FORT WORTH — The annual Bell Fort Worth Alliance Air Show kicked off the first day of its weekend performances Saturday as it went drive-in for its 30th anniversary.
Yet another event making adjustments in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s air show departed from its standard format in favor of a drive-in version in which attendees pull into designated parking spots and observe the performances from their spots while remaining socially distanced from other parties.
Air show director Christina Carey said that in lieu of the show’s usual walk-up activities, organizers tried to create a real drive-in experience for attendees rather than simply having them sit outside their cars. Food and beverages were still sold, and pre-performance festivities included a parade, a band and goody bags.
“We didn’t make the decision [on this format] until literally 54 days ago,” Carey said. “We really wanted to create a drive-in experience, and that’s where we tried to add value for guests.”
Carey said the pandemic has made several hurdles in the show’s logistics, not just for hosting guests, as attendance has been limited to under half of last year’s, but also for bringing in performers such as the headlining U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. However, she said the lineup didn’t suffer because many of the aviation industry’s performers simply haven’t had opportunities for shows like Alliance’s since the pandemic began this spring.
For demonstration pilot Michael Goulian, Saturday’s performance was his first with in-person spectators since the pandemic started.
“It just feels good,” Goulian said. “Practice is one thing, but having the gameday jitters is another.”
Goulian previously participated in a virtual air show without physical spectators, and while he said he’s excited to perform again, one important downside of the pandemic and the Fort Worth show’s current format is that it limits interaction with attendees.
“You don’t have the opportunity to interact with young people,” Goulian said. “Our goal is to try to bring the beauty of aviation to people who don’t often see it.”
For attendees, the new protocols had their downsides, though most said they were happy the show was put on at all. Rob Schermerhorn, a 10-year visitor of the event, said he misses being able to walk up to the aircraft and learn about them up close, but that he appreciates having the show as it is.
“I’m really impressed they even pulled this off,” Schermerhorn said. “There’s so much coordination to make this happen.”
Allen Henderson, a private pilot who flies recreationally out of Denton, said he’s been attending for about 20 years. He said he and his wife, both older adults, are at high risk when it comes to the pandemic, and that this year’s distancing protocol allowed them to feel safe at the show.
“This is one of the few shows there are,” Henderson said. “They did a really good job by spreading the cars out.”