How do people in the Branson, Missouri area celebrate opening a brand new commercial airport? They hold a three day air show, that’s how! The Branson Air Show took place over the weekend of May 8-10, 2009, ushering in the official opening of the Branson Airport, which began taking commercial flights Monday, May 11. Thousands upon thousands of people attended the air show, full of great air acrobatics and tours of actual airplanes. I attended Saturday’s airplane-themed event, and it will be memorable for me for many reasons!
Build An Airport, They Will Come!
The new Branson Airport is accessible off of U.S. Route 65, but one still has to drive several miles through a winding two-lane highway full of lush green Ozark scenery to get to the airport. Well, on Saturday afternoon, there were so many people wanting to come to the Branson Air Show that traffic was extremely heavy. I could only drive at “a snail’s pace” on the road leading to Branson Airport, taking an hour just to get there from the U.S. Route 65 turn off, with Missouri State Highway Patrol guiding traffic. When I got to the airport, every close and medium distance parking space to the air show viewing area was packed, and I was forced to park at the far end of the airport and walk about 15 minutes before I got to the crowd of people.
Obviously, there won’t be tens of thousands of people trying to get to the new airport on a daily basis when new commercial operations begin, so people generally need not worry about having a hard time getting in and out. The three letter airport code for Branson Airport is BKG for those who are making future airline reservations on commercial flights. In the past, anyone wanting to fly to Branson, Missouri commercially would have to instead land at the recently and nicely remodeled airport (with its brand new terminal) in Springfield, Missouri, about 50-60 miles to the northwest of Branson, Missouri, depending on which part of Branson one heads to. This city of a little over 6,000 people in population is so spread out with entertainment venues and hotels/motels that it has that feel of 60,000!
I enjoyed watching the air acrobatics that were performed at the Branson Air Show, especially of Gene Soucy, whose Ag Cat had wingwalker Teresa Stokes performing on it. She did some incredible things, I’ll tell ya! She stood on her head as the plane zoomed by and another one of her feats involved standing fully erect as the plane flew upside down. One of the concluding stunts was when Soucy stood up (getting away from the controls) and saluted the crowd of thousands as the plane kept flying straight on. What courage these wingwalkers and stunt pilots have to do this! The most jolting experience at the Branson Air Show was when Captain Green did simulated bombing runs on the Branson Airport field with his A-10. The ground shook and my body jolted as explosions blasted from the ground through the air, with the flames of hell spanning hundreds of feet up, then turning into a barrage of black smoke. We got to see what people who live in war torn countries have to deal with, and it isn’t pretty.
The weather was mostly cloudy and we experienced light sprinkles of rain, though the sun broke out several times to shine brightly down on us.
Branson Airport grounds also had a lot of parked airplanes for people to walk around and view, and some of them could be toured, including the 180 million dollar C-17A Globemaster III with a 170 foot wingspan. It’s 174 feet in length and 55 feet high, making it one of the largest military transport planes used by the United States armed forces. The lines for touring it were steady. After I walked through this behemoth of an aircraft, I was told by one of the servicemen that it could hold 300 troops if need be. The large sign in front of the aircraft told me that it can go 2,400 miles carrying 160,000 pounds of payload without being refueled in the air (which can extend its range perpetually).
There were other interactive exhibits at the Branson Air Show, including a Virtual Army Experience as well as many aircraft-related vendors proclaiming their product lines. Long lines of parents and children waited to get to the NASA tent set up area.
The air acrobatics program at the Branson Airport ended Saturday with about an hour long performance by the Air Force Thunderbirds, a team of 6 pilots who graced the festivities with their F-16 aircraft. Before they took off, about a half hour of a music and word montage took place on the ground extolling these aviation masters. One of the Thunderbird pilots took his F-16 and flew three miles straight up into the air like a rocket while hard rock music blared from the loudspeakers. Yes, the Thunderbirds liked using classic hard rock music, such as that of Motley Crue (Kickstart My Heart) and U2 (Vertigo-very good, but not quite classic rock yet) to underscore their aviation feats.
The new Branson Airport was built on land owned by Tennessee Ernie Ford, a 922 acre project. The airport cost over 150 million dollars to construct, and is the first privately-owned and operated commercial airport in the USA. Naming rights for this venue have been put on the market.
What a great way to open an airport with this weekend long event, in spite of the traffic! It certainly gets the word out to the locals that they can start flying out of an airport closer to home, and now makes it easier on travelers who want to take in the live music shows and other great attractions in this Ozark community!
Branson Travel Tip
I stayed at the Lynina Inn, which is close to the 76 strip, where the brunt of Branson’s entertainment venues are. The motel has very comfortable pillow top beds and free internet access as well as adequate work space plus free local calling. Their free breakfast includes a Southern favorite: biscuits and gravy.
About the author: Roy A. Barnes is a frequent contributor to Bootsnall.com and writes from southeastern Wyoming.