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Leon Bibb reflects: Long before Cleveland's air show, another spectacle in the sky wowed thousands

The National Air Races found a home in Cleveland back in 1929, becoming the first aeronautical wonder to woo Northeast Ohio crowds.

CLEVELAND, Ohio — There is nothing quite like a military jet scorching sky, climbing high up into sun-split clouds.

We are nearing the Cleveland National Air Show, where much of the performing stage is "up there" in that long blue as aviators on silvered wings chase the wind. It is a national treasure, this air show, which turns Burke Lakefront Airport and really the entire city itself into an aerial theater where aviation's acrobats tightrope the high wire.

There is history here, in being the grandchild of an earlier time. In 1929 and for almost thirty years following, there were the National Air Races operating out of Cleveland Airport, before Burke Lakefront was built. Yes, there were actually airplane races in a wide-sweeping track in the sky.

The Cleveland National Air Races were a major event, important in promoting air travel and aircraft research and development. With the exception of the World War II years — the late '30s and half the '40s — there were races. Then, the skies drew silent of a show until 1964, when the Cleveland Air Show began at Burke.

Every year since, we have focused skyward, watching in awe as pilots wheel and soar and swing themselves on screaming engines into the sunlit Cleveland sky. I don't know about you, but for me, my emotions are heightened. I long to be "up there."

Well, I was up there in the 1980s, when I squeezed into the backseat of a Thunderbirds jet. In a media flight, Pilot Captain Sonny Childers asked me how I want to fly.

"Nice and easy?" he asked, "or do you really want to wring it out?"

"Let's really wring it out," I answered, and we did. 

My flight was part of my WKYC half-hour aviation special on the Cleveland Air Show. Every time I see a Thunderbirds or Navy Blue Angels jet scream the sky, mentally, I'm right back "up there," pulling Gs and dancing on the silvered wings of flight.

We all can't get up there, of course, but we can look at the wonder of flight, all of it right in our own backyard: Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport. Now that's a real high.


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