Debby Rihn-Harvey poses beside her airplane before her performance at the second annual Great American Airshow at Discovery Park Saturday.
Pilot Erik Edgren poses for a picture before his performance at the second annual Great American Airshow Saturday
Deborah Rihn-Harvey has performed her aerobatic airshow all over the world, from Europe to South Africa, and even in Hungary before communism fell. Three times, she’s won the national championship in aerobatic flying, and twice she’s won the world championship.
But Saturday afternoon, she brought her Cap 232 plane to the corn and soybean fields of rural West Tennessee, and participated along with
14 other pilots in the second annual Great American Airshow at Discovery Park of America.
She tumbled her plane end over end, brought it in and out of spins, and danced back and forth across the skies as thousands of families watched in wonder below.
“Flying in general is a freedom most people don’t realize,” she said. “You get up there and the world is so big, and it makes you realize how small your problems are.”
Mike Rinker, a pilot based out of West Tennessee, started the airshow last year when he noticed that an incomplete section of I-69 was the perfect open and empty space for planes to perform over. It was close enough to Discovery Park that everyone could gather there to watch performances.
Rinker said he’s passionate about flying, and he wanted to share that with his community. So, he reached out to Everett Stewart Regional Airport, pilots and sponsors to help make the event free for the public. He didn’t relegate himself to just organizing the event, however — he twisted and spun and flew through the air in three planes of his own.
He said his favorite part of flying is knowing that kids below are watching in amazement.
“It’s a passion for me, and something I love to share,” he said. “My favorite part is the kids that look up at me with wide-eyed wonder.”
Erik Edgren, another pilot who participated, said he loves inspiring kids with his routines as well. Instead of flying clean competition lines like Rihn-Harvey, his performances have more of a comedic bent to them.
He said one of his goals in participating in airshows like Saturday’s was so
he could help others interested in aviation realize that it is an achievable and enjoyable hobby.
“I like to see myself as an evangelist of little aviation,” he said.
He suggested interested children start out by contacting their local airport to see if they offer flying lessons, and by checking to see if the Experimental Aviation Association in their area
offers free flights to anyone who’s never flown before.
Before and after the planes flew, bluegrass groups The Ryman Shows Band and Jargon performed at Discovery Park. There were also fried fish plates for sale that included fish, hushpuppies, coleslaw and white beans.
So many people came to the show that the crowd spilled over into the parking lot of Second Baptist Church across the street, and even into a gas station behind the church. People sat on top of their cars, set up lawn chairs, and did whatever they could to have a good view of the planes.
Rihn-Harvey said she was grateful the community was so supportive of the airshow, and she hoped
it gave the audience at least a small taste of the “lifetime of joy” flying had given her.
“I’ve learned so much from aviation, if I can return just a portion of that to someone else I’ve done my service to aviation,” she said.
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