Working An Airshow – Seeing The Planes Up Close

Written by Charlie

This is somewhat different of a post, but this time of year always reminds me of airshow seasons! I thought I would share a little secret for all of you fellow aviation fans to let you get up close and personal with some of the coolest planes around.

Working An Airshow

I worked my first airshow about 13 years ago and it was a total blast! I continued to work the same airshow for the next 6 years and each year enjoyed it a little more as I got to be around some of the most modern planes in the sky as well as the old classics. But, what did I do?

Believe it or not, the first year, I worked in communications as they were using ham radio operators to link up the different law enforcement, emergency, and airport personnel. That actually used to be a very common job for ham radio operators – being the middle man between multiple agencies, because these agencies never had the technological way to speak amongst themselves! So, that is what we did.

While it was great the first year (it was also the inaugural airshow), we were pretty much stationery most of the time and did not get a chance to wander much. That changed the next year when I volunteered for and was placed on the flight line.

Now, even though it sounds like a cool thing to do – working the flight line – it can actually be pretty boring as you ride around telling clueless people smoking underneath the airplanes that they were not allowed to do that. But, we did have some pretty great jobs as well. These jobs included helping the pilots prep their planes for the shows and marshalling the planes when they were landing.


The “CATS” flight – planes with the word “cat” in the name – www.johnweeks.com

While the big jet teams (Blue Angles and Thunderbirds) had their own teams to handle ground operations, we still got to handle the ground operations for some other military jets – F/A-18s, F-15s, and the A-10 Thunderbolt, to name a few. In addition the modern jets, we also got marshal the classics, like the B-17. It is an awesome feeling when you are directing a monster piece of aviation machinery with your own hands!

I was even able to go up in the cockpit of a Blue Angel (pretty cool) as well as go up for a flight in a L-39 Training jet.

Why Do It?

If you like planes, it lets you inside secure areas to be closer to airplanes than you would get otherwise. We had access to planes that were normally secured from the public as well as access to the pilots. For one airshow, I was able to take care of the crew of a C-5 Galaxy (one of the largest planes in the world) and drive them around for one afternoon. It was really something to be able to talk to them about their experiences and get to know them a bit. When they left, the captain gave me his flight patch and said to give it to my son one day (if I had one). I was able to give it to him and he thinks it is so cool!


You might get to actually direct this plane to its parking spot! – photo from steves-digicams.com

Also, you get access to a lot of free food! Not just the regular food, but we always got the same stuff that was reserved for the pilots. Have you ever had steak at an airshow? We did when volunteering! Obviously, we get free entrance to the show as well (can be quite a savings).

All in all, it makes a great experience, even if just a one-time thing.

How To Do It?

Just go to the website of your local airshow and scan the site for the word “volunteers.” Some shows will tell you exactly what they need and what you will do (like take tickets) while others may let you mention what you would like to do. Most of the time, at the bigger shows, you will need to know someone or have some flight line experience to be able to get on the line. They do offer marshalling classes and that can help to get a spot on the flight line. Basically, just ask!

The truth is that everyone you see out there working at airshows are just volunteers who asked if they could help. Most have no special training other than maybe a briefing of some sort (larger airshows may require a training course for some flight line duties). So, that person out there could be you!


The volunteer page on my local airshow website

Either way, just e-mail them and tell them that you would like to work the flight line and that you are willing to do whatever they need you to do on the line. You may just get your wish!

This is an excellent experience and I always looked forward to our local airshow each year. I am sure you would enjoy it as well!

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.