Organizing the Minnesota Air Spectacular is no small feat and last weekend’s event at the Mankato Regional Airport was no exception.
From traffic flow and parking to food vendors and performers, organizers made sure everything ran smoothly. The one thing they couldn’t control — the rain — put a damper on the end of the Saturday show when the USAF Thunderbirds were forced to cancel their show.
While tickets are sold for a specific day and the policy is to provide no rain refunds for ticket holders, organizers made the right move by announcing after the Saturday show ended that people who had attended would be allowed to come back Sunday.
With perfect weather on hand Sunday, crowds were larger than the Saturday event and the Thunderbirds wowed the audience with their precision demonstration.
Still, the total attendance for the weekend, roughly estimated at 20,000, is down from the 35,000 in 2012 and 33,000 in 2015. Those figures will no doubt strain the budget. In 2015 the Air Spectacular had a small loss of about $20,000 on a budget of $720,000.
A key part of the smooth operations of a large event is the strong volunteer base that helps out at air shows. Most volunteers at the airshow represented non-profits such as Blue Earth Nicollet County Humane Society, AmeriCorps, Camp Sweet Life, Habitat for Humanity and the Mankato Family YMCA. Those volunteers do everything from helping people park to manning food stands and taking tickets.
While the air show was originally held every three years, there was a four-year gap before last weekend’s show. That gap of four to five years is likely to be the norm going forward as a three-year interval was believed to be too short and part of the reason for an attendance drop in 2015.
While the Thunderbirds, or in some years the Navy’s Blue Angels, are always the stars of the show, there were plenty of other spectacles, including a flyover by a stealth bomber, to entertain those who attended.
The Lucas Oil and Jack Links planes thrilled, the parachute teams stunned with their precision. One of the most awe inspiring shows was from “Shockwave,” a jet-propelled semi that travels 300 mph down the runway. While the speed was impressive, it was the walls of fire and ear-piercing noise emanating from the semi that drew cheers and awe.
While Saturday’s weather was disappointing and the overall crowd size lower than hoped for, the Air Spectacular delivered all the flash and expertise visitors hoped for.