To the delight of aviation aficionados everywhere, one of Duluth’s premiere events will be returning in 2023. The Duluth Air & Aviation Expo (aka “Duluth Airshow”), presented by Essentia Health, will take place for the 15th time, the weekend of July 15-16th.
Skilled pilots from the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the U.S. Air Force A-10 Demonstration Team will enthrall the crowds below by flying overhead in a variety of high-tech aircraft. These talented aviators also show off some pretty unique formations.
The event also features aviation-related displays and vendors. Food and beverages will be available for purchase. And, adventurous spectators can even sign up to take rides in the aircraft.
Best of all? The event is appropriate for the entire family.
Ryan Kern, who is the president and founder of Duluth-based business Kern and Kompany, shared that the Airshow typically draws impressively large crowds, consisting of visitors and locals alike. Many staff are needed, too; in addition to Kern’s internal team, it takes a whopping 500 volunteers per day to coordinate and produce such a large event.
“Our attendance is typically around 50,000 spectators, with approximately 75% coming from the Twin Cities Metro area,” he noted. “But we also have people coming from all over the world. We get regular attendees from Europe, Canada and Mexico each year.”
Unsurprisingly, the event is quite popular with those who have served in the military, too. “The Airshow is the largest gathering of veterans in the state of Minnesota,” Kern added.
Kern has always had personal ties to the military and grew up around aviation. His grandfather, father, and stepfather all served in the U.S. Air Force.
After starting Kern and Kompany, Kern found success producing a variety of local events. But he knew there was a niche yet to fill in the community – an airshow.
“Kern and Kompany was established in 1997 and we started out doing small events, mostly sports related, in the community,” Kern explained. “When I had the idea of reintroducing an airshow to the Duluth community, it became very clear that I was going to need to get support from some key players early on, and also personally accept any financial risk associated with the event.”
He continued, “At just 25 years old, I headed to Washington, DC to meet with Congressman James Oberstar about a new era for airshows in Duluth. With the Congressman’s swift support of a young entrepreneur with a big vision, the Duluth Air & Aviation Expo as we know it today came to be.”
In addition to the Airshow, Kern and Kompany produces many other well-known Duluth favorites, such as the Duluth Drag Races - a one-of-a-kind legal drag racing event that takes place on a public street (Garfield Avenue). A new addition under the Kern umbrella is a multi-generational celebration of German heritage: Duluth Oktoberfestival.
Kern, along with his staff of five, also plans and execute the Essentia Health High School All-Star Game Series. They also work behind the scenes at events like the AAD Shrine Circus and other regional events.
The Duluth Airshow, which offers fun for all ages, is held on the mid-field apron of the Duluth International Airport, between Monaco Air and Cirrus Aircraft. Kern provided some details about the weekend’s logistics.
“The Duluth Airshow grounds cover a space which is over a half a mile long, and we fill it up with entertainment which is well-suited for everyone - from the first-time airshow attendee to the most hard-core aviation enthusiasts!
“Just like any large-scale event, plan time for event traffic and parking. Prepare for the Duluth Airshow the way you would for the State Fair or an event at Target Field: dress in layers, give yourself lots of lead time, and enjoy the flying, the static displays, the fair-style food options, and the educational and entertainment vendors.”
“I recommend wearing comfortable footwear and planning to spend the day with us,” he added. “The gates are open from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., with the flying window taking place between 11:00 and 4:30.
Pro Tips and What to Bring
Kern recommends that spectators bring three things to the Airshow: ear protection, seating, and sunscreen. Their website provides a valuable Top 10 Insider Tips
“Some of the aircraft flying at the show will be loud …really, really loud! The announcer does a great job of letting the crowd know when ear protection is needed ahead of time, so no one will need to wear earplugs all day, but this is a must-have item.
“Complimentary earplugs will be made available at the show from our presenting partner, Essentia Health, but we also recommend over-the-ear protection for children. Often, the foam earplugs are not a great fit for kids.
“And, unless you have purchased a Presidential Chalet or Flight Line ticket in advance, you must bring your own seat,” he added. “The Airshow is different than an outdoor concert where a blanket might work; you will definitely want a chair for this event because the pavement can get hot and uncomfortable.
“And, finally, sunscreen," Ryan emphatically states, "I cannot stress this one enough! Wear sunscreen and reapply often! By design, shade is scarce at the Duluth Airshow to maximize the amazing views of the planes, but sunscreen is a must when you are planning to spend the day under the open sky.”
The Duluth Airshow has received many recognitions over the years. Since its inception in 2001, the show has received Pinnacle Awards for Business Ethics and Contract Negotiations, Event Expansion and Education, Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Waste Reduction Green Initiative, and The Duluth Airshow’s Protected Group Fund, making the Duluth Airshow the most awarded and recognized show in the entire United States.
The Pinnacle Awards, presented by the International Council of Airshows (ICAS), recognize creative thinking, professional execution, and demonstrable results in the areas of airshow operations and management.
Kern and his wife, Lindsay, who serves as Community Outreach Director for Kern and Kompany, live in Duluth’s Piedmont Heights neighborhood with their two daughters, Reagan (15), and Paisley (12).
The Kerns are lifelong Duluthians, other than the fact that Ryan Kern attended high school abroad in Aberdeen, Scotland. Like so many parents, much of their time outside of work is spent participating in the activities that have captured the interest of their children.
But in the time that they carve out for family, they enjoy traveling together to new and exciting destinations, and of course, taking in events large and small to continue to learn about and bring new ideas to the Duluth community.
For this Duluth family, producing events that support our local economy and have a substantial economic impact while bringing many visitors to the area is a rewarding endeavor.
“The Duluth Airshow highlights the important role that aviation plays in our community," Linsay stated. It also "ignites excitement in the next generation of aviators, celebrates the men and women of the armed forces past and present, and has an economic impact that pumps dollars into our local economy. For all these reasons and many more, we are proud to produce the Duluth Airshow in the place we call home.”
“The support from our community is the key to our success,” Lindsay shared. “We are frequently recruited to bring this event to other cities across the nation, but Duluth is our home, and it’s important to us that we make you proud to have this event in your community."
Goals and Dreams
Kern and Kompany are constantly looking for new ways to layer and bring more value to the Duluth Airshow that showcases our region as an aviation mecca.
In 2021, Essentia Health signed on as a presenting sponsor, bringing increased reach and valuable resources to the event. In turn, this partnership has allowed the attendance and awareness of the event to soar all across the midwestern United States.
Ryan and his team are always working on ways to keep spectators excited about the future of aviation at the show. “Each year we intentionally change over 95% of our performers, and work hard to bring in military and civilian aircraft on the ground so people can get up close and see it,” he explained.
“This year, we tasked ourselves with securing F-35s that will be displayed on the ground so people can experience the latest generation of American airpower.”
General admission, upgraded seating, and parking tickets for the Duluth Airshow can be purchased online at duluthairshow.com. General admission tickets are also available at all Menards locations throughout Minnesota.