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Remembering the Rochester air shows

On the wall in my cluttered den, I look up at a huge picture I received by mail following the 1990 Rochester Area Pilots Association Air Show.

It came from the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds following their July 1 show at the airport. This was the Thunderbirds second appearance here, the first on June 26, 1988. I prize this 14- by 18-inch picture with the seven members of the precision flying team, along with several Rochester area aviation supporters.

How did I get into the picture since I only flew paper planes all my growing-up years? Dr. Brian Young was chairman of the Rochester Area Pilots Association that summer and said I needed to be in the group since I did a ton of publicity and attended all the planning meetings at the airport.

Standing right to left, Rochester Mayor Chuck Hazama, the late Dr. Earl Wood, well known for his contributions to pilots, myself, Dr. Young, and the father of one of the Thunderbird pilots who came from Willmar, Minn. On the far left was a young lady Leslie Harrington who had been visiting with several of us and managed to get into the picture.

It was a hot day. I did several live broadcasts on KWEB radio while riding in our golf cart "riding studio." The crowd was huge. As I look at the finished illustration by Floyd Hosmer, I note several other acts were included in the show. They were The Ron Cox Green Machine, Team America, The Red Baron Pizza Squadron and The Royal Albanian Air Force. All were groups or individual acts. But the Thunderbirds with a half dozen F-16s were the main attraction, performing breath-taking maneuvers.


It was a lot of entertainment for $7 adults in advance. In earlier shows the posters said no admission charge.

RAPA actually started in 1979 and did shows through 1982, usually on a hot day. That 1980 show was headlined by the Eagles aerobatic flight team, three outstanding pilots. Sherm Booen from Channel 4’s World of Aviation was the Master of Ceremonies. The Chatfield Brass Band did a noon concert. Several local pilots offered rides for children to benefit the March of Dimes for which I was a fundraiser. There were military flight displays, home-built aircraft and helicopter rides.

The late Warren Havens, a pilot for a hobby and a real estate man, stopped at the KROC studios one afternoon in 1979 and asked me to come with him to the airport that evening for the first airshow planning meeting. That was when I met George Ibach, a Rochester man who flew hot air balloons, not planes. His static display of a balloon at the air show sparked interest to all. To promote that first show I agreed to go up with George early one morning from the Olmsted County Fairgrounds, complete with heavy broadcast equipment. This was before we had convenient cell phones.

The 6:35 a.m. lift-off was beautiful as we floated northeasterly. Suddenly, the winds increased and George said "We gotta bring ‘er down, hang on." George didn’t tell me where to grab the balloon basket and we bounced again and again in an alfalfa field near Zumbro Falls, 20 miles away.

George’s "chase team" followed us and brought us back to Rochester. The left shoulder of my jacket had permanent alfalfa stains.

It was the beginning of at least seven air shows from 1979 through 1982 and again 1987, ’88 and ’90. I consider this series of shows a real highlight of my life and I’m sure many others looking back three decades to the beginning have similar memories. That 1990 theme was "The Thunder Is Back." It was a great show to wrap up the air shows by RAPA.

Next week – Old time dance bands and ballrooms

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