Red Bull Air Force highlights Truckee Air Show
The grounds of the Truckee Tahoe Airport were packed with thousands of spectators and historic aircraft displays on Saturday, July 8, for the sixth annual Truckee Air Show & Family Festival. Meanwhile, in the air above, some of the world’s top pilots and skydivers put on dizzying aerial performances.
The Red Bull Air Force highlighted this year’s festival with two-time Red Bull Air Race World Champion Kirby Chambliss leading the way with barrel rolls, flips, and diving his custom Red Bull plane in and out of the paths of several members of the Red Bull Wingsuit Team.
Flying at the airport’s 5,900-foot elevation hinders the planes’ performances, making stunts more difficult. To prepare for the show Chambliss said he arrived in Truckee on Wednesday, July 6 — three days after picking up a series win in the Red Bull Air Race World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
“High altitude shows are very dangerous,” said Chambliss of flying in Truckee. “My rule is, if it’s over 4,000 feet, I’m here two days early to practice or I won’t (fly). When you’re cartwheeling an airplane end over end at 800 feet, you better know what it’s doing.”
Because of warm temperatures during the air show, the airplanes also experience a density altitude much higher than the airport’s elevation.
“The airplane thinks it’s at 9,000 feet when you’re taking off already,” Chambliss said. “The air is less dense, it’s thinner, the engine doesn’t perform as well. Normally, I’d have 300 horsepower. I probably have 200 horsepower right now. The wing is not as efficient. The engine is not as efficient. You just have to factor all of that in. There’s certain things I can do at sea level that the airplane just won’t do here.
Still, Chambliss wowed audiences during a pair of shows, flipping, spinning, and diving his plane toward the runway before pulling up just in time to avoid a crash.
“My favorite part was when (Chambliss) did the loops,” said 7-year-old Wyatt Griffith, who was at the air show with his older brother and mother while their father worked as part of the fire crew.
For his older brother, Blake Griffith, who said he wants to become a pilot, the festival’s Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) Expo was the highlight of the day.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Blake Griffith. “The drones were there, which interested me a lot.”
The festival also featured several other aerial performances, static aircraft displays, a flight simulator, vendors, and speaker forums.
The Red Bull Wingsuit Team performed at the festival for the first time in its history, and included Luke Aikens, who became the first person to skydive from a plane and land safely without the use of a parachute or wingsuit. He accomplished the feat on July 30, 2016.
“We do a lot of air shows, but what’s unique about this Tahoe one is it’s so intimate,” Aikens said. “I get to mingle with the crowd and talk to people on all ends. It’s really a cool, family vibe. You feel like everybody is part of the show. It’s unique.”
Co-owner of Skydive Truckee Tahoe and member of the Red Bull Air Force, Mike Swanson, was also performing with the wingsuit team during the festival.
“It’s the closest you can get to flying like a bird,” Swanson said. “We have the drop zone, Truckee Tahoe Airfield, so we’re jumping here a lot. But it was really special to put on a show for the locals, and really show them what our team is about and what we do.”
According to festival director of PR and marketing Margaret Skillicorn, the Truckee Tahoe Airport covers the cost of the festival each year with all proceeds going toward local youth programs.