After a 16-year absence, aerobatic pilots are returning to the sky — at least, the patch of sky above Columbus’ Rickenbacker International Airport — to amaze air show attendees with the marvel of flight.
The Columbus Air Show Presented by Scotts is a three-day event that presents participants with an opportunity to visit, learn about and watch aircraft both on the ground and in the air. Between performances by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, up-close exposure to some of the biggest aircraft in the world and interactive exhibits, Herb Gillen, the air show’s producer, said the event appeals to people’s aviation fascination.
“People are still amazed by flight,” Gillen said. “You know, the fact that people are able to get into the aircraft and just take off and fly, I think is still, to a lot of people, an amazing thing. And to see what aircraft do in an air show, where they’re flying upside down, they’re flying in tight formation, that is something that is very appealing.”
Though the lineup has changed for each show, Gillen said this year’s edition features not only the Blue Angels — who haven’t flown in a Columbus air show in 28 years — in their iconic blue and gold Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets but also representatives of the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Air Force and the Ohio Air National Guard. Additionally, vintage military aircraft from the World War II era will be flown by civilian aviators performing aerobatic routines.
One of the aerobatic pilots, Michael Goulian, is a member of the United States Aerobatic Team and national champion in the “Olympic-style sport of aerobatic flying.” Goulian said the aircraft he will be flying at the Columbus air show — the EXTRA 330 — has been built specifically for this type of event.
“Its only purpose in life is to be an aerobatic and air show plane and, for all the people that are fans of “Drive to Survive,” it’s like a Formula One car in the sky,” Goulian said.
Goulian said his last appearance at Rickenbacker was at The Gathering of Mustangs & Legends in 2007, which was also the last Columbus air show.
The lengthy absence, Gillen said, was primarily due to runway construction as well as an overall lack of “push” to have a show. Gillen said Herb Gillen Air Shows — a company that has produced air shows around the U.S. since 2005 — produced this year’s air show due to a long-lasting interest in creating another show at Rickenbacker.
“We got the green light from the airport authority a few years ago to proceed with planning for the show,” Gillen said. “And it takes that long to put a show together, so our hope is that the show does continue to be an every-year show, but we want to get through this one first, make sure that this is a sustainable thing.”
In addition to seeing aircraft soar through the sky, Columbus Air Show Presented by Scotts attendees can partake in assorted exhibits. For example, the STEM and aviation experience, Gillen said, involves several local colleges — including Ohio State’s Aviation School — presenting “high-end simulators and hands-on STEM events” to patrons.
Moreover, Gillen said the Commemorative Air Force will be bringing their RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit, which highlights the Tuskegee Airmen — who were headquartered at Rickenbacker after World War II — and the Women Airforce Service Pilots — who ferried airplanes around the world.
“They bring an air-conditioned, surround-sound panoramic cinema that people go in and watch like a 10-minute movie telling them about the Tuskegee Airmen and the Women Air Force Service Pilots,” Gillen said. “So we’re excited to have that exhibit because that tells a lot about aviation here in Columbus.”
For those courageous enough to embark on a flight of their own, Gillen said attendees can purchase flight experiences to take off in aircraft courtesy of the Yankee Air Museum.
Regardless of the particular activities attendees decide to experience, Gillen said he encourages people — especially children — to bring earplugs due to the often intense volumes of military jets. But there are some roaring sounds patrons — especially Ohio State students — will want to hear, Gillen said.
“The Ohio State University Marching Band will be there each morning and will be playing our national anthem to start the show,” Gillen said. “It’s kind of a festival atmosphere, you hear different things as you’re walking back through the exhibits and displays. It’s overwhelming of the senses sometimes.”
Goulian said the energy of the event — which is expected to host roughly 17,000 people per day — makes the show worth attending.
“The fact that something that man has built that can sustain itself in the sky, it’s something we’ve always dreamed of, and I think pilots in many ways are still dreamers, right?” Goulian said. “They’re enthusiasts for the spirit of life. And that’s, I think, the thing that spectators will see when they come to Columbus. They will see a bunch of amazing professionals — whether it be civilian or military — that are just incredibly passionate about what they do.”
The Columbus Air Show Presented by Scotts will take place June 16-18 at Rickenbacker International Airport from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., though Gillen said the bulk of flying will occur between noon and 4 p.m. Although the June 17 show is sold out, tickets can still be purchased for the shows on June 16 or 18 on the event’s website .