I'll be honest, I was not that excited about attending the Wings Over Houston air show. It was a boiling hot day, and I'm not really into planes. In my head, I'd be marching with my children around dusty cockpit exhibits, toting bottles of gradually warming water and wondering why I was spending a day of my time in America at such a boring place.
As it turned out, I was completely wrong. We had a great day out.
Wings Over Houston is an absolute institution. It takes place in autumn (this year it's on 9th and 10th October) and it's based at Ellington Airport. It's put together with a lot of volunteer effort, and it's a huge operation.
One of the top air shows in the United States, this premier Houston event is dedicated to showcasing vintage World War II aircraft, along with the thrills of modern aviation, and has supported a variety of local and national charities during its 35-year history.
There is special attention given to Vietnam and WWII aviation history, and this is what I noticed when we first arrived (on an old-fashioned yellow school bus!) at the gates of the air show.
We'd bought tickets in advance, and downloaded them; for our family of four, it was around $90. I'd thought this was quite expensive, but as we approached the gate and I saw the vast scale of the operation, it began to feel cheap at the price.
Here's the thing: as well as airplanes, the Wings Over Houston show features aerobatic displays, virtual reality airplane ride experiences, a plethora of different types of food stalls and merchandise, and a wide array of freebies for kids to collect and be happy with. My son still has a US Air Force cup to keep pens in on his desk in England, and both of the children were delighted with the toy airplanes they collected from a basket at the door of one of the indoor exhibits.
I was also pleasantly surprised to note that many of the food and merchandise stalls took contactless card payments. These are the norm in Europe, but they're not common in the US, and we'd loaded most of our dollars onto an ApplePay card on our phones so we were having some difficulties accessing cold hard cash. Thankfully, this was not a problem at the Wings Over Houston air show - we could pay using our phones almost everywhere.
After wandering through the exhibits, we sat on the grass with delicious filled pitta breads and watched as talented pilots gave us a breathtaking display of the various vintage planes. The aerobatics were impressive and so was the musical choreography. The idea of putting planes to music is not one I'd have come up with, but it worked really well. Before we knew it, we'd had a full day out, and the whole family had enjoyed it.
A word of caution, though: the food stalls are not cheap. The food was the only thing I thought was poor value, all day. But I guess it's a big operation to set up for a couple of days of trading at a big show, and prices have to reflect that. Also, as we left after a great day, some of the stalls selling hot sauce were giving away free bottles of different flavors. We happily scooped some up, and decided the food had been a bit of a bargain after all.
Why not book tickets for this year's event?