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Black, red and blue: The Spirit of St. Louis Air Show returns to Chesterfield

By: Kate Uptergrove


Look overhead – it’s a Black Dagger, it’s a Red Arrow, it’s a Blue Angel. It’s the Spirit of St. Louis Air Show and STEM Expo, returning to the sky over Chesterfield Valley, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sept. 7 and 8. 

The Black Daggers, the U.S. Army’s Special Operations Command Parachute Demonstration Team, opens the air show at noon both days. 

Using a military variant of the ram-air parachute, the Black Daggers have the  ability to jump with more than 100 pounds of additional equipment attached. Using their hands, arms, legs and shoulders, the jumpers control a two-mile drop. Then, at a few thousand feet, they deploy their parachutes and land with pinpoint precision. 

The Jets

Highlights of the air show’s many jet performances include the Royal Air Force Jet Team known as the Red Arrows; the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels, and the F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team.

F-22 Raptor

“We are really fortunate this year to be one of only three air shows in the world to feature both the Blue Angels and the Royal Air Force Red Arrows, the jet demonstration team from the United Kingdom, which is doing a North American tour this year,” said Paul Guse, the air show’s director of marketing and public relations. “The Red Arrows are a world-renowned team that is very similar to the Canadian Snowbirds, who performed at the air show in 2016 and were very popular with the crowds.”

The Red Arrows have never performed in St. Louis. Formed in 1965, the team is defined by its “Diamond Nine” formation flying the BAE Systems Hawk jet.

“We’re over-the-top ecstatic to be able to bring to St. Louis such a unique air show as this is,” Guse said. “Also appearing is the United States Air Force F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team. The Raptor does a jet demonstration that is unlike any other. It is just a remarkable jet, very unique. You can know nothing about aircraft and watch that demo and be completely wowed.”

Boeing, who is the presenting sponsor of the air show, is also a major contributor to the F-22 program, according to Guse.

“Boeing built almost half of that structure when it was in production and continues to work on keeping the avionics and sensors in that airplane completely up-to-date,” Guse said. “So the F-22 has a very special connection to Boeing and St. Louis.”

Of course, the crowd favorite is the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels. 

The Blue Angels were founded and first performed in 1946, a full 10 years earlier than the Red Arrows’ first performance. Today, they continue to thrill crowds with their teamwork and precision. And speaking of teamwork, did you know that a total of 16 officers voluntarily serve with the Blue Angels, leading a team of 130 active-duty Sailors and Marines? After two years [on average], those officers return to the fleet.

The Aerobatics

Matt Younkin in his Beech 18 has been dubbed “the most unusual act on the air show circuit today.” A large aircraft, the Beech 18 was not designed for aerobatic flight but that doesn’t make it incapable as Younkin and his father, Bobby, have proven. 

Younkin’s performance is nearly a mirror image of the one his father pioneered and flew for more than 15 years. It begins with a roll on takeoff followed by a series of Cuban eights, point-rolls, a loop and concludes with a dirty pass dubbed the “Elephant Waltz” in which Younkin rocks the huge transport’s wings more than 90 degrees with the landing gear and flaps extended.

Skip Stewart flying “Prometheus,” his signature aircraft, is a show favorite. Stewart has proven to be one of the most entertaining air show pilots in the world today. He promises to “bring the thunder” as the crowd is engulfed in an ear-splitting roar that signals Prometheus’ arrival and continues throughout a series of jaw-dropping, gyroscopic maneuvers. 

Founded in 1984 by Alan Henley and Steve Gustafson, the AeroShell Aerobatic Team performs tight, awe-inspiring formation aerial maneuvers – the true definition of aerobatics. Using four T-6 Texan aircraft, the team performs a series of loops, rolls and bomb bursts in close formation to the delight of young and old alike.

Static display & STEM Expo

The static display allows air show attendees to get up-close and personal with dozens of aircraft from fighter jets and helicopters to medical transport planes. 

“There will be more than 40 aircraft, both military and civilian, on display,” Guse said. “When people don’t have their necks bent back, eyes staring at the skies, there’s still a lot to do and see. A lot of the pilots of static display aircraft will be right there so people can go up and meet them, talk to them about what it’s like to fly those aircraft and what they’ve done in their careers.”

