With temperatures breaking 90 on Saturday and well into the 80’s on Sunday, the Rockford Airfest still drew impressive crowds. There was also some worry that the last minute loss of the Blue Angels would hurt attendance; however, tens of thousands still showed up.
Various people amongst the crowd did voice their disappointment that the Blue Angels had canceled; however, they still expected to see a spectacular display in the air and on the ground. AirFest officials did state that Sunday ‘was the better day crowd wise thanks to the weather,’ however, official numbers will not be released until later this week. The reported temperature at the airport was a few degrees cooler on Sunday and a Rockford Fire Department officer also stated that they expected fewer heat related issues among the crowd compared to Saturday.
The air show started with some teaser performances by Sean D. Tucker followed by the Heavy Metal Jet Team. Cmdr. Mike ‘Buick’ Eberhardt, USN (ret.) of the Heavy Metal Jet Team flew Metal 6 during what was the teams first solo teaser performance at an air show.
The show then officially opened with a joint jump between the US Army Golden Knights and the US Navy Leap Frog parachute teams. One Leap Frog and one Golden Knight flew a connected formation with a streaming American flag during the playing of the the US National Anthem.
As the crowds continued to grow, and the clouds began to fade, the temperature rose once again. Some took shelter under the wings of static display aircraft when they could, others just handled the temperatures, taking advantage of cooling stations and free water offered at Hinckley Springs’ tent.
The lines grew for all the static display aircraft, with some flight crews stating the lines were considerably longer that the prior day. The show even featured a few ‘unscheduled’ acts, as Allegiant airlines continued passenger operations. An arriving flight, an Allegiant Airlines MD-80, landed in the midst of the air show and departed later in the day as well.
Following multiple civilian performances and two loud, earth shaking demonstrations by the US Navy F/A-18 Hornet and the US Air Force’s F-15 Strike Eagle, the Heavy Metal Jet Team closed out the show with their Illinois debut performance. Some in the crowd were at first disappointed by the relative quietness of the L-39 jets the team uses, as compared to the loud F/A-18’s used by the originally scheduled Blue Angels. Shortly after the team began flying however, the attitude changed as the precision flying demonstrated and the maneuvers performed satisfied many in the crowd.
The only glitch, that most likely wasn’t even noticed by most of the crowd, occurred during the F-15 Strike Eagle demonstration when the pyrotechnics lit up the flight line. The heat and flames started a small grass fire about 50′ from the runway, leaving a thin cloud of white smoke blowing across the runway for the rest of the show. The safety and fire crews kept the fire in check and the air show continued without interruption and even offered some spectacular photo opportunities as aircraft flew through the thin smoke.
Overall, the smiles on kids faces and the number of people milling around the grounds waiting for the closing performance by the Heavy Metal Jet Team appeared to be a sign of a successful air show. AirFest organizers have even higher hopes for next years show.