2004 Sussex Airshow
Sussex Airport, Sussex, NJ
August 27-29, 2004
Airshow report written on
August 29, 2004.
The Sussex Airshow is one of the smaller airshows in the country that attracts some of the biggest names in the airshow industry. Sussex is located in Sussex County, New Jersey, which is literally at one of the most northern points in New Jersey. The airport is as small as the show, with the only runway, 3/21, being 3,500 feet long. That runway length limits who can perform at the show site and utilize Sussex Airport without having to take off from a larger airport like Morris County (which is probably not much bigger than Sussex) or as far away as Stewart International Airport in New York. For someone who is from South Jersey and rarely ventures further north than Trenton (except now where I will be living closer to New York City than Philadelphia), the trip to Sussex wasn't too bad. It was a two hour and forty minute drive, avoiding the quickest route (the New Jersey Turnpike) to save a few bucks. If you're curious, the quick route would be to take the Turnpike to Interstate 287 North to Route 23 North towards Sussex. I went up Interstate 295 to Route 1 North to 287, following that to Route 23. There are no tolls anywhere on that route, whereas the Turnpike is a toll road.
I had to leave early, not just to get a spot along the crowd line at Sussex, but to avoid the traffic along Route 1 in the Princeton area. According to my dad, the best times to be on Route 1 in that area is anytime except between 7:30-9:30 in the morning and 3:30-6:30 in the afternoon/evening on the weekdays, mainly because its rush hour and there are quite a few large office complexes located along the route. If you were to look at New Jersey (from an out-of-stater's point of view) by just going to South Jersey (Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Ocean, Atlantic, Cape May, Salem, and Cumberland counties, to name a few), you would say the state is flat. That's not entirely true, which is what I came to learn. Heading up 287 and 23 through Morris, Passaic, Somerset, and Sussex counties, New Jersey has rolling hillsides, with High Point, the state's highest point, located in Sussex County (I might be wrong on this - its either in Sussex or Passaic County), with an altitude of about 1,700 feet above sea level.
Sussex Airport is located within some of the rolling hillsides in northern New Jersey. The show area is very small, with not much room between vendors and the crowd line. The runway is practically in your face, being about 150 feet in front of the crowd, with the 500 foot show line in front of the tree line, which seemed rather dangerous. Three announcers were in place for Friday's show, which was the only day I could attend because of the college circumstances. Sonny Everett, "Fast Eddie" Leuter, and Larry Rutt were the announcers for the day and it was nice to see Fast Eddie in action in front of a microphone because it has been years since I last saw him actively announce an airshow. I haven't seen Sonny Everett in action since he teamed with Frank Kingston Smith at Lakehurst three years ago, and I can't say the same for Larry Rutt, since I just saw him at Rhode Island in June!
There was no true static display at Sussex, other than for the aircraft owned by all of the performers. The gates opened at 8:00 am, with me arriving around 8:30, and the show starting a little after 1:00 in the afternoon. That provided plenty of time to hang out with the likes of Sean and Colleen Tucker, Brian Norris, Bobby Younkin, Jimmy Franklin, Allen Smith, Larry Rutt, Sonny Everett, Eddie Leuter, and the Split Image guys, along with checking out the vendors - one of which was a Gemini Jets, Dragon Wings, Corgi, Herpa Wings, and Armour Collection distributor from Edison. Those of you who know me well know that I have a growing collection of Gemini Jets and Dragon Wings diecast aircraft and I would take advantage of getting some, but I didn't. There was time to chat with some of the photographers who were doing their part for the show, as well as catching the tail end of the performer's briefing. Having never been to a briefing before, this was very interesting. I was also able to... oh never mind. I can't speak for what was going on and what information I found useful because you'll find out in the videos.
Sean Tucker went up to practice twice during the morning hours, but not over the show area. Fly-in aircraft included the usual Cessnas, Pipers, Mooneys, as well as performers like Mike Schloss with the Skyraider. The weather wasn't too good, as a low overcast prevented the Misty Blues from jumping any higher than 2,500 feet. However, it was high enough for all of the performers to be able to put on nearly full shows. The Misty Blues opened the show with a flag jump, being circled by the Split Image Aerobatic Team. The Misties used a Cessna 172 as their jump platform and after the first jumper landed, three more members of the team exited the aircraft to perform the remainder of the display. They could not perform any canopy relative work because of the lower jump altitude, but the ladies put on a great show. I said ladies because the Misty Blues are the only all-women parachute team in the world (that I'm aware of).