One plane you’ll want to visit is the Air Force Special Operations Command MC-130J Commando II. Introduce yourself to the pilot, Capt Kate Hewlett, and you’ll hear a remarkable story. Kate is a St. Louis native and became inspired to pursue a career in aviation and as a military pilot by attending the Spirit of St. Louis Air Show as a child with her dad every year. She watched the pilots and Air Show acts flying and dreamed of one day being one of those pilots. It was at this very Air Show her dad bought her first flying lesson and at the Spirit of St Louis Airport where she first took flight. Now she is an Air Force Special Operations pilot living her dream that started right here at the Spirit of St. Louis Airshow.

Speaking of careers in aviation, that’s a theme you’ll find throughout the air show, and especially in the large, interactive STEM Expo at the heart of the show grounds. 

“The legacy of aviation is woven in the fabric of the St. Louis region, perhaps beginning when a group of St. Louis financiers helped make Charles Lindbergh’s historic flight across the Atlantic in his single engine Ryan monoplane, the Spirit of St. Louis, back in 1927,” Guse said. “That legacy has continued through amazing companies like McDonnell Douglas and Boeing, which have designed, built and supported some of the most important aircraft and spacecraft our nation has seen.

“But the only way to keep that legacy alive is to inspire the next generation to pursue careers in this area,” he said. “That’s what our STEM Expo is all about.”

Featured Air Show performers & static displays
• U.S. Army Special Operations
  Command Black Daggers
• U.S. Navy Blue Angels
• Royal Air Force Red Arrows
• U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor 
• Matt Younkin/Beech 18
• AeroShell Aerobatic Team/T-6
• Skip Stewart/Prometheus biplane
• CAF Red Tail P-51C
• Sky Soldiers/Huey and 
  Cobra helicopters
• Supermarine Spitfire
• B-17G Flying Fortress
  “Texas Raiders”
• A-26K “Special Kay”
• North American B-25 “Show Me”
• Grumman TBM Avenger
• Vought F4U-5 Corsair
• Grumman F8-F Bearcat

Patriots Landing

Guests looking for patriotic inspiration can head to Patriots Landing, which offers the opportunity to meet veterans and active-duty military members and talk with them about what they do and have done in their years of service to the country. 

“You’ll see a wide variety of things there,” Guse, said. “There are a lot of things to do and get your hands on.”

There also will be a lot of people to meet. Participating in Patriot’s Landing are the U.S. Marines, Army, Navy and Air Force as well as the Air National Guard, the Army National Guard, the Black Daggers Demonstration team, the WWII Historical Re-enactment Society and more. 

“You cannot walk through this area and not be inspired by the work of our heroes of yesterday and today,” Guse said.

Parking

“Come early and enjoy the entire day,” Guse suggested. “If you come early, traffic and parking will be considerably easier.

“Parking is the real reason we limit ticket sales. “The air show has put in a lot of money to improve the parking at Spirit of St. Louis Airport so people can be on dry, solid land and we do have parking for all the people we have sold tickets to. We also have a very good parking plan that we developed with the St. Louis County and Chesterfield police forces and other county agencies, but it’s still important for people to come out early.”

Access points to Spirit of St. Louis Airport will be limited to one off of Chesterfield Airport Road, serving northbound travelers and one off of Olive Street Road serving southbound travelers. 

Tickets

No tickets will be sold at the gate. Tickets also are limited. At press time, only general admission tickets were available and can be purchased online at www.spirit-airshow.com. Children age 6 and younger are free. A discount is available for active-duty military only with proper ID.

Schedule of Events [Sept. 7-8]

Spirit of St. Louis Airport, 18270 Edison Ave., Chesterfield, MO 63005

7:30 a.m. Parking lots open

10 a.m. Gates open to public

10 a.m.-5 p.m. STEM Expo activities and exhibits open

Static Aircraft Display open

Patriots Landing, Fun Zone and Exhibitors

Noon Opening Ceremony and Air Show

[Times and schedule of performances are approximate and subject to change]

5 p.m. Event closes

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