MT. COMFORT — Two years after the Indianapolis Air Show was grounded for good, another airborne spectacle is expected to fill the void for local aviation enthusiasts.
The Indiana Commemorative Air Force will conduct its fourth annual Warbird Expo, a free event featuring dozens of World War II-era planes, on June 18 at the Indianapolis Regional Airport in Mt. Comfort. The attraction, which will include low-level flyovers and several presentations to celebrate veterans, is expected to draw a crowd of about 20,000 people.
The event fills a gap left by the Indianapolis Air Show, which dissolved in 2013 after 16 years. The event drew 100,000 spectators in its heyday but $600,000 became too costly to put on as attendance waned, organizers said.
County officials said they expect the smaller Warbird Expo will still boost local tourism, attracting air show enthusiasts from across the Midwest who are expected to dine in area restaurants and stay overnight in local campgrounds and hotels.
Prior to the air show, organizers will conduct a series of free aviation youth camps for children and Scout Troops on June 17 at the airport. Several veterans will lead the presentations, sharing stories of what it was like to serve as a solider during World War II, said Mark Van Zant, chairman of the event.
Guests also will have a chance to pay for rides inside an array of classic warplanes. Prices for the rides will vary dramatically, ranging from a $70 ticket to ride in an observation aircraft to a $1,600 fee to ride shotgun in a P-51 Mustang, an iconic World War II bomber.
Van Zant recommends registering in advance on the organization’s website, warbirdexpo.com, to ensure guests can secure a seat on one of the flights.
Rides are available to those 12 and older, provided a legal guardian 18 or older is present at check-in, Zant said.
Organizers of the event, which was previously at the Indianapolis Metropolitan Airport in nearby Fishers, said they chose to move the venue to Hancock County to accommodate growing demand.
While the event drew a couple thousand visitors during its first years, more than 10,000 came out for last year’s show, and organizers expect demand to continue increasing.
On June 17, organizers will put on a fundraiser inside one of the airport hangars called “Hops and Props,” which will include catering, beer from several regional microbreweries and a silent auction, Van Zant said.
Several military aircraft will be on display during the dinner, and tickets, which cost $45, are for sale on the organization’s website.
The Saturday air show will feature a presentation by the Commemorative Air Force Red Tail Squadron, who will share stories about the Tuskegee Airmen, the first designated group of only African-American military pilots.
Col. Charles McGee, 96, one of the Tuskegee Airmen who flew more than 400 combat missions during World War II, Vietnam and the Korean War, will be present during the presentation, Van Zant said.
Parking is limited, said Dennis Schell, one of the leaders for the Commemorative Air Force, adding that guests can purchase advance parking passes on the group’s website for $23.
Though local officials said the show likely won’t draw the same 100,000-plus crowds that the defunct Indianapolis Air Show attracted, it will still drum up a lot of interest.
Earl Smith, president of the Hancock County Tourism Commission, said he expects the event to draw both county residents and traveling tourists.
“It’ll bring plenty of people in from over the county line, and it might even bring some in from out of state,” Smith said.
Organizers still are seeking volunteers and sponsors for the event, who can sign up to help on the website.