World Airshow News        

World Airshow News, Jan/Feb 2000


The United States Military: A Thank You and honest handshake with hard eye contact for everyone is the minimum.

(Note: This article was written over in December of 1999.  Ironically it is as germane today as on the day it was first published.)  


During the 1999 ICAS Convention in Nashville, I had the privilege of moderating two seminar sessions relating to the military’s involvement in the airshow industry.  During the introductions to both of these sessions, my remarks included references to the current military operational tempo and its affect on personal; and the continuing associated problems with equipment operational readiness.  These remarks drew knowing nods from the active duty military personnel present and a glimmer of understanding from the civilians in the audience.


But when I referred to the Hart-Rudman Commission Report it was obvious I had exceeded the knowledge base of most of the civilians and a number of the military personnel present.


“So Oldham , what does this have to do with the price of hot dogs at the airshow?” 




The airshow industry has, traditionally and mightily, depended on the North American military’s involvement and support of its airshows.  Demonstrations Teams and static displays have always been a big draw at these events; yet every show producer will readily admit these resources have been, and are becoming more, scarce. 


The scarcity of military airshow support has three very basic reasons: lack of personnel, lack of equipment, and lack of money.


The military infrastructure has suffered a massive draw down since the Gulf War.  Here’s a quick and dirty overview of the US military force reductions:


  • Over 1,000,000 regular and reserve personnel are gone.

  • Eight standing Army Divisions have been dissolved.

  • Some 20 Air Force and Navy Air Wings (well over 2,000 combat aircraft) have stood down.

  • Approximately 125 US Navy combat ships, including 4 aircraft carriers, have been eliminated.

  • Some 95 major defense installations closed.

  • Defense appropriations have been reduced from a 1985 high of $424.6 Billion per year to 1999’s budget of $268.6 Billion. 


The personnel and aircraft that are still on duty have to fulfill an increasing array of deployments and commitments around the world. 


Even with the resent changes in US Air Force policy and the establishment of the Air Expeditionary Force concept, some USAF crews are still spending over 250 days per year deployed to far off locations.


This was brought home recently by headlines in the Columbia SC newspaper announcing that all four F-16 Squadrons based at Shaw Air Force Base, Sumter SC , would be home for Christmas – for the first time in 15 years!


The stress on the people and equipment of the defense establishment has been, and continues to be, unrelenting. 


The US Air Force “Mission Capable” rate has declined for the last eight years.  From a high of 83.4% in 1991, the total USAF was only 74.2% mission capable in July of last year.  1 in 4 USAF aircraft was not capable of fulfilling its mission requirements.  The Department of the Navy is no better off.  As an exceptional example, last August (99) the USMC’s AV-8B Harrier West Coast fleet was 4% mission capable and those based on the East Coast stood at 23%.


The airshow industry does not operate in a vacuum. (See Sidebar)  All of these issues, and more, impact the military’s participation in airshow.  As we approach the 2nd Century of Flight, what can the airshow industry expect from the military?  The “immediate” outlook is not bright.


The Hart-Rudman Commission report is a Pentagon ordered study of the United States national security situation.  When coupled with the Department of Defense (DoD) Reserve Component Employment 2005 Study (RCE), the conclusions are very worrisome for all citizens and will have a profound affect on the future of the military’s participation in the airshow industry. 


The demise of the Soviet Union is what lead many to expect a substantial “Peace Dividend” and resulted in the large reductions on the DoD budget.  Yet, the easily identified Russian Bear has been replaced by a garden full of highly poisonous snakes.


The Hart-Rudman Commission report, “New World Coming” asserts that rouge states, terrorist, and other will acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and use them.  The report concludes, “Americans will likely die on American soil, possible in large numbers.”


Place that statement in perspective with the RCE report’s conclusion that additional DoD assets will have to be placed in the hands of the National Guard and Reserves (to save money) and that the Guard and Reserve will have to take on an increasing role in the defense of the US homeland, one can easily see that assets devoted to airshow participation will continue to shrink.


Now, what can we in the airshow industry do?  The phrase “Think Globally, Act Locally” is apropos.


First Locally:


If your show is lucky enough to get military support, treat it as a valuable resource!


Recognize that the hardware is a high value and stage it for maximum exposure for your show and the military.  The military’s justification for airshow participation is for Public Relations and Recruiting.  Ensure all branches of the military are given ample opportunity to maximize the value, as PR and especially Recruiting, of the assets they provide.  Involve the Recruiters, not just local - up to the Company or Squadron level, in all aspects of the event.  Place the Recruiters in a prime location as near the associated displays as possible.


Recognize that all personnel accompanying the display aircraft, or other hardware, are giving up a weekend to support your event!


Give them the same support and benefits as you give your prim event sponsors or headline performers.  Put them in the “good” hotel.  Make sure they are supplied food and drink at their displays. Invite all personal to all events (if there are protocol considerations, let them work those out between themselves).   And remember the enlisted personnel are just as important as the officers.  Too many times I’ve seen the pilots eating in the “Chairman’s Tent” while the troops that keep’em flying are buying “airshow steaks,” out of pocket, at one of the concession stands.


And, finally, let every military person that supported your event know you appreciate their contribution – not only to your airshow, but also to the defense of our country.  A Thank You and honest handshake with hard eye contact for everyone is the minimum.  A letter to their Commanding Office should be a given.  A plaque for the Squadron and a tee shirt or other small memento for each person is not going overboard. 


Now the “Global” part:


For the last ten years, our military personnel have had to do more with less.  While “Tasked to the Max,” they are being shuffled from one crisis to another across all four points of the compass.  They deserve better.


Years ago, at an AFA meeting, I had the privilege to introduce “Ensign” George Gay, the Soul Survivor of Torpedo Squadron 8 at the Battle of Midway.  As he spoke to our local Air Force Association Chapter, he told of going into battle in an inferior aircraft, with inferior weapons, watching his squadron mates crash into the sea until he too was in the water.


This last summer, I watched the United States Congress debate the de-funding of the F-22.  History repeats.


The military and the airshow industry have a symbiotic relationship; the military supports the airshow, the airshow supports the military’s PR and recruiting efforts.  We owe our military personnel more then that.


If you want that military support at your airshow, support the military – fulltime.  For US Citizens, I would suggest this November.





The Hart – Rudman Commission reached 14 basic conclusions about the world of the next 25 years:


1.   The United States will become increasingly vulnerable to hostile attack within its homeland, and military superiority will not entirely protect its population.


2.   Rapid advances in information and biotechnologies will create new vulnerabilities for US security.


3.   New technologies will divide the world as well as draw it together.


4.   The national security of all advanced states will be increasingly affected by the vulnerabilities of the evolving global economic infrastructure.


5.   Energy will continue to have major strategic significance.


6.   All borders will be more porous; some will bend and some will break.


7.   The sovereignty of states will come under pressure but will endure.


8.   Fragmentation or failure of states will occur, with destabilizing effects on neighboring states.


9.   Foreign crises will be replete with atrocities and deliberate terrorizing of civilian populations.


10.   Space will become a critical and completive military environment.


11.   The essence of war will not change.


12.   US intelligence will face more challenging adversaries and even excellent intelligence will not prevent all surprises.


13.   The United States will be called upon frequently to intervene militarily in a time of uncertain alliances and with the prospect of fewer forward-deployed forces.


14.   The emerging security environment in the next quarter century will require different military and other national capabilities. 


Source: Air Force Magazine Dec 99