Holding On To History: Highlights of 110 years of Northland air shows

Published: Jul. 17, 2023 at 10:29 PM CDT
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DULUTH, MN. (Northern News Now) - The Wright Brothers invented a working airplane in 1903. Minnesota’s first air show flew over the state fairgrounds in 1910. Duluth’s first air show came three years later. In this week’s Holding On To History, Northern News Now’s Dave Anderson has some highlights of 110 years of Northland air shows.

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Duluth’s first airshow happened in 1913 when Julius Barnes brought a Benoist XIV flying boat named the Lark O’ The Lake to town. He put on weekend shows off Park Point all that summer. That was the spark that ignited an interest in aircraft around the Northland that still exists today.

“There’s nothing better than the sight and the sound of an aircraft, you look up in the sky and wonder where they’re going.” said Jodi Grayson.

Former Northern News Now sports anchor Jodi Grayson is now a volunteer with Duluth’s modern airshow. So is her nephew, Logan. Even though he’s young, he’s well aware of the history of air shows from 1913 to now.

“I remember coming here as a little kid and getting so pumped up over all these jets and it gets everyone so excited and you learn about the history of it.” said Logan Grayson.

That history includes air shows of old in Virginia in 1950. Ely airport had shows in 1972 and 1982. Logan Grayson is an enlisted person in the 148th Air National Guard. Aunt Jodi is a Major in the same outfit. That skews their airshow loyalties just a bit.

“When I see the jets go by from the 148th I feel just a little more proud!” said Jodi.

The Air Force has headlined Duluth air shows in 1959 and 1970, too, when Thunderbird pilots and their F-4′s got a break from combat duty over the skies of Vietnam. With the energy crisis of the late 70′s, the 1978 air show had the Thunderbirds in trainers to save on fuel. The 1988 airshow’s big draw was the Concorde. In 2001, promoter Ryan Kern picked up the pace of the shows.

“It was every other year for a while and now we just keep drawing bigger and bigger crowds and a bigger and bigger air show. It’s fantastic.” said Jodi.

This year’s air show featured the Navy Blue Angels and their support transport known as Fat Albert. In 2013, a replica of the Lark of Duluth flying boat was built to honor its 100th anniversary. It was severely damaged in a test flight in the Duluth/Superior Bay and is now on display at an aviation museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

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