Impressario to put on one more air show at Sussex Airport

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:48

    SUSSEX-No, you are not experiencing déjà vu. Yes, you've likely read the same proclamation for the past two years. But next month's Sussex Airshow really will be the last one produced by Paul Styger, owner and manager of Sussex Airport. That doesn't mean the show is over, though. Styger plans to sell the airport, and potential buyers have said they'd like to keep the show going. For the past two seasons Styger had planned to end his management of the annual airshow, an event known widely in aviation circles as the, "best little airshow in the world." In 2002, he said his 30th show would be his last. But he relented last year because he wanted to mark the centennial of manned flight. In some ways it was his last-minute decision to produce a show last summer that led to Styger going ahead with the 32nd Sussex Airshow next month. Because he started planning for last year's show in April rather than in December timetable, Styger had to settle for different and often less popular and less familiar acts. Very few of the usual crowd-pleasing performers were available for a late booking. Styger acknowledged that many fans including himself were disappointed last summer, and it wasn't the note on which he wanted to end his airshow career. "It wasn't the same kind of show that this year's will be," Styger said. Styger also had banked on last year's show having a large parade of classic aircraft from various eras of aviation history, but many owners of classic aircraft did not attend. This year, he started planning early and was able to secure the return of many show favorites. This year's show will be held from Friday-Sunday Aug. 27-29. Returning this year after an absence last year are Roger Lehnert performing his flying farmer routine in his Piper Cub, Jimmy Franklin with his jet-powered Waco biplane and his son Kyle performing as his new wing walker, and fan favorite Jim Leroy in his highly modified Pitts Special. Bobby Younkin will also return after an absence of several years with two aircraft. Younkin performs an aviation comedy routine in a classic Twin Beech. Fans will also enjoy two acts that have been mainstays of the show for many years. Glider pilot and National Sail Plane Aerobatic Champion Steve Coan returns this year, as will the all-female parachute team, the Misty Blues who will again open the show each day. Kent Shockley also returns but with the largest jet truck ever, his new three-engined Shockwave. Shockwave will race any challenger down the runway, but even Jimmy Franklin's jet biplane has never beaten the speed and acceleration of the ground-scorching Shockwave trucks. Two pilots will showcase Russian hardware. Drew Hurley returns this year with his powerful aerobatic Yak 55, and new this year is Allen Smith with his L-39 jet. Local favorites are expected to include the Split Image Team in their Pitts Specials, and Sussex Airport's home-based pilot Angel Cillaroto in his Extra 300. Styger also expects flyovers from various military aircraft but will not have confirmation on the number and type of aircraft until shortly before the show. There will also be many classic and warbird aircraft on display this year, including an FG-1D Corsair. Styger said he is confident that the airport will be sold and under new management by next summer. Originally, he had been in discussions with state officials about an airport preservation program, but Styger said he was disappointed in what the state offered for the property. Styger said he has had positive discussions with several potential private buyers in recent weeks, and any sale of the airport would be contingent on the airport being maintained and operated as an airport. "For sure I am going to sell it," he said. Every potential private purchaser has expressed an interest in continuing to hold an annual airshow. "It's much easier to keep it going than to stop for a few years and try to revive the show," Styger said. He said some improvements are already planned for the airfield including a new taxiway and lighting. A new owner might add additional paved ramp space and hangars and lengthen the 3,500-foot runway. A longer runway would allow larger business aircraft to use the airport, and would likely attract turboprops operated by northern New Jersey businesses from airports like Morristown and Teterboro which now serve mostly corporate jet operators. Styger has owned and operated Sussex Airport since 1946 and has been the sole owner since 1951. The first Sussex Airshow was held in the summer of 1966. Following the 1967 show, several years passed without another. The annual Sussex airshow was revitalized mainly by Sussex County resident and airshow great Leo Loudenslager, who died in a motorcycle crash shortly before the 1998 show. In 2002, Styger opened the annual show with the dedication of a memorial sculpture of Loudenslager's Laser 200 aircraft, "N10LL," in a perpetually inverted position at the airport's main entrance. One of the reasons the Sussex Airshow is such a popular annual event is that the audience can get much closer to the action than at most major airshows. The "line of show," or the area where the airplanes perform, is about 500 feet from the crowd; at many other shows it's set back in the range of 1,500 feet. Advance tickets are available by mail. More information about the airshow is available online at Non-discounted daily tickets are available on the day of each show. Gates open daily at 8 a.m., the airfield closes to arriving aircraft at noon, and the show begins at 1:30 p.m. On Thursday, Aug. 26, the annual RC Model Plane Airshow will take place. There is no admission fee.