Geneseo: The Greatest Show on Turf

Making the decision on which air shows to enjoy during the year can be difficult. There are only so many weekends you can just sit back and enjoy before you or someone else helps you feel guilty. After attending the 2008 Geneseo Air Show it’s easy to understand why spectators and airmen make it a must attend event, year after year. The air show simply delivers a terrific weekend of entertainment and camaraderie.

Just about every minute of the day there are aircraft in flight. A seemingly endless collection of vintage aircraft was available for inspection while they awaited their turn to fly. The Great War Flying Museum in Brampton, Ontario flew seven full scale WWI aircraft, reenacting the deadly dogfights that the Nieuport N-28, or the rarely seen Sopwith Strutter once engaged with fighting the mighty Fokker triplanes. The aerial display was as inspiring as it was graceful.

You can see a Mustang at many air shows. Listening to four Mustangs simultaneously roll down the taxiway, take-off and perform both high altitude and ground level maneuvers is pretty special. Their combined engine sounds are genuinely extraordinary especially when there is heavy four engine B-17 bomber, the Memphis Belle, lifting off the same grass field a few moments later. This air show really delivered on the sights and the sounds of classic aviation.

As exciting as it was to see and hear a flying RAF Hurricane and Spitfire, civilian aircraft added to the visual excitement. Seeing a Gullwing Reliant Stinson up close and watching her fly around the field in an air parade of similar single engine aircraft gave the spectators something to think about. Earlier in the day, a large group of Tiger Moths took to the air giving a low level aerial display. One special Tiger Moth was scratch-built and flown by Michael Maniatis. He landed the previous day during a torrential storm. What is surprising, the aircraft was built in his New York City art studio.

Another pilot, Scott Royce who regularly attends Geneseo, flew in the L-Birds, vintage observation aircraft cavalcade. If you don’t know Scott, one gentleman on a blog described him accurately as, “Scott Royce is like the Forest Gump of aviation. He has been everywhere from Churchill’s house, to hanging with Doolittle, to the Apollo Program.” I had a chance to spend a little time talking with Royce, a 91 year old pilot extraordinaire. He is an expert on B-24’s, working on the British version in England before America joined the war. He had signed up to be an engineer with the Doolittle Raiders but ninety minutes later was asked to join another secret mission to bomb the enemy. We will feature Mr. Royce’s WWII exploits and the importance of heavy bombers in an article next month.

Spectators were entertained all day. Glamour entered the air stage when Carol Pilon’s wing walking show took to the arena and watching the Canadian Harvard’s aerobatic routine kept the crowds wondering what was next. If you needed to stretch your legs there were a reasonable number of concessions offering a refreshing collection of aviation movies, art, aircraft models and toys. They also offered a delicious selection of culinary delights at realistic prices. Every once in a while you might do a double take as one of the uniformed WWII re-enactors strolled past.

While stretching your legs you may have wandered into the Tuskegee Airmen’s tent and heard Captain Charles Price, a Tuskegee Airman talk about the famous fliers. He was an Intelligence Officer, responsible for vectoring fighters to escort bomber groups and debriefing pilots when they returned to base. His inspiring talk described how the individual Red Tail squadrons could be identified and how fighters sometimes hid under the wing of a bomber waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting enemy.


The F-16 Viper East Team from Shaw Air Force Base thundered into the Geneseo air space too. They gave a dazzling display of advanced aerospace science at its best. They participated in the traditional heritage flight which was flown not only with a Mustang but also a P-40 Warhawk painted in the Flying Tigers motif.


Speaking of the Flying Tigers, this show featured several P-40 aircraft and a Flying Tiger reunion. Like the Tuskegee Airmen, there was a Flying Tigers tent where you could meet and talk with WWII airmen who helped win the war. Watching these early 1940s fighters taxi down the runway, single file, and leap into the air from a grass field gave you a different perspective of how tough this aircraft and its pilots are.

If you like a friendly, informal atmosphere where people talk to strangers and the neighborhood kids sell bottled water and show programs coupled with unrivaled access to vintage aircraft, you should put this show on the top of your list. I met a number of people who have been attending or participating in the show for 25 of its 29 years of operation. Kids, teenagers and adults all seemed to kick back and really enjoy the day at the Geneseo Air Show.

Pics by Gilles Auliard. Story by John Cilio at

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