Up in the Air

By: Teresa Bitler

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April 3, 2012

Throughout the year - and throughout Arizona - find events devoted to military aircraft, vintage planes, hot air balloons and radio-controlled fliers.

About the author

Teresa Bitler

Teresa Bitler

Teresa Bitler is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in Sunset and Valley Guide magazines. She is the author of Great Escapes Arizona as well as four Arizona-related iPhone travel apps and is currently working on her second guidebook, Backroads & Byways of Indian Country. She can be reached at www.teresabitler.com.

Arizona’s clear skies and striking scenery offer the perfect backdrop for any flight, so it’s no wonder enthusiasts from across the nation come here to demonstrate their skills and share their passion at the state’s numerous air shows.

From the aerial demonstrations at one of Arizona’s military bases to the on-the-ground exhibits at fly-ins around the state, you’ll find an Arizona air show that caters to the entire family.

Here’s a sampling of Arizona’s best.

Annual Experimental Aircraft Association Fly-In & Pancake Breakfast

Although this free event is sponsored by Show Low’s local Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) chapter, you won’t necessarily see “experimental” craft at this show.

Instead – depending on who flies in – you might see antique aircraft, classics, war birds, ultralights, helicopters and more at the Show Low event each June.

Highlights include a Saturday morning pancake breakfast ($6 for adults, $4 for children 12 and younger) and free morning airplane rides for those ages 8–17.

Annual Thunder over the Coconino Fly-In

Held at the Grand Canyon Valle Airport each August, this annual fly-in also features EAA-member planes that are flown in and displayed for the public.

In addition to a pancake breakfast and free flights for kids ages 8–17, this event also has a car show, vintage tractor exhibit and evening fireworks.

Admission to the fly-in ($12 for adults, $6 for children) includes access to the on-site Planes of Fame Air Museum, home to a collection of approximately 40 historic and flyable aircraft.

London Bridge Seaplane Classic

The seaplanes zipping past the backdrop of Lake Havasu’s London Bridge at the London Seaplane Classic aren’t your typical aircraft – they’re a fraction of the size of their real-life counterparts.

More than 200 radio-controlled floatplanes participate in the three-day event held annually at Lake Havasu City’s Windsor Beach each November.

While there’s no charge to watch the planes, you will need to pay a $15-per-car state park entry fee if you would like to explore the rest of Lake Havasu State Park.

Monument Valley Balloon Event

In late February, hot air balloons soar over the iconic formations of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park during the Monument Valley Balloon Event, a three-day celebration of balloon flight and of the Navajo culture.

In addition to morning launches and evening glows, the lineup includes storytelling, American Indian dancers, face painting, live music and more.

Cactus Antique Airplane Fly-In

Enthusiasts across the nation fly to Casa Grande Municipal Airport the first full weekend in March for the city’s annual Cactus Fly-In.

Here, you won’t see air races or aerial demonstrations, but you will have a chance to talk to the pilots and learn about the nearly 300 aircraft available for viewing, including war birds and WWII craft. Admission is $10 for adults; free for children younger than 12.

MCAS Annual Air Show & Open House

For more than 50 years, the Marine Corps Air Station has opened its doors to the public each March for this free, annual air show in Yuma, featuring aerial demonstrations by performers such as the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the Commemorative Air Force.

Between performances, explore static displays of military and vintage aircraft on the ground. Family activities round out the day.

Luke and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base Air Shows

Early each spring (usually in March or April), Arizona’s Air Force bases – Luke Air Force Base in the Phoenix metropolitan area and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson – hold events similar to the Yuma air show. Luke Days, in the Phoenix area, takes place in odd-numbered years, and the Davis-Monthan air show and open house happens in the even years.

These free, two-day events include aerial demonstrations by performers such as the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, USA Golden Knights and U.S. Air Force Academy Wings of Blue parachute unit. Static aircraft displays and kid zones add to the fun.

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