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Fort Wayne Air Show offers family fun, military tribute

FORT WAYNE, IN -- Skywriters sculpted hearts in the sky and Air Force Thunderbirds soared in tight formation over Northeastern Indiana as part of the action-packed 2016 Fort Wayne Air Show presented by the Air National Guard 122nd Fighter Wing September 10 – 11. It had been four years since the last Fort Wayne Air Show and the five hours of flying acts plus dozens of on-ground exhibits made it well worth the wait for visitors from several states. Even with the slightly rain-shortened day on Saturday, the crowd was estimated to be approximately 60,000 to 65,000 for the weekend.

Amazingly the Fort Wayne Air Show is offered free to the public, thanks to hard work from the 122nd Fighter Wing, donations from a number of generous sponsors and the help of many volunteers. Although there were fees for parking and for optional upgraded seating, concessions and rides in the children’s fun area, the 14 flying acts in the show and the numerous planes, helicopters and military vehicles on exhibit on the tarmac were presented at no cost.

Air Force Major Matthew W. Robbins from the 122nd Fighter Wing deemed the 2016 Fort Wayne a success for all involved, “Our goal was to entertain and inform the public, and of course to 'lure' them here so we could show off a little! We attracted an amazing crowd that we were proud to host and did it safely with the utmost security. Despite some severe weather, we were able to pull off nearly the whole show on Saturday to those who braved the rain with us! Finally, the best part, is we are confident that soon (after all the accounting is done) that we'll be able to provide a sizable donation to the Wounded Warrior Fund, courtesy of the Fort Wayne Air Show, Incorporated.”

Master Sergeant Darin Hubble, Public Affairs Officer for the 122nd Fighter Wing, talked about reasons for hosting the air show, “The Fort Wayne Air Show allows the 122nd Fighter Wing to host some of the most talented and amazing aerial acrobatics acts and demonstrations of military air power for the Fort Wayne and surrounding communities. The show also serves to allow the public an inside look at the base and get up-close and personal with many static displays that also go into telling the story of America’s passion with aircraft. We want to showcase our local Air National Guard Base and all of the professional members of the 122nd Fighter Wing.”

The Air Show Performers

Besides the much-anticipated performances of the Air Force’s elite demonstration squadron, the Thunderbirds, flying their F-16 jets, the air show roster included several pilots from Indiana and many others from around the country. Para-commandos from several branches of the military jumped from a C-130 plane and descended wearing colored smoke canisters on their ankles so that their path toward earth could be tracked by the audience.

Patty Wagstaff, the first woman to hold the title of U.S. National Aerobatic Champion, performed breathtaking aerobatics in the sky over Fort Wayne. A World War II-era B-25 Mitchell Bomber operated by the Disabled American Veterans organization helped re-enact the story of Doolittle’s Raiders who flew the pivotal bombing raid over Tokyo, Japan, of the Pacific Theatre during the war. The Werth brothers, Billy and David, from Indianapolis, IN, held a race between a plane and a beefed-up motorcycle. Skywriter Steve Oliver traced several designs in the sky with his DeHavilland Chipmunk airplane. Paul Stender from Indy Boys drove his jet-powered truck spouting flames around the runway.

A circa-1950’s mock battle between a U.S. Navy F-86 and a Russian MIG-17 took place in the skies above Fort Wayne. Kent Pietsch piloted the colorful Jelly Belly Interstate Cadet plane performing acrobatic maneuvers and momentarily landing his plan on a Jelly Belly-sponsored RV driving down the runway. Skip Stewart gracefully guided his modified Pitts Special s-2s bi-plane in an aerobatic symphony. McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornets (used by the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels among others) and North American P-51Mustangs (used by the Army Air Corps in World War II and U.S. Air Force in the Korean War) gave flying demonstrations to the delight of the crowd.

The only-known still-flying Air Force F-100 Super Sabre jet, used by the Air Force and Air National Guard from 1954 – 1979, also thrilled the crowd as it performed precision moves piloted by Fort Wayne native Dean Cutshall. The local Air National Guard 122nd Fighter Wing Blacksnakes pilots flying A-10 Thunderbolt II jets, affectionately known as a Warthogs, showed their stuff on home turf to thunderous applause. The A-10 Warthogs have proven their worth in the air during ground-support missions and are highly valued by U.S. and ally nations ground troops.

Larry Whinery, a farmer from Huntington, Indiana, and a Vietnam-era Army veteran, was happy to see the appreciation for the military shown by the crowd as he watched the event on Sunday, "It was not unexpected, but the regard shown by the folks attending the Fort Wayne Air Show for veterans of all eras was particularly pleasing. Also, there was a prominent presence in support of the Northeast Indiana Honor Flight, which was really good to see!"

