I have found that the best way to record planes at an airshow is NOT to go to the airshow. Too many noisy people and canned muic make it impossible to record anything. Going the day before to the practise however can often get some good results. To that end, Anna and I went down to Tyabb south of Melbourne today to check out the set-up for tomorrows Tyabb airshow.
For something as big as an airshow I bring all of my gear with me. I set-up the tripod as close to the runway as I could with the Sennheisser MKH60 attached to the Zoom H4. Airfields are often very windy as they are big open areas, so its very important to have wind protection for all your mics. I also had the Rode NGT3 attached to the Zoom H4N mounted ont he boom pole so I could move around easily and follow any aircraft moving through the staging area. In this way I could cover more material and effectively be in two places at once. Most of the time I managed to record planes as they taxied in from landing or where heading out to take-off, but the staging area allowed me to get some good idle and start-up sounds.
I find propeller aircraft much more interesting to record as they have a more complex sound in my opinion than a jet. In general older vehicles have more interesting sounds than modern ones often. A lot of prop planes have an interesting procedure before they shut-down their engines. I talked to a pilot and he explained what they actually do. Just before they shut-down the engine they rev it quite high for a few seconds. This drains the oil out of the propeller and sends it back into the main engine area, so there is the maximum amount of oil there for next start-up. This revving is usually much louder than the general idle and taxiing sound the plane will make as it comes in, so you need to set your recording levels appropriately otherwise you risk peaking when the pilot revs before shut-down. I discovered this the hard way with my first couple of recordings.
I still had to deal with some noisy people, and every now and then there would be some very noisy children, but in general today was a better day for recording sounds than coming down on the day of the main event. I also got some very good information on some other sources for good aircraft recording so I will be looking into that over the next few weeks. Days like today are both exciting and frustrating for me. They are good because I get the opportunity to record some excellent material from really interesting sources, but they can be frustrating when a rare opportunity is lost because people in general are not very sympathetic to what you are trying to do and will quite happily continue to talk when something interesting is happening.