Filing an early flight plan

·4 min read

Aug. 31—EAU CLAIRE — Long before the Blue Angels' F/A-18 Hornets will roar across the sky in tight formations over Eau Claire, local organizers have begun laying the groundwork for next year's air show.

A core group of Chippewa Valley Air Show leaders is getting the necessary approvals to host the June 4 and 5 show at Chippewa Valley Regional Airport and signing up sponsors to ensure it's a success.

"Right now the major thing we're doing is getting our funding in place," said Tim Molepske, CEO of the Chippewa Valley Council of the Boy Scouts of America, the host organization for the air show since 2008.

The show draws about 60,000 spectators over its two days in a normal year and raises funds for over 60 local nonprofit groups, Molepske said.

The first step for the show was securing the marquee attraction — the U.S. Navy's famous flight exhibition team, the Blue Angels. To get an Eau Claire stop in their 2022 schedule, Molepske said the show had to apply two years in advance — a typical lead time for the sought-after aerial attraction.

Volunteers are now getting commitments for other exhibition fliers, skydivers, acts that entertain on the tarmac and static displays of different aircraft and vehicles to keep the crowd entertained.

A recently signed contract will bring a modified firetruck with a jet engine mounted on it to race across the runway during next year's show.

The show checked another thing to do off its checklist in July when it signed its contract to use the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport.

For the early June weekend, the air show essentially rents out much of the airport grounds, but it remains open to travelers.

"The airport stays operational during the entire time of the air show," airport manager Charity Zich said.

Air traffic can't come in while the show is being performed in the air and on the runway, but there is an intermission scheduled to allow a United Airlines flight to come in.

Private and corporate pilots that frequently use the airport are notified about the show's impact on flights during the first weekend in June.

"They're all aware now that the air show is coming," Zich said.

Other pilots will be alerted about the show at least a week in advance on a national notification system.

And while getting to and from the terminal by car will mean more traffic than usual, the rental car desk and Hangar 54 Grill will both be open during the air show weekend.

"Operations in the terminal are generally business as usual," Zich said.

While the airport does some preparation work, including filing a special operations plan for the air show with the Federal Aviation Administration, Zich said the event organizers do much, much more.

The show's core leadership is continuing early preparation work through the end of this year, but then an entire squadron of organizers will be mobilized starting in January.

To prepare for the many different pieces of the show, there is a committee of 120 volunteers, Molepske said. They are then broken into smaller groups with specific areas of expertise.

There are teams responsible for parking, security and maintaining the flight line. But then there are other groups focused on hospitality during the show.

One team focuses on arranging hotel rooms for the visiting acts, especially the Blue Angels and their support crew of over 60 people.

There's also a subcommittee devoted to ensuring the battalion of volunteers running the show — up to 900 have been needed in prior years — are well-fed during the event, Molepske said.

And after the exceedingly warm 2015 show ran short of water for attendees, organizers have since established a group with the singular task of making sure water stations remain stocked.

While weather had been the unpredictable factor affecting prior shows, the COVID-19 pandemic had shot down last year's plans.

An air show was scheduled for June 2020, but canceled when the Blue Angels called off its appearances last spring when the coronavirus spread in the U.S.

While last year's show was shelved, some of the preparations for it have come in handy for planning the 2022 outing.

"It did help us have some things in place," Molepske said.

And though the 2020 show wasn't held, some of the sponsors agreed to let organizers keep some of their deposits to prevent the early costs from burdening the fundraising event.

Air show proceeds have been used to improve facilities where Cub Scouts events are held at Camp Phillips near Rice Lake. A new shower building, dining hall, archery range and water purification system were funded by prior shows.

But in addition to scouting, there are dozens of other nonprofits that benefited as well. Even with 2018's lower attendance due to bad weather, Molepske said 62 groups including hockey and football teams, church youth groups and the Knights of Columbus were helped by the previous show. And he's expecting a similar roster of organizations to get a cut of next year's air show.