Taking Flight As The CLE National Air Show Returns

Aerial acts anxious to thrill crowds once again

By MICHAEL KELLY, Editor

CLEVELAND – The Labor Day weekend is always a rip-roaring time along the shores of Lake Erie thanks to the Cleveland National Air Show. For one year, due to Covid-19, it was silent. Now it’s back headlined by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds – and we got a sneak peak into what’s in store.

Stunt pilot Bill Stein is excited to be back in Cleveland to perform for fans at the 2021 Cleveland National Air Show, Labor Day Weekend at Burke Lakefront Airport. Tickets are only available online in advance, at Cleveland National Air Show.

“Isn’t it great! Everybody is so happy to be out and about, to be around airplanes and together. (Coming back) was actually kind of emotional. I really didn’t think there were going to be any shows. I really didn’t. And I didn’t book anything until July, so to me this is still sort of the beginning of the season.

“Here we are in Cleveland. There is such a rich history for air racing and the air show has been one of the best air shows ever. It’s fantastic to be a part of this.”

– Bill Stein, stunt pilot Bill Stein Airshows

For over 25 years, Bill Stein has wowed crowds, including several appearances in Cleveland. And he lives up to the hype, now featuring a state-of-the-art Zivko Edge 540 aircraft. Don’t blink – or you might miss as he performs loops, twists and turns that seemingly defy the laws of physics. His plane will even change colors from green-to-purple-or-yellow before your very eyes, depending on the angle and lighting.

“Pretty much anybody that flies air shows will tell ya, they went to an air show when they were six, or nine, or eleven and said, ‘Oh I want to do that!’ Being able to inspire some kid to – not necessarily to fly airshows – but to do something great… if you do something really, really well you can find a way to make a living out of it.

“Air shows are all about family, smoke and noise. It’s great to be a part of it!”

– Bill Stein, stunt pilot Bill Stein Airshows

Stein’s performances at the 2021 CLE National Air Show include solo shows, racing the Shockwave Jet Truck and escorting the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team as they descend from 12,000-ft to the crowd below at Burke Lakefront Airport.

The return from Covid is a very welcome time for the members of the Golden Knights. While private pilots like Stein were able to operate and train other pilots, the parachute team was actually on the shelf for a little while.

“It’s fun and exciting. We get to display what the Army can do, for the American people, thru skydiving – a lot of fun. We probably have about 60 jumpers. It was really weird (being off ) because we didn’t get to jump for two or three months. In that time we tried to use social media to connect to people and share videos.

SSGT Clay Stevens, Speaking Team Leader of the U.S. Army Golden Knights
Members of the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team (L to R: SFC Danny Hellmann, SSG Clay Stevens, SPC Raine Fuller, SFC Houston Creech) will perform two shows daily at the 2021 CLE National Air Show on Labor Day Weekend.

Now this isn’t your grandmother’s skydiving either. The Golden Knights perform routines typically reserved for aircraft – with just their bodies – often coming within feet of each other at great heights. While they may be 10-12 feet apart, from the ground it looks like inches. Just ask the new guy who gets to do it in front of some familiar faces…

“It should be a very dangerous show, but we have so many precautions and a lot of training that we conduct to make it safe and exciting. Essentially America and the world was shut down, so its great being able to perform for the public and put a smile on peoples faces after a long layover. I’m actually from Cincinnati and I’ve been all over this part of Ohio. I will have a few people in the audience watching us perform, so that’s extremely gratifying.”

First-year Golden Knight, SFC Danny Hellmann, of Cincinnati, OH

When asked if I threw a can of Cincinnati’s famous Skyline Chili out of the plane Hellmann said, “I will be chasing it out the door and probably opening it as soon as I got on the ground.”

The U.S. Army Golden Knights will perform two shows daily, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. For a full air show schedule, see Schedule | Cleveland National Air Show (clevelandairshow.com)

Some more military history that will also be on display, the A-10C Thunderbolt II, or “Warthog” will include several flying demonstrations as well as aircraft available for viewing on the ground.

“From a pure military perspective, it couldn’t be more different doing the air show circuit. Definitely a learning curve, but it has been a lot of fun. It’s all fun flying. It rarely feels like work. We get to go to all of these cool places and get to show them off to people. It’s always a good time. It’s a full combat capabilities’ demonstration of the airplane. You’ll see how fast it can go, how slow it can go, how tight it can turn, how fast it climbs. All sorts of aerobatic maneuvers and simulated weapons delivery. You’ll see a full gamut.”

Captain Haden Fullam, first year A10 demonstration pilot
A10 Demo Team members, SSGT Hunter Nance and Captain Haden “Gator” Fullam and the A10 Thunderbolt II aircraft that will perform several times per day at the 2021 CLE National Air Show.

Often described by the Average Joe as a “tank with wings”, the A10 Thunderbolt II is intimidating and has seen several technological upgrades over its nearly 50 years of active service to the U.S. Military.

“It’s amazing. One of the more famous aircraft when it comes to air-to-ground support. Our main mission is to bring the troops back home. I’m the avionics technician for the team, so we’ve been doing a lot of upgrades. Trying to modernize the aircraft and how we get to talk to ground troops. It’s amazing coming to these shows, because you get to talk to the older gentlemen that worked with this aircraft back in the day, telling their stories and getting to see it. Same aircraft, it’s not like we’ve changed it, same ones from the early 80’s. It’s awesome.”

-SSGT Hunter Nance, A10 Demo Team

If you ever fancy a drive out West and pass thru Tucson, Arizona don’t be surprised to see an A10 in the skies overhead. The team is stationed out of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

Stay tuned for our continued weekend coverage from the 2021 CLE National Air Show!!