2009 Air Shows

Branson, Missouri: May 8-10

Location: Branson International Airport at Branson Creek Golf Club
Adults:  $16.00 in advance/$18.00 at the gate and $64 for the VIP area.
Military:  $10.00 in advance and at the gate with military ID
Children ages 6-12:  $5.00 in advance/$6.00 at the gate 
Parking: Free on site and with shuttle buses
Value: Less than average

Featured performers included the Air Force Thunderbirds, the A-10 East Demonstration Team, US Army Golden Knights, and Legacy Flight with a F-18 and Bearcat.

To celebrate the opening of the new airport at Branson, the owners of the airport decided to have a major air show. As air shows go, the show was good, with a good assortment of performers civilian and military, even some International ones from Canada.

The weather was an issue. It rained on Friday on and off, despite the weather the evening performances went on, and it was quite good with some fireworks to celebrate the opening. Saturday started off with rain, but then quickly became sunny. On Sunday the weather was quite chilly with rain sprinkles on and off at times.

However, there were some issues that weren't to clear or had been dealt with effectively creating some confusion and massive traffic and parking headaches for all concerned.
Branson Review, or did I just go for a Safari in the Ozarks?
The Branson Air Show was located in the very scenic area of the Ozark Mountains just southeast of Branson, at Hollister, on the same development as the the Branson Creek Golf Club. Now that is one strange place to place an “ International Airport” when there is only one two lane road leading into the airport. While the two lane winding road might be fun to drive in a sports car, it is not truly suitable for handling heavy traffic that can occur with such an event. Especially as this was the only paved entrance and exit from the airport to the major highway 65 nearby.

What I noticed right away at the airport, that there was a definite lack of organization and coordination when it came to the volunteer staff, who directed the parking, and were there to help attendees, etc. While they were very friendly, they were very uninformed, lacked proper procedures, and were of little help. Offering no real solutions, only vague answers and misinformation.

For example in trying to find the media parking area. After asking about 10 different persons, none of them knew, and using the supplied map showing the layout to the media parking which was only identified vaguely on paper, but was not in reality on the grounds, I was told to park inside the gates, since my pass also said vendor. The same applied to finding the media tent, I could not get clear answers. I was told to see someone at the radio station booth, they would know, since they are media! Funny thing is that they could not locate the tent either, when I asked someone from the radio station who covered the event, in fact they told me “if you find it please lets us know!” These are minor problems, but showed that there was a lack of coordination, communication and information forwarding from the top down.

The performances started around 10:30 a.m. or so Saturday and Sunday too. On Saturday a B-52 and a B-2 flew by too, and that was great to see. The announcing could have been much better. Lots of useless trivia. Who cares just what the pilot’s dog name is, or what they did weeks ago. Timely announcing from which direction the aircraft was approaching, would have helped!! Telling the crowds and the photographers that the aircraft was coming in from the right when the aircraft were actually in front of us was a bit too late. The military jets, warbirds, Thunderbirds and the Legacy flights flew by at a relatively fast clip and in a loop that took them away from the flight line. Try less trivia, and tell viewers up front from which direction to anticipate the aircraft. Save the trivia for other performers who just basically fly in front of the crowds and near the flight line!!! This is quite a common problem with all air show, and I truly wish the announcer would get this!

There was a lack of enforcement of proper security and crowd control. Most people just went wherever they wanted, without any proper challenge or ID to be in the area which are out of bounds for most, unless you had a special pass. Allowing people to sit and block runway access, and placing vendors, such as a hamburger stand so near the C-47 and the B-17, was a bit of a fire hazard to say the least. Furthermore, the aircraft, especially the military aircraft were left without any security personnel. On Sunday morning I had seen people walking up to the Thunderbird jets, not only touching them but actually sticking their heads into jet nozzles and posing in front of the aircraft for pictures. But the best part was by far, when a K-9 unit from the local law enforcement agency came by. They went up to the Thunderbird jets, posed for photos by the jets, and left. Again the Thunderbirds exposed to anyone!! No one was around for a good portion in the morning, until the Thunderbird ground crew arrived! These are issues that Branson has to deal with when and if they will have an air show again.

The other major not air show related yet very relevant issue was parking and traffic control. The two lane winding road the only way in and out, was a disaster on Saturday. The airport has very little paved parking space period, it needs more. I do not exactly know just how many thousand(s) showed up on Saturday, it was estimated to be between 20-60 thousand. Regardless of just how many thousands showed up, whoever was in charge directing traffic was very inept. All the available parking space filled up very quickly by the airport, and then the attendees were bussed on school buses, or were let in some back dirt road near the airport from Arkansas, to be parked close to the flight line. While the school bus was a good idea, the execution was not. For most it took at least two hours to get in with the buses. There was a 6 mile long back up on highway 65!

For me, who arrived early on both mornings coming into the airport was not a problem, but leaving on Saturday was. It felt like I was on a Safari in the Ozarks. The genius traffic directors instead of letting one school bus and one car go by, from the airport’s limited parking areas and from cars exiting from inside the air show grounds decided that only school buses will get through, creating a huge back up of cars. All the cars waited in line, not moving at all. It took me over one hour just to move 30 yards from the inside of the airport grounds to the road in front of the refueling area. Then when I moved another 100 yards after another 30 minutes later, when some cars were let through between some buses. After traveling 130 yards in 1.5 hours, the traffic directing jokers from the Sheriff's department, turned us around to go back to the airport, (from which I and many others took us 1.5 hours to exit), only to take the scenic dirt road around the perimeter of the airport. Going on a long Safari, through a mud soaked unmarked trail, that perhaps was used during construction of the airport, through hills, valleys until we ended up in Arkansas. The same dirt road that was used to get some people in from Arkansas to the show in the first place, this road was suitable for 4 wheel drive SUV's, Hummers, and construction trucks, certainly not fit for passenger cars! It took me just about 2 hours and 35 minutes to get to highway 65, and another 20 minutes to drive back to Branson. I have heard back at my hotel that it took some, 3 hours or more to do the same Safari. This was brilliant! Now why didn't the Sheriff’s department, and the local traffic enforcement thought of this before hand? They could have decided right from the start to use the dirt road as an exit, instead of letting cars jam up, and standing still for 1.5 hours, moving less than 130 yards in that time!! Traffic planning and forethought was at premium at this show!
On Sunday, there were less people, being Mother’s Day too. For me, the traffic was not a problem as I left early before the Thunderbirds flew and the event ended. One Safari and damage to the suspension of my vehicle was more than enough for me.

Some of the participating performers were:

  • B-2 Flying Wing flyby
  • B-52 Bomber flyby
  • F-18 Super Hornet
  • A-10 Thunderbolt II
  • The Thunderbirds
  • CF-18
  • Grumman Bearcat
  • P-51D QuickSilver
  • The Iron Eagles
  • Rob Holland Ultimate Air Shows
  • and many others including static displays.

Rating: air show by itself 7 out of 10. But when everything else taken into consideration Branson only rates 1 out 10!!

The show had many highlights, such as the B-2 flyby, the Thunderbirds and the A-10 simulated attack was awesome!.
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