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2013 Air Shows

Tacoma Freedom Fair Airshow, July 4, 2013

Location:Ruston Way Waterfront, Tacoma, WA
Admission: FREE Suggested donations: $2 Fan - $5 Friend - $10 Leader - $15 Patriot. VIP area on the Les Davis Pier (air show center) $45.
Parking: Free on city streets, remote parking with shuttle buses for $5 all-day pass.
Value: Very Good
The Tacoma Freedom Fair Airshow took place, as usual, on the Fourth of July. Following a week of clear blue skies and record heat, the day dawned cool, grey and overcast, reflecting the overall airshow environment in the US this year. Due to federal budget cuts there were no military aircraft scheduled to perform. And due to the continuing economic woes affecting this nation, there was concern that the show would not even take place. And yet, at the last minute the skies cleared, the sun shone, and aircraft filled the sky for a glorious afternoon of aerobatic performances. What better way to celebrate Independence Day than with an airshow!
The flying took place over the waters of Commencement Bay, with aircraft staging from nearby Tacoma Narrows Airport. There were therefore no static displays. Speakers were set up close to airshow center at Les Davis Pier and the show was broadcast on local FM radio. The venue is almost perfect, with the sun behind you and almost a mile of waterfront filled with booths and food vendors. The Fair’s associated International Marketplace provides a wide variety of dining opportunities, although many families bring coolers and barbecues and have a picnic. There are several restaurants with piers extending into the bay where one can dine; having your food and drinks delivered by waiters means not missing any of the action while standing in line! And being out on the water puts you that much closer to the action. Speaking of which, many spectators watch the show from watercraft; everything from kayaks to yachts was in attendance. The main attraction is the evening’s fireworks show, so finding parking for the airshow is usually not a problem. This year’s airshow featured a series of aerobatic performances, so a 400mm lens was almost a minimum to photograph the smaller aircraft.
The airshow began at 13:30 with Will Allen in his Pitts S-2 biplane. The “Flying Tenor” began the show by singing the national anthem as he was performing his aerobatic routines. It was quite an impressive demonstration of concentration and showmanship. He was followed by Bud Granley in his beautiful AT-6 Harvard. Sporting the golden livery of the “Golden Hawks”, the aircraft dazzled the crowd in the bright sunshine. Shortly thereafter Renny Price put his Sukhoi Su-29 through its paces with a series of high-energy maneuvers. Vicky Benzing returned to Tacoma, although this year she chose a Boeing Stearman for her aerobatic demonstrations. Tim Weber then took to the skies in his Extra 300 to put on an amazing aerobatic demonstration, pushing the aircraft to its limits. It’s always a treat to see Tim in the air, accompanied by a soundtrack which he both composed and performed. The roll rate in the Extra 300 is phenomenal and Tim pushes the airframe to the max, rolling right, then immediately left in snap rolls which come too quick to count. Dan Vance then slowed things down a bit with a very graceful demonstration of the aerobatic capabilities of what many consider the premier fighter aircraft of World War II. The North American P-51D Mustang was designed and built for combat air superiority, but Dan showed how beautifully “Speedball Alice” could perform a number of aerobatic maneuvers in a beautiful routine.
The only jet demonstration of the day was Greg Colyer in his Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star. He made use of the whole of the aerobatic box, skimming the bay mere feet above the waves and performing loops high in the blue skies. “Wired” clearly knows his aircraft well and showed off “Ace Maker” to good effect. After a number of wonderful aerobatic routines and fast passes, Greg slowed it down with a near-stall-speed dirty pass after which he exited with a beautiful banana photo-pass. Bud Granley returned to the skies for a duet with his son Ross. Both are veterans of the Royal Canadian Air Force, and Ross is a former Snowbird with three years’ experience in the CF-18. So it came as no surprise that their performance featured a number of nicely choreographed and beautifully executed close-formation maneuvers. And yet it was still impressive, all the more so because of the dissimilar aircraft: Ross in the Yak-18 and Bud in the much smaller Yak-55.
Kudos to the organizers for making the best of this year’s situation. Pulling together the funding required to put on an airshow, and attracting the quality of performers in this economic climate was no easy task. Here’s hoping that enough attendees contributed sufficiently that we can once again watch an airshow over Commencement Bay next year.

Aerobatic Performers:

Will Allen, the "Flying Tenor", Pitts S-2B

Bud Granley, AT-6 Harvard

Renny Price, Sukhoi Su-29

Vicky Benzing, Boeing Stearman

Tim Weber, AIRAID Extra 300

Dan Vance, North American P-51D Mustang "Speedball Alice”

Greg Colyer, Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star "Ace Maker"

Bud & Ross Granley, Yakovlev Yak-18 & Yak-55

Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Review and photography by Norman A. Graf for ASR MEDIA LLC.
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