Written by Austin Hancock
Deep in the heart of the Genesee Valley, the jewel of Livingston County, lies a time machine. The National Warplane Museum, a place dedicated to the restoration and flight of WWII era-aircraft, calls the Geneseo Airport home. During July, each year, the museum holds the "Greatest Show on Turf," the Geneseo Airshow. The airshow lines up directly with the Warplane Museum's mission, by providing 6 hours of non-stop "warbird" flying action. Geneseo is a grass-airfield, with no commercial traffic. For those 6 hours, the crowd is taken back in time to the 1940s, the days of World War II.
The National Warplane Museum and the Geneseo Airshow hold very dear places in my heart. Before my birth, my father (Jeff Hancock) volunteered with the museum. He served as a helper with the B-17G "Fuddy Duddy," and also gave tours. Not soon after my birth, I was given my first tour of the Warplane Museum at one week old! From that moment on, I knew I was hooked. Through my infant and childhood years, my father would bring me with him to the museum during his volunteering. He would carry me on his back in a baby-carrier as he gave tours and worked. I soaked all my surroundings in, and my first words were that of various museum aircraft. By age 12, I was a volunteer myself, giving tours at first. I worked my way up into helping as a mechanic, and now I do lots of stuff for the museum and airshow. The museum is my passion in life.
Geneseo is a very unique airshow, and really one-of-a-kind. The grass airstrip is the perfect setting for an accurate WWII airfield depiction. The fact that we are a private airport allows us to dictate the show ourselves, without having to pause for commercial or private aviation traffic. The coolest thing about our show is that there are no barriers (well, except for the runway, we kinda have to rope that off, haha.) The crowd is welcome to walk up to the planes and touch history, and the pilots are accessible too. They are always happy to answer questions and interact with the crowd. Rain or shine, the crowd always seems to have a great time at the Geneseo Airshow.
For me, the "Greatest Show On Turf" consists of many unique elements, that I look forward to each year. It all starts on the Monday before airshow weekend. The volunteers set out into the field to set-up the flight line, crowd lines, and parking spaces. The next two days see the same, with frequent breaks for water and shade. By Thursday, we've accumulated a rich red-glowing tan on our arms and necks. The sunburn is rewarded, however, by the arrival of show aircraft. Thursday is the first arrival day for the show, and the excitement builds with each new plane that flies in! Friday soon comes, and provides even more energy and serotonin for volunteers and fans alike.
I am currently a Marketing & Museum Studies major in college (St. John Fisher), and also a Commercial Pilot in training with Jamestown Community College. Since my first visit to the Warplane Museum, I knew that I wanted to fly WWII warbirds for a living. The above programs in which I am enlisted have me aimed at that goal. As a young, college-aged guy, I am guilty of succumbing to the addiction that is social media. As a result, over the years I have amassed a significant list of friends within the warplane and aviation communities. Many of these people frequent the Geneseo Airshow, and some really want to come.
Friday, the airshow arrival day, is really significant for me each year because I often get to meet people/pilots from all the social networking I do. I get to talk to the guys who fly what I am aspiring to fly. Two years ago, this got me a flight in a P-51C "Mustang!" My dear warbird-pilot friend Doug Rozendaal, whom has maintained a social network friendship with me, offered me a ride. Needless to say, I did not decline. Doug had seen my passion for the warplanes from my Facebook profile, and knew of my desire to fly them by the numerous emails I would send him with my flight training questions. For me, meeting these people is the highlight of the "Greatest Show On Turf." Well, one of the highlights at least.
The funny thing is, when Saturday and Sunday arrive (the actual days of the show), the stress level seems to level off a bit. The volunteers have the security of knowing that the show is here, and will happen! That, in and of itself, is perhaps the biggest stress that we all share. Once the show is rolling, we see the fruits of our labor. On the days of the show, I love taking little breaks from working to watch my favorite aircraft fly. I get goose bumps every time. My joy is equal when I get the opportunity to meet Veterans during the show, specifically, World War II Vets. This is the other "highlight" for me. In 2008, when I was volunteering with our C-47, we had a man come up to the plane. He asked us if he could go in and look around. Of course we said "yes!" He went up to the cockpit, and then he told me that he flew our SAME plane in "Operation Market Garden" during World War II! I immediately let him into the cockpit so he could once again sit in his "throne." For the rest of that Sunday show, he sat in that cockpit, telling everyone who visited our plane the story of his time in WWII. That was an awesome way to close-out the show, in my book.
The Geneseo Airshow is truly an event that cannot be found anywhere else. "Genny" is not like other airshows, it's not just about the planes; it's the people, the setting, the spirit, the stories, and the veterans as well. Geneseo has often been compared to the movie "Field of Dreams," because not many know of it, but it holds magic for those who do. It has been my honor to be involved with the National Warplane Museum and the Geneseo Airshow. It takes a massive amount of effort to put on the show each year, and I am but a blip on the radar of that effort. Our volunteers are what make the Geneseo Airshow the "Greatest Show On Turf." Everything that I am, and will become in the near future - all of my warbird flying aspirations - will be because of the generosity and patience of the greatest people I know, the Geneseo volunteers. I cannot thank you all enough.
Keep 'Em Flying...
Austin C. Hancock
About the Author: Austin is a 22 year old college/commercial flight school student, majoring in marketing & museum studies (St. John Fisher College.) His goal is to fly WWII aircrafts and operate his own warplane museum. He is a proud member and volunteer of the National Warplane Museum, in Geneseo, New York. He has been a part of the museum since his birth, as his father began volunteering before his birth.