 rips into the sky and executes a jaw-dropping 360-degree turn. Heads whip back and forth as the plane shoots by them at low altitude in a high-speed pass. Then the captain wows the crowd with a simulated attack in his combat fighter. When the general looks around, he sees big grins on the faces of Congressman Michael Burgess, who won the runway extension for Denton, and Mayor Mark Burroughs.
Displays of military might are just one highlight of the annual Denton Airshow, which attracts nearly 10,000 on Father’s Day weekend in June. The show – coordinated by the Denton Airshow Committee, Denton Airport and David Schultz Airshows L.L.C. – offers a festival atmosphere with food vendors, rides in helicopters and historic planes, as well as a showcase of modern and vintage aircraft. “When these air shows first began, basically everybody came out, sat around on the grass, socialized and oohed and aahed at the planes,” says Quentin Hix, Denton Airport’s manager. “Now they come out and it’s really a weekend festival atmosphere.”
Families bring children of all ages out for the aerial acrobatics and Kid Zone activities. Adults looking to indulge their inner child and see Denton from the sky can sign up for helicopter rides at Longhorn Helicopters or discovery flights at US Aviation. (Some even walk away with a new dream: to be a pilot.) For Amanda Addington, marketing director for the Denton Airshow, the best part is watching the children. Last year, Air Force A-10 pilots even visited city day camps to give the kids a taste of the airshow beforehand. “It’s a wow moment for those kids and even some of the adults,” she says. “It’s really funny to see some of the adults all of the sudden become kids again.”
For General Williams, airshows like Denton’s are a way of showing off the capabilities of today’s frontline Air Force fighters to those who foot the bill. “These airplanes are not the Air Force’s airplanes. They’re ultimately all of ours,” he says. The F-16 was the first of its kind in the ’80s to boast a computer that operates the flight control system. To see the Viper in action at the airshow – with its tremendous speed, noise, turn rate and climb capability – is to understand both the capabilities of the plane as well as the skill required of today’s pilots, he says.
General Williams brought in the F-16 Viper West Demo Team last year for the first time, capitalizing on the city’s new longer runway. The Viper’s aerial show taps into our current fascination with the workhorses of the Air Force in Iraq, Afghanistan and, more recently, Libya. But there’s a nostalgic aspect to the airshow, too, with veterans climbing into vintage planes they flew in wars past and sharing their stories with the young. “It’s helping preserve the history of aviation,” says Quentin. The Navy show included a vintage Corsair plane as well as a modern FA-18 Hornet fighter jet.
Williams, a 30-year veteran of the Air Force with 200 combat hours in the air, loves talking with veterans at the shows and displaying the new technology to them. His first military airplane was an F-15 Eagle, a tactical fighter that he flew in Japan in the ’80s. He didn’t fly his first F-16 Viper until he was off active duty in the Air Force Reserves. “It’s one of the great joys that I’ve had in my Air Force career, to spend time with those veterans of World War II, especially the aviators who flew the P-51s, the P-38s, and the P-47s and explain to them our capabilities today and what we can do in our airplanes today. They just can’t imagine.”
The general stops at the Denton Airport often when flying his personal plane. With the help of its fixed base operators, Business Air Center and US Aviation, Denton has become one of the busiest general aviation airports in Texas in terms of operations, with dozens of hangars and a flight academy attracting students from as far away as China. The airport continues to grow with the recent runway extension to 7,000 feet, allowing larger charter aircraft and corporate jets to fly in. Business Air, an airshow sponsor, charters King Air prop planes and Citation jets and provides jet fueling services. Another airport tenant, Jet Works Air Center, repairs planes ranging from smaller corporate jets to the Boeing behemoths. “It’s a first-class operation,” says the general.
Damon Ward, Business Air’s president, hosts a pre-show breakfast with civilian and military pilots, with proceeds going to the airshow’s charity of choice, Cumberland Presbyterian Children’s Home. At the breakfast, the performing pilots mingle with festival-goers while chowing down on breakfast from Fuzzy’s Taco Shop. The pilots pose for pictures, whip out their pens for autographs, answer questions and tell stories of their exploits.
Sharing stories, especially with the seasoned vets, seems to be a recurring theme at the airshow. It’s important to General Williams. His great-grandfather was an infantryman in World War I and his grandfather was a radio operator on a B-24 bomber in World II. In his job at Air Combat Command, overseeing the Air Force demonstration flight program, the general brings in the modern flyboys to perform daring feats at 9 Gs, barely off the ground. He’s got a soft spot for the old planes. “Our current-day airplanes are a little bit more businesslike, whereas the earlier ones are a little bit more art,” he admits.
But that won’t keep him from his perch on the tower catwalk as his F-16 team makes its final high-speed pass and ends with a sky-high climb into the clear blue sky over Denton. The crowd will erupt with cheers and applause. The kids will gape. “Who knows?” says Quentin. “We may have the next flying aces out here.”
[just the facts]
When: June 16, 2012
Where: Denton Airport, 5000 Airport Road
Admission: Advance tickets at any Point Bank branch, Denton Airport Terminal office, Business Air or US Aviation. $10 at the gate. Children under 6 free.
Hours: Gates open at 8:30 a.m. for the breakfast with the pilots. Show starts at 11:30.
Parking: General parking free. Preferred parking benefits Cumberland Presbyterian Children’s Home.
Concessions: Barbecue, corn dogs, turkey legs. Beer garden provided by North Texas State Fair and Rodeo.
Don’t forget: Chairs, blankets, umbrellas for shade, sunscreen and, of course, cameras.
Leave at home: Pets, coolers, alcohol, firearms, knives, or large backpacks. Bags are subject to search.
Beat the heat: For a great view while staying out of the sun, reserve a “chalet” package.
For the children: Kid Zone, all-day play area, provided by Giggly Kids.
For tickets and info: (940) 484-1603 or denton.schultzairshows.com