Staging an Air Show

A lot of hard work, months of planning and many security double checks go into planning a major air show like the one hosted in Fort Wayne. The logistics of staging an air show actually start several years ahead of time according to Major Robbins. “National jet teams (such as the Thunderbirds) are scheduled two years in advance. During that time, there is some negotiation to get on the team's list, to get approved by the Secretary of the Air Force to host one, and of course, to pick a day that makes sense for everyone. Normally that day is finalized anywhere from 18 to 12 months prior to the event, then the real planning begins! Not incidentally, most donors and supporters demand those details before ever committing funds... so the whole thing literally takes years to put together successfully!”

The 122nd Fighter Wing also had to apply to the International Council of Air Shows to be granted dates to hold their event. The International Council of Air Shows coordinates certification for performers, helps educate event planners on all the safety and the common-sense event planning required, and helps connect experts like the Fort Wayne Air Show air boss Ralph Royce to event planners. For more information on show organization or to see a calendar of air shows should go to their website,

Once the air show dates and acts are confirmed, the personnel at the 122nd Fighter Wing have to work closely with the Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority and other airports and businesses in the region. “The Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority worked with their tenant businesses (the airlines) for us. We tentatively set, to the minute, when each team might perform, then asked airlines to alter schedules to allow performance windows. In our case, that includes managing the Norfolk & Southern Railroad, too!” said Robbins.

On Air Show days coordination with commercial and private aircraft in the region is paramount. “Once the tenant businesses were aware of our intentions and had a chance to negotiate the times some, then we worked with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to create a five-mile buffer around the airport. This keeps aircraft of all sizes away from the performers during the entire show unless they contact our air boss. So, in the case of an airline arrival, they would call in outside of that 5-mile radius, and the air boss would work them [their landing] into the performance schedule. Even better, our announcer would then make them part of the show by explaining what they [the airline pilots] were doing as they landed,” explained Robbins.

More About the Air National Guard 122nd Fighter Wing

The 122nd Fighter Wing flies the A-10 Thunderbolt II out of the Fort Wayne Air National Guard Base in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Fort Wayne International Airport is adjacent to the base and is also known by its original name, Baer Field. Baer Field was named for Fort Wayne native 1st Lieutenant Paul Baer, a World War I veteran and the first WWI Flying Ace.

Master Sergeant Hubble listed the latest deployments of the men and women serving in the 122nd Fighter Wing out of Fort Wayne, “Approximately 300 airmen from the 122nd Fighter Wing, or about a third of its members, returned April 2015 from their mission as a part of Operations Inherent Resolve and Enduring Freedom. We have had airmen from the 122nd Fighter Wing deployed throughout the last decade in the support of the War on Terror. We currently have more than 150 members deployed in support of combatant commanders worldwide.”

For more information about the 122nd Fighter Wing go to or for additional information about the Air National Guard go to or the United States Air Force go to

Fort Wayne Air Show Thank Yous and Sponsors

Major Robbins and Master Sergeant Hubble offered heart-felt thanks to the show sponsors and to other Air National Guard and Indiana Army National Guard Units who provided support for the Fort Wayne Air Show. “The 127th [out of the Selfridge Air National Guard Base] in Michigan sent us an amazing mobile communications trailer and several experts that managed and maintained it. This unit was the brain hub of our public address system and had all the radios and landlines the Air Boss needed to communicate with Air Traffic Control and the performers. Additionally, the 127th lent us all of the orange FOD fencing we used for crowd control,” explained Robbins.

According to Robbins several other military units sent support for the Air Show as well: the 434th Air Refueling Wing from Grissom Air Force Base in Peru, Indiana, (fire, aircraft and crew, fire bottles and other ground equipment); 180th Fighter Wing Ohio Air National Guard, Swanton, Ohio, (aircraft ground equipment, aircraft and pilot for static display), and the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team from Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, Indiana, (Indiana Army National Guard) sent 50 soldiers from across the state to augment our security forces and several pieces of equipment for static display.

Fort Wayne Air Show Sponsors: Meijer; Parkview Health; Sweetwater/Sweetwater Aviation; BAE Systems; Elevatus Architecture; Rothberg Logan Warsco LLP; Glenbrook Dodge Chrysler Jeep; Baden, Gage & Schroeder LLC, Carson Boxberger LLP; KB Search Team; Kelley Automotive Group; Lutheran Health Network Lutheran Hospital; Summit City Chevrolet; TFE Transmission & Fluid Equipment, Inc.; Greater Fort Wayne Inc.; Beers Mallers Backs & Salin, LLP; Hoch Associates; Fort Wayne Metals; Knight Mechanical Testing; Old National Bank; Wells Fargo; Hylant; IPFW Army ROTC; Ash Brokerage; Crawford, Murphy & Till;, Aptera; ENS Group, and John Owen and the Owen Family.

Future Fort Wayne Air Shows

Both Major Robbins and Master Sergeant Hubble indicated that the 122nd Fighter Wing would like to host another air show in the future, but at this point no dates have been established. “Yes we certainly do want to host another air show, but keep in mind all the years of planning that will go into that. So, we'll be pretty close hold for now until we can confidently announce our intentions,” said Robbins.

The public can check the Fort Wayne Air Show web site periodically to watch for announcements of the next air show; go to