One of first events of the 2023 Air Show season happened February 17-19 at Buckeye Arizona (KBXK) about 35 miles west of Phoenix. The greater Phoenix area usually has ideal flying weather in both Spring and Fall, and this year’s weather was perfect calling for light jackets early morning and sunscreen in the afternoon. It was a fitting cap for what has been a crazy few weeks of “The Valley” being front and center of the world stage with Barrett-Jackson, The Phoenix Open and the King of all Media NFL Super Bowl attracting visitors from all over the world and carpeting valley airport ramps with bizjets shoe-horned like Tetris pieces.
The Buckeye Air Fair has been a stand alone local community-based event for many years. Opening Friday has traditionally featured hundreds of local schoolkids being brought to the grounds to learn about STEM-type options for education and careers, and this year’s show was no exception.
Last year the show partnered with the venerable Copperstate Fly-In, an organization with great tradition in desperate need of a permanent base, to jointly put together the Air Fair. They also partnered with STOL drags organizers to add that new and interesting element to the show. All in all, it was a gallant effort that drew decidedly mixed reviews.
This year, Air Fair organizers teamed up with the AOPA to serve as one of AOPA’s regional Fly-Ins with both organizations sharing billing, ground, and banner space, in what seemed to be a mutually beneficial arrangement. The folksy Buckeye community emphasis combined with AOPA’s aeronautical polish and experience melded nicely. Gone were the STOL dragsters, (and their clouds of choking dust). To be fair, STOL drags are great fun to watch for enthusiasts, but not so much for the Mom and Pop SUV crowd. The City of Buckeye handled the kiddie rides, food, flea market, entertainment and so on for the aeronautically curious but not in the market for a new EFIS while AOPA brought their gravitas to the event with their forums, workshops, and enhanced vendor area to those with AvGas in their veins.
Both the general public and hardcore aviation crowd found items of interest and everybody enjoyed the first-rate airshow performances which were as good as any non-militarily sponsored programs can be.
One of the eternal quests of airshow organizers is appeasing those mostly “light” flyers (light-sports, ultralights, powered parachutes, gyros, antiques, and so on), who love to fly to or at a show but don’t care much for control towers and abhor class B airspace. That is in contrast to the heavier, faster, more sophisticated crowd that don’t much care for uncontrolled chaos.
Buckeye airport is normally uncontrolled and lies to the west of the very busy Phoenix Class B airspace and near significant military airspace. This year, the organizers published arrival procedures in advance and set up a temporary tower. This mostly worked well, although I have to add that while turning base to final to land, an aircraft took to the runway and took off ahead of me without ever talking to the tower, causing the controller to apologize after I landed. Ground marshallers were plentiful and helpful. One bad experience from a previous year’s attendance was a flat tire from a Ram’s head thorn, but this year’s parking area, while still dirt, was bladed and groomed nicely.
For departures, especially the several dozen lined up right after the airshow closure reopened, the tower simply told everyone wishing to depart to taxi to the runway where a lady who looked like she spent time on the deck of a carrier launched us in a very animated fashion in rapid succession.
As is the case for most airshow/fly-ins, there were designated sections available for aircraft and recreational vehicle camping and they all seemed heavily used but shy of completely full. Food and drink options were plentiful as were the ubiquitous porta-potties we love to hate. Attendance figures have mentioned “a show record” excess of 30 thousand show attendees and more than 500 air operations on both Saturday and Sunday. Vendor areas seemed to have decent foot traffic.
All in all it all worked with no reports of major incidents or accidents of either attendees or airshow performers. As an unabashed fan of air shows, I would call this year’s Buckeye event a strong success and a significant improvement over last year’s, but still a notch or two below the glory year’s of a few Coppesrtate airshows of the past. Speaking of which, organizers of Copperstate have announced that a previously planned show for this Spring has been postponed until probably October at a location yet to be finalized.