After the Cessna and the Split Image Pitts' landed, a Piper Navajo departed Sussex Airport before local pilot Angelo Cillaroto took to the air for his performance. This was the first time for me to see Angelo fly and he puts on a nice performance set to rock music. It's a shame that it was cloudy because Angelo's Extra 300 has a nice red and blue paint job that would stand out well under a blue sky. As Angelo was landing, some farmer was out along the fly-in aircraft with a tractor, begging for a ride in an airplane, which would be in a Piper J3 Cub. Steve Coan also took this time to take off and set up for his performance later on in the show. The farmer got his ride, and decided to kick the pilot, Stanley Mann, out of the airplane, so he could go for a joyride. If you haven't seen what I'm talking about, that's Roger Lehnert's famous Flying Farmer routine, which is one of the best, in my opinion. I haven't seen Roger fly in a couple years and it was very nice to see him once again.
Joe Borin took his gyrocopter into the air for a short demonstration. Joe doesn't do a whole lot with the gyrocopter except for a small autorotation demonstration, but he does quite a few passes over the show area with the smoke on. After Joe landed, the sound of a jet engine firing up could be heard and it would be none other than Jimmy Franklin, who took to the sky as soon as that jet engine of his was running. I have seen Jimmy Franklin fly a couple times before Sussex, but if you think his act is wild, wait until you see him fly at Sussex. With the runway being as close as it is, that jet engine gets super loud. I believe he had to fly a modified routine because of the cloud cover, but he put on one heck of a show and is quickly becoming one of my favorite aerobatic pilots. After Jimmy landed, it was time for Steve Coan to begin his performance. Steve flies a motorized glider, eliminating the need for a tow plane, but when he's performing, the engine is shut off and it becomes a glider. He flies an aerobatic routine, landing the glider on the runway and stopping right in front of Sonny Everett!
The only flyby for the day would be from a business jet. The aircraft was a Gulfstream IV and it made two passes down the runway at Sussex. Unlike most people, I liked this because I never see any business jets around my way and it is nice to see business jets represented in the flying display of an airshow. As he made the first pass, Sean Tucker took off to set up for his performance as the Gulfstream made the second and final pass before departing, giving the stage to Sean Tucker. This was Sean's first performance at Sussex in several years, and the crowd welcomed him back with great enthusiasm. Sean remains to be my favorite aerobatic pilot and he even offered me to be one of his pole holders back when we chatted in Rhode Island. It was going to happen at Sussex, but since I was only able to make it for one day, it didn't happen. It might happen at Oceana, though.
Roger Lehnert was back up in the air for his Cartop Landing. This is one of the more impressive displays at any airshow because it is so challenging. I have been to shows in the past where Roger manages to successfully land the Piper Cub on the Teenie Weenie Airport on the first or second attempt and I have seen him try more than five times to land it and I have seen him call it off because of the winds. His first attempt at Sussex was almost successful, but he called it off to try it again. The second attempt was a bit more successful than the first, as Roger managed to land on top of the Teenie Weenie Airport without any problems. After Roger landed the Cub on concrete, as compared to a pickup truck, Bobby Younkin took the stage with Samson. I am starting to like his performance in Samson more and more now only because it is noisy. Samson, if I'm correct, is actually a Waco biplane with the Samson nickname attached to it.
The Split Image Aerobatic Team took the stage after Bobby Younkin completed his performance in Samson. The Split Image guys put on a great display - probably one of the better displays I've seen them put on, despite the cloud cover (the sun did appear briefly while Samson was in the air but that was about it for that time frame). As they were finishing their performance, Drew Hurley took off to set up for his performance and both Pitts landed, taxied by the crowd to the hot ramp. Drew began his performance from the left as if he had just taken off before proceeding to do his behind-the-crowd part of the show. He put on a very good display but he had to improvise the inverted flat spins because of the overcast. He still did it, but at a lower altitude than the normal 6,000 feet or somewhere around there. Drew even used some simulcasted in-cockpit narration in parts of his performance, which got quite humorous at times.
