Airshow Briefing

The warbird shows are among the most popular at Oshkosh every year, and coordinating so many airplanes and explosions, requires careful planning.

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Mustangs dive in strafing runs, explosions erupt and smoke billows and drifts across the airport, a formation of T-28s clouds the sky, a machine gun mounted on an Army jeep chatters as uniformed soldiers fire their carbines. Nope, it's not war ... it's the afternoon Warbird Airshow at AirVenture.

For pilots, the inherent problem of coordination is obvious. How do you safely keep 70 airplanes (in past shows there have been as many as 167 airplanes) with a variety of performance capabilities airborne over a small geographic area like Wittman Regional Airport?

The success of the Warbird Airshow, which takes place in the early afternoon before the aerobatic performers take center stage at AirVenture, is a testament to the professionalism of the pilots who participate and Wayne Boggs, the Warbird Airshow Boss. Boggs, retired from the FAA, has been the Air Boss for Warbirds of America since the 1980s and acts as Air Boss at some 25 airshows around the country.

The preparation for the warbird performance begins with a mandatory briefing in the Warbird Briefing Building for the pilots at 12:30 p.m. each afternoon that the Warbirds perform. It's appropriate that the standing-room-only briefing feels very much like those the pilots of the same types of military airplanes would have attended before a combat mission. And, except for rare breaks of humor, is just as serious.

Each of the pilots is given a briefing book and laminated cards that show the airport and surrounding area on which they can draw their patterns.

The briefing started with a report from a meteorologist of the expected conditions at the time of the performance. Because the members of the formation flights have to join up, the weather minimums are 1,500 feet and three miles.

Rich Gibson, who's in charge of the pyrotechnics that are detonated during the simulated strafing runs, described where the explosions would occur. "Those of you strafing will want to stay on the east side of the east taxiway," he explained. To stress the importance of keeping their distance, Boggs added, "If you get too close, the concussions from the explosions will knock pieces off your airplane, so stay wide."

During the briefing, Boggs stressed that safety comes first. "It's important that no one scares anyone out there. Don't try to look cool if you're not comfortable with your landing approach, go around! Do it! If we're on [Runway] 18/36 and you go around, go east and if we're landing on [Runway] 9/27, go north. It's cool to go around!" he insisted. It was obvious safety came first.

The pilots were instructed to announce "KIO" (knock it off) anytime a dangerous situation is developing, if there's a stranger in the area, if there's an emergency, an accident or incident, if there's a loss of communication, or a gross procedure violation. If a KIO is called, pilots are expected to stop flybys, maintain altitude, clear their flight path and listen for instructions.

Boggs used an easel with a large pad on which the schedule of the airshow was detailed. He explained to the pilots the order in which the airplanes would launch, where they would hold, when they would perform, and when and where they would be recovered. In addition there were separate diagrams on the wall for each different group of warbirds, detailing their flight patterns.

Before the briefing broke up into smaller groups for the pilots of each warbird type to meet with their team leader and review their procedures and patterns, Boggs stressed, "No one should leave this room with any doubts or questions! There are no foolish questions."

For pilots to participate in the airshow they have to provide a current pilot certificate, a current medical, a current BFR and a copy of insurance that includes flyby coverage. If they want to be compensated for fuel and smoke oil they also have to have a commercial certificate with a current second-class medical.

Pilots participating in the airshow for the first time are required to attend a warbird forum, "Flying at Oshkosh for the First Time." To fly in formation, pilots are required to be formation qualified through the Formation and Safety Team (FAST) program. To qualify for a FAST card, an applicant has to be a member of one of the 15 signatory organizations that comprise the program, complete a "recommendation for a formation check ride" and successfully complete a FAST Flight Evaluation.