Noise is the trait common to most air show acts. Powerful, unmuffled engines are the initiating source, but most of it comes from the near supersonic shockwaves spinning off the tips of the propeller blades. It reaches a crescendo as the pilot pours on the power to climb once again skyward and it wah-wah-wahs as the airplane performs gymnastic tumbles.
And then there is Dan Buchanan and his NorthWings. His daytime mount is a hang glider. It doesn’t have an engine. A trailer-mounted winch pulls him skyward. Releasing the towline at 1,200 to 1,800 feet above the ground, gravity, and his ability to convert altitude into speed and speed back into altitude is the power behind his aerial ballet. For his night show, a small muttering engine propels his glowing glider skyward and sparkling pyrotechnics trace his graceful arcs in the night sky.
But his flying machine is not the only thing unique to these performances. The performer himself is unique. A spinal cord injury put him in a wheelchair in 1981. A mechanical engineer unwilling to give up flying, he earned his private and commercial glider pilot certificates and launched his air show career in 1989 in Oregon. Since then his popularity has grown to more than 25 performances a year, and he logs roughly 45,000 miles on the road each summer.
American skies are his primary stage, but the recipient of the industry’s top awards, the Art School and Bill Barber awards for showmanship, and the International Council of Air Show’s Special Achievement Award, Buchanan has performed in Japan, Thailand, El Salvador, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, Mexico, and eight times in Australia. And he returns to Addison Airport again this year to perform his day and night shows at Kaboom Town.