Circa early 1940s
Bealeton's air show still going strong

By Sarah L. Greenhalgh August 07, 2002

Times-Democrat Staff Photo/Sarah Greenhalgh

UP CLOSE: Wingwalker John King struts his stuff with no parachute and no safety cables. Bealeton's Flying Circus is 33 years strong.

Turn back the clock to the early 1940s, when pilots were dashing in their leather helmets, white scarves, goggles and bomber jackets.

They still are right here in Fauquier.
For 33 years, the Flying Circus has been barnstorming the skies near U.S. 17, treating visitors to a spectacular show of aerobatic feats and campy 1940s humor. In addition to the vintage biplanes, the circus has skydivers and wing-walkers.

"It's the kind of show that is fun for all ages," pilot John King said. "It takes you back to a time when people loved to fly their planes."

King pilots the plane his son wing-walks on sans parachute, by the way. They are one of the few teams that still do this stunt with no cables and no parachute. It is a white-knuckle event.

According to King, there are only three air shows in the country like the one in Bealeton.

One of the distinctive qualities about this air show is that after the performance, spectators can talk to the pilots about their planes and flying in general, and the pilots sign autographs.

"We like to emphasize the historic and educational part of the show, too," King said. "We want people to come away with a real sense of the history of aviation."

About 12 vintage planes are rotated throughout the season. Most of the pilots live a short flight from the Aerodrome. The circus has several Stearmans (circa 1940s), a Ryan PT 22 (1940s), a couple of Piper Cubs, the Red Baron (experimental) and a coveted Waco (circa 1930s).

While the Stearman won the military's bid to be the top trainer in the 1940s, the tough Waco, which also seats two people, is a hard-to-find classic.

Don't expect to be standing around on a hot tarmac to view the performance. This show is just like it would have been in the 1940s out in a grassy field with plenty of good advantage points.

There are no air traffic controllers, just a couple of wind socks. The pilots do not have radios. They only communicate with each other visually.

Safety is paramount and pilots are responsible for keeping an eye out for each other. A member of the Federal Aviation Administration is always on Sundays to inspect the planes before the show.

A daily briefing helps the pilots coordinate and choreograph the tricky program. At the briefing, everyone learns which parts their planes play and where they need to be at all times during formations and certain acts.

Accidents have occurred at the show, though they are rare. The vintage silver Ryan PT22 has recently returned, rebuilt after a mishap with a biplane.

The Ryan is like the Ferrari of its time, and tends to have a little more power than other planes in formation. It is difficult to keep in check during the show.

Biplanes and classic cars seem to go together, and the Flying Circus makes the most of this by having several special car rallies during the season.

With the greatest of ease

These are not just hobbyists who take out their toys once or twice a weekend. These are trained commercial pilots who love the feel of air on their faces.

Carol Yocum is a captain with United Airlines and the Flying Circus' only female pilot. She flies everything from 737s to 777s during the week, but it's her little yellow Stearman that's her favorite baby.

"It really gives you a sense of history, to be a part of the show and to own one of these planes," Yocum said. "These are 60-year-old planes made of fabric and wood. We are flying with the wind in our faces."

She added, "I have to ask permission of five people before I take off at an airport. There are no radars here. You are taxiing on grass. You have to look both ways, avoid the ditch and take off fast. This is flying at its purest form."

Yocum, a 13-year veteran of United, says she is inundated regularly by other pilots at her job when they learn what she keeps at a local airport.

"They are always begging me for rides," Yocum said. "They bring out pictures of their kids, but when they see my baby, they all want to go up.

"The first year I had the plane, my log book was full of the names of other triple-seven pilots. They would say things like 'This was my best flight ever' in the book."

Plane rides are how the pilots keep their babies in tip top shape and in fuel. The biplane fabric wings and fuselage have about 20 coats of special paint and constantly need attention, as do all the little things like wires and wheels.

Although the circus has been around for 33 years, the money is not made at the gate. Pilots sell tickets for standard and aerobatic rides. On an aerobatic ride, the pilot will take a parachuted passenger on loop-to-loops, death spirals and four-point turns.< BR>
Rides are given before and after the show, weather permitting. The cost is

  • $50, Stearman biplane, standard ride
  • $100, Stearman biplane, aerobatic ride
  • $100, Waco biplane, two riders
  • $25, Piper Cub, standard ride.

Owning and maintaining a biplane plane is no small job. Yocum bought hers a couple of years ago and immediately started refurbishing it.

"It owns me," she said. "After you put in so much blood, sweat and tears, it becomes part of your identity. I am its servant and am happy to serve."

Yocum's Stearman has the number 88 on its tail, which is pilot talk for "hugs and kisses."

Dick Rowe has had his pilot's wings for 32 years. He is the proud owner of Yellowbird, a vintage 1943 Stearman. He loves every minute he's in the air.

"She takes about 46 gallons of fuel," he said. "I would like to give her the good stuff, but it is very expensive."

Rowe said that, like any antique, the little things are the toughest to replace.

"They really have five wings. You have the upper and lower on each side and the fuselage," Rowe said. "When something breaks, you have to find someone who has a replacement."

Balloon fest

On Aug. 17-18 the Flying Circus will host a hot air balloon festival. Balloons will be launched at 7 a.m. and then again in the evening after the show, weather permitting.

"We should have about 20-25 balloons here," King said. "It is really something to watch them launch all at once."

©Arcom Publishing Inc. - Reston/Herndon 2002
What: The Flying Circus Aerodrome Airshow, 33 years old and counting
Where: Located on a 200-acre field, 14 miles outside of Warrenton off U.S. 17 on Route 644 in Bealeton.
When: Sundays from May through October. Gates open at 11 a.m., show starts at 2:30 p.m.
Special dates: Aug. 11, Studebaker Car Rally
Aug. 17-18, Balloon Festival, two shows
Aug. 25, Radio-Controlled Model Airplane Day
Sept. 1, Piper Cub Day
Sept. 15, Antique and Classic Car Rally
Sept. 22, Fall Balloon Festival
Oct. 13, Motorcycle Rally
Oct. 20, Model Rocket Day
Oct. 27, (last show of the season).
Tickets: Adults $10
Children 3-12, $3
Under 3, free
Special group rates available.
Highlights: Air show features the diabolical escapades of the Red Baron. Open cockpit rides available before and after show. Chances to talk to pilots and see planes up close; also classic car shows.
What to bring: Sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, binoculars, video or still cameras, and plenty of water.
Snacks: Tailgate parties are encouraged. Several picnic areas are available for visitors. Concessions can be purchased at Fifi's Airfield Cafe on site.
Information: Call (540) 439-8661 or log onto