Dayton Air Show history: The ‘Air Fair’ goes back to 1975

For more than four decades, crowds have flocked to the birthplace of aviation each summer to see the latest in flying technology streak across the sky as well as to catch a glimpse of aviation’s past.

The Dayton Air Fair, as it was known at its start in 1975, drew thousands to the tarmac on a July weekend to witness aerobatic exhibitions and fly-bys and get an up close look at variations of aircraft.

A hot air balloon rally started the day off each morning that first year, according to the book “Dayton Air Show,” by Ty Greenlees and Tim Gaffney, two longtime Dayton aviation journalists.

Credit: Dayton Daily News Archive

Credit: Dayton Daily News Archive

The afternoon skies were filled with military aircraft and each day ended with jet maneuvers from the Thunderbirds, the U.S. Air Force jet demonstration squadron.

Twenty-six year old Pat Wagner, a wing walker, and her husband Bob of Moraine, who piloted a Boeing Stearman biplane, were one of the acts that helped draw crowds to the inaugural show.

The couple’s “girl on a wing stunt,” as it was described in a Dayton Daily News article, was a high-flying stunner.

Pat, the wing walker, is described in the story as having “pure ice in her veins” as well as bearing a resemblance to actress Sandy Duncan.

Credit: Dayton Daily News Archive

Credit: Dayton Daily News Archive

Already an experienced commercial pilot, Pat told a reporter how she first considered wing walking with her pilot husband.

“When I first did it I had never seen anybody on the wing and needless to say I was kind of leery about it,” she said. “But he bribed me saying he’d take me out for a steak dinner if I got on.”

The Wagners thrilled a crowd estimated at 25,000 that year with their airborne antics. A vertical take off of a Harrier AV-8A and an air drop display by an Air Force C-123 were also crowd-pleasers.

This year, the Centerpoint Energy Air Show is expected to draw thousands of spectators who will continue to marvel at aviation’s past, present and future.

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