Bluebonnet Airshow takes to the skies March 18
The 2023 Commemorative Air Force season lifts off at the 31st Bluebonnet Airshow in Burnet on March 18 with fanfare and a solemn nod to last season’s tragic ending. At a Dallas show on Nov. 12, six pilots were killed in a mid-air collision between Texas Raiders, a B-17 bomber, and Kingcobra, a smaller Bell P-63 fighter plane.
“The missing man formation we do at every air show will have more meaning at this air show when we consider what happened this past November,” said Kirk Noaker, executive officer of the Highland Lakes Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force, which hosts the Bluebonnet Airshow.
Noaker and his then 9-year-old son, T.J., were at the Wings Over Dallas Airshow and saw the accident unfold.
“We looked up to see a cloud of debris and watched as it fell to the ground — then there was a huge fireball,” Noaker said. “For me, it was an immediate shock that hit me. For my son, well, it’s tough for a 9-year-old. He became very emotional. Just minutes later, he asked to pray about it, so we prayed and talked.”
Noaker and T.J. had met with the pilots before takeoff. They even took a photo together in front of the fighter plane earlier in the day. The pilots of Texas Raiders and Kingcobra were known to Noaker.
“The air show community is pretty tight-knit; the CAF air shows even more so,” Noaker said. “Everybody knows everybody. I knew them in a professional capacity.”
Several of the planes expected at the Burnet event were at the Dallas show, including Double Dog, a B-25 medium World War II-era bomber, and Texas Lady, a C-45 light transport plane. Double Dog will demonstrate a bombing run with an O-2 Skymaster, a forward air control plane, acting as advance surveillance.
The aerial show begins at noon with the Liberty Jump Team presenting the colors as they leap from That’s All Brother, a C-47 military transport aircraft.
Returning to the show, along with an impressive list of other vintage planes, are living history re-enactors, the 501st Legion Stormtroopers, The Dillard Sisters singers, and vendors and food trucks.
This year’s show includes the unveiling of the Texas Zephyr, a C-47 World War II-era vintage Skytrain. She was donated to the Highland Lakes Squadron in 2019 and has been undergoing restoration. The Texas Zephyr replaces the Bluebonnet Belle, a Douglas C-47 Skytrain that crashed during takeoff from the Burnet Municipal Airport in 2018. All 13 people on board survived.
“The Texas Zephyr won’t be flying yet, but it will be part of a ground demonstration,” Noaker said.
This year’s wall of fire during the A10 Thunderbolt Team demonstration will grow to 300 feet long from its usual 200 feet, which should make for a spectacular end-of-show act. Pyrotechnics are supplied by Blastards, a CAF unit based in Midland.
“It’s an incredible thing to see,” Noaker said. “It’s always startling, even at 200 feet.”
Noaker also hopes for an official military flyover from an airbase in San Antonio or Fort Hood in Killeen.
“We generally can’t lock those down until right before the air show,” Noaker said. “That would be exciting — a low and slow flyover by a very large airplane. We are really looking forward to having this come together.”
The Highland Lakes Squadron expects another record-breaking crowd based on the growing number of spectators in the two years since the pandemic. In 2021, around 4,100 people attended, a number topped in 2022 with a crowd of 5,600-plus.
Noaker said he does not anticipate any problems at the Bluebonnet Airshow. The CAF and Federal Aviation Administration are conducting an investigation into the Dallas tragedy but have so far not handed down any new regulations for future shows.
“It was a difficult experience for us,” Noaker said of the CAF family. “We were truly saddened. As we’ve worked to process it and deal with it, we are looking forward to and are committed to putting on an excellent air show in the Highland Lakes and Burnet region.”
IF YOU GO
TIME: Gates open at 9 a.m. Saturday, March 18, and close at 5 p.m. Aerial show is at noon.
WHERE: Kate Craddock Field at the Burnet Municipal Airport, 2302 S. Water St. (U.S. 281) in Burnet
ADMISSION: $20 for ages 18-59; $15 for ages 60 and older and military members with ID; and $10 for ages 6-17. Ages 5 and younger get in free.
TICKETS: Advance tickets are available online at bluebonnetairshow.com. Tickets also will be available at the gate.