By Ryn Gargulinski
Tucumcari’s first air show in 1992 featured a crop duster — and not much else, said air show Chairman Bob McClelland Jr.
More than a decade later, Wednesday’s 13th annual Rotary Air Show’s lineup includes a team of Canadian Air Force Snowbirds, the U.S. Air Force A-10 Demonstration Team, the Flyboy United Air Show with stunts from Otto Helicopter — a chopper with a smile — and barnstorming acrobatics, the Greg Poe Air Show, Eric Beard’s Yak 54 Russian Thunder and the Silent Wing’s Air Show, which is promoted as the world’s only twin-jet sailplane.
And that’s only what’s up in the sky.
“There’s another part to aviation that people don’t think about — the ground crew that keeps the plane flying,” said McClelland, who had past pilot training himself and helped bring the show to Tucumcari. Other grounded displays are set to include more than 40 vintage, military and special-interest aircraft on display in addition to a chance to chat with those who make the flying possible.
“(People attending) have full exposure to the pilots and the ground crew,” McClelland said, adding the event is much more than pure aesthetics.
“It is a good educational experience,” McClelland said. “Out here in the boonies, our kids aren’t exposed to heroes that often. This is the closest you get to these guys. A lot these kids will probably not fly in a plane, much less talk to a pilot.”
The educational aspect is clearly backed by area schools, which will be closed Wednesday so students can attend.
“Initially this was started as a fund-raiser,” said Rotary Club member Elmer Schuster. “Now we look at it as a service to the community. It serves all the children in high school, all the kids, a lot of people come from out of state. It’s one of the better air shows in the southwest.”
Students are often bussed in from surrounding schools and local businesses and offices either close or are on skeleton crews, McClelland said, adding one year a couple of out-of-town ranchers were stymied when they came to town on air show day and couldn’t find a place to get their tire fixed.
Although an average of 5,000 folks show up to be awed by the aircraft, McClelland said getting the air show to come to Tucumcari was no easy task. He said the idea first came when his family went to an air show in Page, Ariz.
“Page is very small,” McClelland said. “We said if Page can have an air show, we can have an air show.”
He said abundant assistance came from Mark “Elvis” Moynihan, a pilot who went down with his jet five years ago and is honored in a mural on the side of Bob’s Pharmacy where McClelland works. “He is the first guy who really got our foot in the door with the military,” McClelland said, adding Moynihan actually went to the Pentagon to gather support for a Tucumcari air show.
Now the city has no trouble getting pilots to come, McClelland said, especially with the show in the middle of the week and convenient for pilots who spend weekends at bigger gigs. As much as McClelland said the community loves to have the air show, the pilots and crew love to come.
“We hometown them to death,” McClelland said. Their stays often include cook-outs, fishing, treks to the lake, and one year they were even loaned Cadillacs from Miles Strebeck to tool around town, he said.
McClelland also said Tucumcari pays for part of the fuel costs for the pilots, something Schuster said they were keeping an eye on this year. “Last year the fuel cost was $7,000 higher than the year before (bringing the total fuel cost to $11,000). This year it will be even higher,” he said.
What: 13th annual Rotary Air Show
Where: Tucumcari Municipal Airport
When: Wednesday. Gates open at 10 a.m., shows start at noon
Admission: $10 for adults; $5 for students
Information: 461-1200 or 461-2710