Vinton County’s delicious Air Show’s Chicken Tradition

Written and photos by Zach Vogeler

The Vinton County Air Show is one of the most popular and successful events of its kind in the heart of Ohio. It dates to the 1970s and attracts around 5,000 attendees annually. During the one-day event, cars crowd the grassy parking lot, lawn chairs dot the viewing area and planes soar high above.

As awe-inspiring as the air show may be, jaws drop — and water — at the sight of the show’s signature meal, which includes half a chicken, potato salad, baked beans and a roll for just $13.

Andy Adelman. who has been cooking the famous chicken since the air show’s inception, uses a 25-foot-long pit made from concrete blocks piled high.

“They put 25 [chickens] on at a time with 1,000 chickens being cooked throughout the day total,” Adelmann says.

The McArthur Eagles, who have helped run the show with Adelmann for decades, start the fire using wood at 5 a.m. on the day of the air show. When the fire is hot enough, they add charcoal to ensure they can cook all day long.

The air show’s special sauce is the key ingredient that sets this chicken apart. No one knows who first started making the special sauce, but the chicken cooks all agreed, it is the best sauce to go with their famous chicken.

Chicken, air show fund airport year round

The Vinton County Airport, which has hosted the aerial performance every year, does not receive any county funds to operate. Instead, it is funded and run by its boosters, including former President Nick Rupert and current President Terry Stevens.

“We manage the airport, we pay the bills, do the whole nine yards.” Rupert says. “Without the air show we would not have the money to keep the airport open.”

About 70% of the air show’s profits go to keeping the airport operational. The chicken dinner plays an integral part; it is the only component of the show that brings in money besides donations from parking.

Without the famous chicken, the airport would not be able to stay open.

Volunteers prove vital to air show’s operation

But it’s not just the chicken that helps the air show to successfully run year after year.

Rupert believes the show’s volunteers are the lifeblood of its operation. The workers and performers work for free, allowing the show to pull in all the money it makes from its chicken sales.

“All these guys that fly, they like to fly and they need the shows, the more shows you have, the more you can charge paying customers, ” Rupert says.

The chicken is now so famous that Rupert named the show’s skydiving team the “Screaming Chickens.” The team is run by Bob Church, who has jumped at nearly every Vinton County Air Show.

A lot of the jumpers and pilots are just like Church. They fly and jump for free, not only because of their appreciation for the show, but for the taste of the chicken and its secret sauce.

Rupert makes sure every pilot who flies in the show is sent home with a tank full of gas and a full stomach.