Cleveland - new kid on the block

Prose & Photography: John Landry

Of the 5 events on my calendar, the Cleveland National Air Show was by far the largest name on the list. From its spiritual successor, the Cleveland National Air Races, it boasts one of the longest running air events in the United States. 

No matter your legacy or your headliners, mother nature yields to no one. This Labor Day weekend was no exception. I stepped onto the property of Burke Lakefront Airport Sunday with excitement for demonstration teams I’d never seen before, as well as my last opportunity to see the legendary Julie Clark on her farewell tour. Unfortunately, my Saturday was not as sunny as my expectations. There were low overcast ceilings with the threat of rain throughout the day and the disheartening news of two pilots for the headlining Thunderbirds not being fit for duty due to sickness.

As the saying goes, “The show must go on.” Mike Wiskus was the first to take to the air. The bright orange Pitts S-1 seemed to stay in flight for two days straight, regardless of weather (some say he’s still up there, tearing up the skies of over Lake Erie). While everyone from the Golden Knights to Julie Clark performed brilliantly, the high and bright overcast plagued life behind the camera. The A-10 proved its battle ready gray livery in an impressive showing, sometimes blending with the sky. 

The F-35 blasted in from the south while rain showers approached rapidly from the west. This pinnacle of flying technology brought the fire of the afterburners of its Pratt & Whitney F135, adding some color to the sky. In this photographer’s opinion, this was the headliner event of Cleveland 2019. While its performance is docile compared to the other demonstration teams (this includes the F-22, F-16, and A-10), it doesn’t need much in its freshman year to be impressive. Its blistered belly gives a high contrast no matter the lighting. The unique wing creates its own weather with the slightest hint of humidity, so one can imagine the vapor it can pull in the face of a rain shower. Captain Andy Olson and the F-35 demo team succeeded in wowing the crowd on a gray day.

Monday morning was cursed with more rain. Fortunately it was short lived, and the skies seemed to part as the Golden Knights of the Army made their initial jump with the National Anthem. Julie Clark shined with her final flight over the lakefront of Cleveland. Major Cody Wilton put the A-10 through its paces pulling his own vapor with seamless ease on a straight wing (spoiler alert: it’s not easy). The Ohio National Guard got in on the action with a brief fly-over performance of its J-model C-130. To make sure they were not forgotten, the F-35 came back for a brilliant day-two showing. The full vapor cone on a perfect blue canvas paints what will become the iconic image of the F-35. I’m confident as the aircraft grows, so will its demonstration. If in its freshman year the F-35 can steal shows from both its older brother, the A-10, and the Thunderbirds, it will be the hottest demo team in the US sooner rather than later.