The Greatest Show on Turf!
Photos and Article by Tom Pawlesh
In the Finger Lakes region of New York sits the small village of Geneseo. When you get there you will find, down an unassuming gravel road, the National Warplane Museum with its grass runway nearby, carved from the corn field which used to dominate the landscape. At this sleepy little airfield, for one weekend every July, the museum holds it’s annual air show. Dubbed The Greatest Show on Turf, it is one of the finest gatherings of warbirds in the country!
This year’s event took place over the weekend of July 15th/16th. It is one of my favorite shows of the season, and always has a large variety of warbirds. In addition to the warbirds, the field fills with vintage aircraft, antique cars, and World War II re-enactors. There are plenty of food vendors too. Kids activities included a climbing wall, bounce house, Kiddie Commando Obstacle Course and a Lego play area. There is more than enough offered to entertain the entire family.
While most air shows keep the spectators well away from the warbirds, Geneseo is different. The entire airfield is open to spectators, so there is a lot of interaction between the pilots and the crowd. Spectators are allowed to wander into the hangar and watch the performers prepare their aircraft for the day. I saw pilot Quentin Marty putting little kids into the cockpit of his Stearman, complete with leather flying helmet and goggles, allowing parents to photograph their future aviators. When aircraft are required to fly, a dedicated group of volunteers and Civil Air Patrol cadets direct the crowd to a safe distance, but still give spectators close up views as the pilots start up and taxi their aircraft.
After the arrival and practice show on Friday, there was a chicken dinner that is open to the public, which gives spectators another opportunity to be part of the show and mingle with the pilots and performers. Saturday night featured a steak dinner followed by a hangar dance with a big band and the B-17 Memphis Belle and P-51 Mustangs surrounding the dance floor. If you needed to brush up on your swing dancing there were even lessons prior to the dance.
This years show began with a flag drop by the all female Misty Blues Parachute Team and quickly followed with aerobatics by John “Skipper” Hyle in his Harvard Mk.4 and Jacquie B in her Extra 300. Fly-bys included L-birds, then came fast and slow classics, Stearmans, Texan/SNJ/Harvard and transport aircraft.
While the Canadian and American National Anthems were played, a missing man formation comprising two P-51 Mustangs, a P-40 Warhawk and TBM Avenger passed overhead. After the missing man formation, PFC Leslie Parker Cruise was introduced to the crowd. Mr Cruise is believed to be the last surviving soldier to have jumped over Normandy, France from the museum’s Douglas C-47, ‘Whiskey 7’, on D-Day, June 6th, 1944. It was a remarkable connection between the vintage aircraft on display, and the living history they represent.
The show continued with an impressive display by Charlie Lynch in his big TBM Avenger, complete with a watermelon “bomb” drop. Next up was Scott “Scooter” Yoak in his P-51D Quick Silver and Lou Horschel in his P-51D Mad Max. Rob Krieg attacked Geneseo a the replica Japanese Val dive bomber, but was quickly subdued by Thom Richard in the American Airpower Museum’s Curtiss P-40 Warhawk. The Warrior Flight Team performance in their L-39 Albatross jets included mock dogfights, aerobatics and some impressive formation photo passes.
And now for the Air-to-Air… some beauties were on display this year!
If you have not attended The Greatest Show on Turf, I highly recommend the trip. If you are interested in photographing warbirds, re-enactors, classic cars and vintage aircraft, this show is a must! I would like to thank all the pilots, but special thanks to the photo plane pilots, Chris Polhemus and Dick Ash, for their help with the air-to-air photography. Also, many thanks to Dawn Schaible, Mike Raftus and all the volunteers for making this year’s show so memorable for me.
WarbirdsNews wishes to thank Tom Pawlesh for his article and marvelous photography! We hope you’ve all enjoyed seeing it too!