The Air Capital won’t have an air show in 2014.
But thanks to Riverfest, Wichita will be treated to “A Salute to Aviation,” a festival within a festival, on Sunday.
“It’s kind of a giant extended company picnic for those of us in the aviation industry and those of us in the community,” said Riverfest president Mary Beth Jarvis.
It’s also a bit whimsical in spirit: among the features are a chicken wing eating contest and Rosie the Riveter look-alike competition.
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Jarvis said the idea for the themed daylong spate of events at Riverfest came about because it’s an “off year” for the city’s two big regular air shows.
The Wichita Flight Festival is held during odd-numbered years at Jabara Airport. McConnell Air Force Base usually holds an open house and air show during even-numbered years, but is not doing so this year because of budget restraints.
Jarvis said city officials started a dialogue about finding a way to fill the vacuum, and Riverfest organizers were happy to offer a venue.
“Really it’s about taking a moment, or a whole day actually, and appreciating the role this community plays in aviation,” Jarvis said.
Of course, Riverfest’s location downtown made some adjustments necessary.
“This is not the aviation festival you’re used to,” said Teri Mott, director of marketing and communication for Wichita Festivals Inc., in reference to appearances by flying groups like the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. “There are things we can’t do that you can do at an airport.”
Instead, organizers put on their thinking caps to come up with ways to celebrate aviation and have a lot of fun in the process.
So there’s a paper airplane drop in Century II Exhibition Hall in which kids can make paper airplanes and then attempt to fly them from the mezzanine to a targeted area below. Successful pilots win $100, but Mott warns, “Between us, it’s hard.”
There’s the Rosie the Riveter contest, which Mott said “has been generating quite a bit of buzz on social media. I can’t wait to see a flock of Rosies come down to compete.” First prize: a $100 savings bond and a tool kit.
The chicken wing eating contest “is also an aviation event,” Mott deadpanned, presumably because the wings will be flying down competitors’ throats.
In a tent behind the downtown library, costumed historical interpreters will perform throughout the day as Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and other aviation pioneers. And at Botanica, across the river and through the woods, a butterfly festival shows “we’re really embracing anything with wings,” Mott said.
Conventional flying machines get their due, too. Classic and modern aircraft from the Kansas Aviation Museum will be parked at Douglas and Main, alongside flight simulators for a B-52 bomber and F4 fighter jet. Hot air balloons will launch from the WaterWalk area, and flyovers by several type of aircraft are being organized.
And the headliner for that evening’s concert? Joan Jett, naturally.