Jimmy Franklin was the next performer to take the stage and he had the Jet Waco rigged with the wingwalking rig, allowing his son Kyle to do the wingwalking portion of their show. Even though Kyle doesn't do as much wingwalking as some of the other acts, it is my favorite wingwalking act, only because of the Jet Waco! Jimmy says that his performances are never the same, except for the maneuvers flown. They aren't flown in the same order in each display but they do appear somewhere, and he wasn't lying! After Jimmy and Kyle landed, it was Jim LeRoy's time to shine. I haven't seen Jim fly since Oceana in 2002 and I think he has been working on his performance within the last two years because it has gotten a lot better. It also seemed a lot longer than any of the other aerobatic performances that were at Sussex. He actually took up the full fifteen minutes whereas others usually go for twelve minute performances, which isn't a problem.
Bobby Younkin was back in the air again, this time with the Beech 18. I've taken a liking for the Beech 18 performance as much as his performance in Samson and in the Learjet 23 because Bobby puts the Beech through an aerobatic display in an aircraft that wasn't meant to fly aerobatics - like the Learjet. The Beech was also incredibly loud at Sussex and puts out an awful lot of smoke. After his performance, Allen Smith took to the sky with his L-39 Albatross. I had somewhat of an idea that Allen would be there but somewhat doubted that he would be able to land the L-39 on the 3,500 foot runway at Sussex. Allen couldn't perform any vertical maneuvers because of the ceiling, so he was limited to rolls and photo passes, with the additional barrel roll thrown in for good measure. I wasn't sure if Allen would be able to land at Sussex without any problems but he was down and made a turnaround two-thirds of the length of the runway.
After Allen landed and let some time go by to clear out any airshow smoke that would linger around, it was time for three aerobatic pilots to take to the air. Jim LeRoy and Bobby Younkin (flying Samson) took off in formation, with Jim LeRoy taking off in the same fashion as if he were starting his performance, and Bobby Younkin doing a snap roll on takeoff. Jimmy Franklin got the jet engine started up and joined up with LeRoy and Younkin while Kent Shockley got the Shockwave Jet Truck started up. They represent the Masters of Disaster, also known as the X-Team. Trying to describe the act in words is really hard except for saying that it is like saying that all hell is breaking loose when all four guys are performing at the same time. I was afraid the Shockwave would not be able to stop in time, since he was using at least two-thirds of the runway on power but he was able to stop in time before running off the runway. All three pilots landed and taxied near each other to do some doughnuts on the runway.
After all of the X-Team aircraft and vehicles were parked, a Pitts Special departed Sussex Airport, along with Drew Hurley with his Yak-55. Drew was heading over to Lancaster, PA for their airshow the following Saturday and he would return to Sussex on Sunday to fly that show, unless it rained at Lancaster on Saturday, which would have pushed that show to Sunday. The Sussex Airshow closed with a massive warbird parade, which included a L-3 Taylorcraft, a Douglas DC-3, Boeing N2S Stearman, BT-13 Valiant, B-25J Mitchell Briefing Time, FG-1D Corsair Skyboss flown by Dan Dameo, a T-28B Trojan, and the AD-4 Skyraider flown by Mike Schloss. Each of the aircraft flew at least three passes, with the DC-3 and B-25 providing additional photo passes and Dan Dameo and Mike Schloss adding several more passes with their respective aircraft before landing and closing out the first day of the Sussex Airshow.
I had spent time after the show hanging out with the performers, mainly the announcers, Allen Smith, Jimmy and Kyle Franklin, and Jim LeRoy (whose aircraft I helped push back into the main hangar) as well as shooting some pictures of the respective aircraft. It was just a way to pass the time since I did not want to be on the road during rush hour. Overall, I thought the show was excellent despite the clouds and I would be back next year if there is a show (the organizer has said repeatedly in the past that the year's show would be the last, but it wasn't - he said the 2004 show was his last and that he hopes whoever's in charge next year will put on an airshow too). Honestly, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if next year's show is run by David Schultz Airshows.
Announcer: Sonny Everett, Eddie Leuter,
Larry Rutt, Howdy McCann (Sunday only)