Photos (c) Vernon Poole
Southern Fauquier County is home to something incredibly unique, but you’ll have to look up to find it. Created in 1970, The Flying Circus has been entertaining families with stunt flying and aerobatic feats for almost 50 years. These events, referred to as “barnstorming,” gained popularity in the 1920s when pilots toured the countryside to show off their plane’s capabilities. The Flying Circus is the oldest continually running barnstorming event in the world. Each Sunday between May and October, local volunteers gather at a grassy airstrip in Bealeton to put on this one-of-a-kind show.
Chuck Tippett, who is both a wing walker and pilot for the show, said the volunteers do it in part for their love of antique planes and aviation history, but also for the chance to be transported back in time. Tippett owns and flies a 1943 Piper Cub and has been with the Flying Circus since 2001. He has performed as a wing walker for 15 of those years, and in 2006, was inducted into the Virginia Aviation Hall of Fame. He is one of only 11 wing walkers in the world, seven of whom support and perform at The Flying Circus.
Every Sunday, weather permitting, volunteers like Tippett begin to gather at the air strip at 9 am to get ready for the crowds. They clean, prepare food, cut grass, and do whatever else needs to happen to put on a great show. The Flying Circus is a non-profit organization, and though they collect an entrance fee, it only covers the costs of operations. The dedicated 80 volunteers, including the pilots, all work for free.
Gates open to the crowd at 11:00 am, and the show starts at 2:30 pm. There is plenty to see and do for those who arrive early. Visitors can lay out their picnic blankets with a view of the grassy runway, watch planes take off and glide back down from the airspace above them. Pilots offer rides in the antique airplanes before and after the show. Aerobatic rides are also offered to those who are feeling brave. A small gift shop provides posters, t-shirts, and toys for those wanting to take home a memento, and a snack bar offers a variety of food and drink (though you are also welcome to bring your own).
As the show starts, a man dressed in all white and a straight-brimmed straw hat directs the crowd’s attention to the sky. A plane circles high in the clouds, and a skydiver drops into the air. He gracefully coasts down to the field as the national anthem plays, and the show officially begins. For nearly two hours, the crowd is treated to aerial demonstrations, humorous interludes, and death-defying wing walking, all courtesy of the biplanes and the excellent pilots who fly them. It’s a truly unique show that no one should miss.
The Flying Circus is located at 5114 Ritchie Road in Bealeton, Virginia. It is open on Sundays from May through October, but visitors should always check the website for weather related cancellations. Tickets can only be purchased at the gate and are $15 per adult and $7 per child 12 and under (5 and under are free). Airplane rides are given for a fee before and after the show. Several events are scheduled throughout the season, including their annual Hot Air Balloon Festival. Check the website for more details on these special events.
By Erin McCarty
For more information visit www.flyingcircusairshow.com