Titusville, Melbourne host back-to-back air shows

First of two airshows flies this weekend

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds headline this weekends TICO Warbird 2015 Airshow at Space Coast Regional Airport in Titusville.
The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds headline this weekends TICO Warbird 2015 Airshow at Space Coast Regional Airport in Titusville. (Tim Shortt, Florida Today)

MELBOURNE, Fla. – For the next two weekends, Brevard County will be the nation's hot spot for air shows, with the Air Force Thunderbirds performing in Titusville and the Navy Blue Angels in Melbourne.

But organizers of the back-to-back shows say they will have to wait to see if that scheduling will affect attendance.

Local 6 News partner Florida Today says the Valiant Air Command, which organizes the TICO Warbird Airshow at Space Coast Regional Airport in Titusville, traditionally has had its show in March. Its headline act for this year's show, being held Friday through Sunday, is the Thunderbirds U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, flying F-16 Fighting Falcons.

The Thunderbirds will be performing at that show for only the second time in its 38-year history. Ron Davis, the Valiant Air Command's public relations officer, said having the Thunderbirds means a big attendance boost.

But, this year, there is another major show in Brevard County a week later, the Melbourne Air & Space Show at Melbourne International Airport on March 21 and 22, headlined by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, flying the F/A-18 Hornet. The Melbourne Air & Space Show (formerly the Cocoa Beach Air Show) in the past was a fall event.

Bryan Lilley, chairman of the Melbourne Air & Space Show, said event was moved to March because "it was the date the Blue Angels were willing to come to the show," based on the team's packed schedule.

Davis said he has some concerns about the timing of the two shows this month.

"We're surely aware that it's not an unlimited market" for air shows, Davis said. "We're trying to deal with it in focusing on our air show. We're playing our best game."

Davis said the Valiant Air Command has a long history of putting on air shows.

"We're like a professional golfer," Davis said. "This is our course. We play our game, and we think it's worth your while to come see us. It is quite a program, and it's going to be a spectacular piece of family entertainment."

Lilley said he's not too worried about having the shows on consecutive weekends. Beyond the headline acts that are the two most popular performing teams at air shows, Lilley said the overall lineups of the Melbourne and Titusville shows are different, and each show has its fans.

"They're classic cars, and we're exotic cars," Lilley said, in making a comparison to car shows. "There's quite a big market out there" for air shows.

This is the first spring air show organized in Brevard County by Lilley. He said his previous six shows in Cocoa Beach and Melbourne were held somewhere between the third week in September and the first week in November.

But Lilley said he now plans to continue holding the Melbourne show in the spring. He has tentatively targeted April 2 and 3 for his 2016 show.

Lilley said the weather along the Space Coast is better in spring for such a show, considering September and October are within the peak hurricane season. Also, Lilley said, the availability of top-notch performance teams for the April dates is better, too.

He downplayed any rivalry between the Melbourne and Titusville air shows, noting that they share a specially equipped emergency landing site for their shows, and several Valiant Air Command planes will be on display at his Melbourne show.

Lilley said he will be looking to book one of the major military teams as a headline act in 2016.

The Blue Angels and Thunderbirds typically release their performance schedules during the International Council of Air Shows convention in December for the following one or two years.

The Blue Angels, also known as the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, last December released its tentative show schedule for 2016, and neither Brevard County air show is on its 2016 list of 36 venues, although the June 2016 Vero Beach Air Show is.

Lilley has had the Thunderbirds at his 2010 and 2014 shows, but never had the Blue Angels until this year. The Melbourne appearance will be the Blue Angels second air show of its 2015 season.

Davis said, even with the Melbourne show scheduled a week after the TICO show this year, there are a few things going for the TICO show.

Among them, this is the Thunderbirds' first full-scale performance of 2015, although they have done fly-overs at Super Bowl XLIX in Phoenix and at the Daytona 500.
Davis said the TICO show typically attracts 35,000 to 40,000 spectators over its three-day run. But, in 2013, the year the Thunderbirds performed, spectator counts jumped to about 65,00, he said.

Davis said the TICO show also has a "community tradition" as a hometown show that gets 60 percent to 70 percent of its audience from the local market, which is contrary to many other air shows.

Also, Friday is a student holiday in Brevard Public Schools, which could boost attendance on what typically is a less well-attended day for the TICO show.

"We're delighted that the children are off from school, and we're hoping we can see many of them out here," Davis said. "We run a heck of a show at a heck of a price. We're all committed to having a cost-effective, exciting and, particularly, safe events."