After teasing with test flights over the city the past two days, the flying machines got into the thrill business for real over Wheeler Downtown Airport on Saturday.
The aerial acrobatics drew more than 20,000 on the first day of the weekend Kansas City Aviation Expo and Air Show, organizers said.
Taking to the air in some of these planes is like riding “the world’s best convertible,” said Olathe pilot Brian Von Bevern, describing his zest for flying.
In a few moments early Saturday afternoon, the next show would race across the sky. The whine of Sean D. Tucker’s sparkling red Oracle plane would draw eyes skyward, with hats, sunglasses or raised hands protecting against a glaring sun.
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Von Bevern is a member of the Commemorative Air Force that rebuilds, preserves and flies historic “warbirds” like the blue and yellow PT-13 Stearman biplane drawing crowds on the tarmac.
“It’s the world’s best convertible,” he said. “And it can also be the world’s best roller coaster.”
He knows why so many people are watching these planes. Even if they’re not pilots, they can imagine what Von Bevern experiences flying over Kansas fields, “smelling the hay fields when they’re harvesting.”
The air show was such a success that spectators leaving the show Saturday afternoon experienced long, hot delays waiting for shuttle buses to take them to their cars.
Hundreds of people clogged U.S. 169 and the Broadway Bridge as they trekked to their vehicles by foot. Some who gave up waiting for buses were joined by others who had parked nearby and were walking back to their vehicles.
Some people were calling cabs to pick them up, while police and other workers were distributing bottled water to stranded people.
A number of people took to Twitter to express their anger at the situation.
“This was a complete transportation fail,” one woman tweeted.
Parking was not allowed at the downtown airport. Attendees instead rode two shuttle bus routes. One ran south and the other north. Temporary bus stop signs were set up along the routes.
Organizers said the traffic crush occurred when the thousands of people who had arrived at different times throughout the day all left at once after the U.S. Navy Blue Angels finished their routine capping the day’s activities. Organizers said that at any one time, there were 10,000 to 20,000 people at the show throughout the day.
Many people who didn’t attend the air show also flocked to surrounding areas to watch the action. The downtown area was particularly clogged with traffic, which affected the ability of shuttle buses to make their way to and from the airport to pick up and deliver spectators to their cars, air show organizers said.
Pat O’Neill, a spokesman for the air show, said organizers were working to make arrangements so the system will run smoother on Sunday. Organizers had more than 70 buses running Saturday, and officials planned to meet Saturday night to work out logistics for Sunday.
While spectators took to Twitter to complain about logistics, they praised the show itself, especially the Blue Angels, who mingled in the crowd and were treated like rock stars.
Cassie McCauley of Kansas City scooped her 2-year-old son, Phoenix, in her arms to get their picture taken between Blue Angels Carlos Garcia of New York City and Adrienne Castillo of Jacksonville, N.C.
“They’re legendary!” McCauley said.
Her son may not realize yet just who these crew members flanking him were, but “everything with him is ‘Airplane! Airplane!’” McCauley said. “He’s always pretending to fly them.”
So he’ll appreciate soon enough that he “got his picture taken with the Blue Angels,” she said.
“There is a lot of love, a lot of welcoming,” Garcia said.
Said Castillo: “We love to show the public what we can do and thrill the faces.”
Certainly piloting planes isn’t going to be for everyone, said Joe McGilley, the executive officer for the U.S. Navy’s Training Squadron II.
But he imagines air shows like this one inspire a lot of good ambition, from future pilots to future engineers.
McGilley, from Pensacola, Fla., was showing off the T6 Texan II training aircraft.
“Before you can get in those,” he said, gesturing across the field to the lineup of Blue Angels on the runway, “you’ve got to go through this,” the Texan training aircraft.
Not everyone is going to want to take on some of his adventures as a Coast Guard helicopter pilot, tossed into rescue missions flying “low over high seas, in fog,” he said.
Some will, but plenty of others, he said, looking across all the young people in the crowd, “will want to study harder in science and math.”
The air show continues from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Go to www.kcairshow.com for more information.