Dougherty Airshows

Prose & Photography: James Woodard


When one is a parent, we see our children grow faster than we would like. As a Father of three daughters, I find myself thinking of those special moments... memories, if you will. There is one in particular that comes to mind. While on a family vacation, I took my wife and kids to the Oceana Air Show. This is not the place that most young girls like to spend their day. But that day, I experienced something special. Caden, my middle daughter, took to the excitement of the event quite a bit, particularly the Blue Angels, and rightfully so.

Seeing the look of amazement on her face during the performances was priceless. She really seemed to enjoy it, but I wasn't sure if it was just an “in the moment” kind of thing. During our Virginia Beach vacation later the following year, I knew it wasn't a "one hit wonder". While sitting in our hotel room, I heard a rumble in the distance. As the unmistakable roar grew louder and louder, I ran to the window. The moment I looked to the sky, three F-18's flew by. The sound of their engines were drowned out by a child screaming “Blue Angels, Blue Angels!”. Caden had remembered "The Sound of Freedom" and was excited to hear it again. A smile came to my face and a feeling of pride warmed me. Could my daughter actually share this passion I have for aviation? While she is still too young to know that for sure, I got a taste of that feeling that day. I think sharing a passion with one of your children is something that all parents would cherish. Paul Dougherty of Dougherty Airshows is one of the lucky ones who, without a doubt, shares his passion with his daughter.

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As a youngster, Paul could be found at his local airport trying to bribe his way into a plane ride. In exchange for a ride, Paul would help pilots clean their planes. He always had a love for aviation and the aerobatic aspect of airshows intrigued him. Paul had the unique opportunity to restore a beautiful Cessna 195 with his father Paul Sr. The father/son restoration projects soon evolved into what is now the Golden Age Air Museum. This museum is set at Grimes Field in Bethal, PA and now has 40 aircraft, half of which are airworthy. From a very young age, Paul’s oldest daughter, Caroline seemed to take to the family business. Being raised with Golden Age in your front yard, it is natural that the family have plenty of pictures of Caroline sitting in their Curtiss Jenny and playing around the hangars. Caroline was even “initiated” into the museum when she combined a new set of clothes she wanted to show her dad and a drip pan full of 50 weight oil. Reminiscing about this story still brings Paul to laughter. As the years went on, Paul still had an itching to do some aerobatic flying. The Dougherty's purchased a 1930 Great Lakes bi-plane in 1992 and got it in the skies two years later. Paul taught himself various aerobatic maneuvers and practiced them until becoming proficient. This seemed to relieve his itch for some years.

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Then, in 2014, during the annual EAA Airventure held in Oshkosh, Caroline got a first hand taste of high end aerobatic flying. Of all the performers present that year, it was Patty Wagstaff who really made the biggest impression on Caroline. Patty is a six-time member of the US Aerobatic Team, she has won medals on all levels in Olympic international aerobatic competition. Patty can also stake claim to being a three time US National Aerobatic Champion. The two first met at the 2015 Airventure. A friend invited Paul and Caroline into the performers tent and there she was, Patty Wagstaff, all of ten feet away, and Caroline remembers that she was in awe of such greatness. Here is a young girl who has had a passion for aviation and was raised with it in her front yard, and the legend that was Patty, was right there. When asked how she felt meeting Patty, Caroline said

“I was actually pretty nervous the first time I met her, but she was very encouraging of my aviation activities, and has since gone out of her way to help me. She's one of the sweetest people I have met so far on the circuit, and it really means a lot to me.”

Caroline had always dreamed of flying with Patty. That dream came true in October of 2017 thanks to the Bill Adams Legacy Foundation.

“I remember jumping up and down when I found out I’d be able to! It was really an amazing feeling to fly with her last October. She worked on aerobatics with me for about an hour and a half, and then she gave me a good ride at the end. I’m not entirely sure what she did because that Extra rolls so fast it was hard to keep track! But I really enjoyed the snap rolls and tumbles.”

When they returned from that first Oshkosh trip Caroline asked Paul “why don't you do that (aerobatics), I want to do that, can we do that, will the Great Lakes do that?” No, the Great Lakes couldn't do that. Paul likes to say he flies the Great Lakes like a Gentleman because “It is an old airplane, an old design, with a 1940s engine.” That fall, father and daughter started talking and saying to each other that it would be fun to just get a plane that they could wrench themselves around in. With Caroline's desire motivating her father, that was all it took for Paul to go ahead and start looking for a new plane. He could see that she was really into it, and it helped that “She could talk me into almost anything, unfortunately.”

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So the search was on for a plane, not really for airshow purpose but something for them just to go have fun with. The ideal plane would have been an Extra. Unfortunately, the cost is ridiculous. Paul continued to track down leads until one day he received a phone call about a Christen Eagle. After going over some details with the seller, Paul told him he wanted it but had to do some quick research. Having well experienced friends like Matt Chapman made that part a breeze, so after some discussions with Matt, he bought the Eagle sight unseen. During the ensuing rebuild, the idea of flying in air shows was hatched. By the fall of 2015, the beautifully painted Eagle was taking to the skies over Golden Age Air Museum in preparation of its new future.

Caroline, being passionate about this new adventure, came across the website for the Leesburg Air Show and quicky passed the information on to Paul. Next thing you know they were flying in their first air show. They were thrilled with their first performance and felt they did a good job. In attendance that day was the show organizer from the Culpeper Air Show; Dan Hauge. Dan immediately invited them to his own show. With only two shows under their belt, “Miss Marketing Agent”, as Paul called Caroline, got a website up and began marketing Dougherty Airshows. The Doughery's eventually caught the attention of David Shultz, a prominent air show organizer. That opened the door for them to perform in a total of 22 shows to date. Not only does Caroline do the marketing, she is also Paul's coach. With radio in hand during their practices, Caroline will not hold back. If Paul is not flying up to par, Caroline will yell over the radio “what was that?!”

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After several years of performances on the air show circuit, Caroline recalls the best parts. Besides the memorable moments with her dad, its the love of meeting the people involved. This is an answer we have heard time and time again, from all ends of the airshow community. It is truly amazing how the aviation world is like one giant family. Caroline also enjoys meeting the spectators that come the shows and has made some phenomenal friends along the way.

Paul and Caroling both know they still have a lot to learn. After flying gentleman aerobatics for the last 20 years, Paul has had to adjust to the fast pace, tumbling and tail sliding performance in his Eagle. Caroline's next big step is college, as she plans to major in aerospace engineering while continue to earn her flight ratings and expand her aerobatic skills. This will leave her with career options in both engineering and airline industries. Caroline hopes to also fly in aerobatic competitions and airshows. When speaking of long term goals for their team, Paul let us in on a secret. The Dougherty's are aiming for a special Father/Daughter Two Ship Aerobatic Team. It is a long way out but it is one of many goals. Dreams are in no short supply, and being on the US Aerobatic Team like her idol Patty Wagstaff is a dream Caroline is sure to make come true.

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As Caroline reflects on how she is blessed to share a love of aviation with her father, she feels the best part is

“Definitely the memories that we make with each other. It doesn’t matter if we’re going for a relaxing flight in the Jenny or pulling G’s in the Eagle, we always have a blast. I will never forget my early flights in the Cub when he would let me take the controls, my first aerobatic ride, or the day of my first solo flight. Whether we are spectating or performing, our airshow adventures are some of the best memories we have together.”

As Paul looks at his daughter with pride, I sit and listen to Caroline talk about sharing a passion with her father, and I drift in the thought of my three girls. I dream of the day I can sit and look upon them with the same pride and listen to my daughters talk about the memories that we make together.