The searing roar of jet engines ripping across the skies. The surgical precision and daring aerobatics of the pilots and parachute teams. Even the striking assemblage of vintage, classic and modern aircraft positioned around the runways.
It’s considered a given that the pulse rate of anyone associated with the Stuart Air Show quickens at such descriptions. Surely, they spend all year awaiting the Nov. 3 to 5 weekend, right? For Susan Cunnane… not exactly.
The Stuart Air Show’s director of development and events started out as an aviation agnostic. When a friend encouraged her to volunteer at the show, she balked before finally relenting. As reliably as a turbine engine, the exciting atmosphere and warm “Air Show family” made Cunnane a convert.
“I was kind of hesitant,” the Palm City resident says. “I don’t really love airplanes. [I said], ‘I’m not sure I want to do that.’ So, I volunteered for one day and I was hooked on the whole vibe.”
Hired by the Stuart Air Show nearly a year ago, Cunnane’s vantage point is informed by her wealth of experience in retail management in New York and Miami. The New Jersey native attended college on Long Island before her leadership position with The Gap and Banana Republic took her to Miami.
After juggling the intense training and travel schedules, she wanted to live closer to her parents in Port St. Lucie. She moved and took a job with Treasure Coast Newspapers selling ads.
Cunnane and her husband, Pat Cunnane, married in Ireland two years ago and together they have three dogs.
Is it a little crazy to run a giant air show having started out with a passing interest in planes at best?
Yes, it’s complete pandemonium. I didn’t really know anything about the show other than what I did in my volunteer capacity. I will say running the radio room, which I did in my volunteer role, gave me a bird’s eye view of what’s involved. And there is a tremendous, tremendous level of support with our board and volunteers.
Were you surprised by the time it takes to put on the event?
Yes. We start planning the air show in December. Several members of the board go out to the International Council of Air Shows to network with other air shows and see how we can do things better for the following year. It takes a long time to plan, but when you think of all the different parts, it makes perfect sense.
Any surprises planned for this year?
We’ll have F-16, F-18, Batcopter. We’re super excited about the Screamin’ Sasquatch, a biplane with a jet engine that does all kinds of crazy aerobatics. We’re having a Sasquatch lookalike contest on Friday night. We have the Navy Leap Frogs jump team, Army Black Daggers (parachute demonstration team). There’s going to be the Round Canopy (parachuting team) jumping into battle during the World War II reenactment scenes. We’re also selling branded merchandise online.
What do many people not know about the Stuart Air Show?
We’re a non-profit organization, a registered 501(c)(3), and we give away most of the profits to local charities: Road to Victory Military Museum, United Way of Martin County, Civil Air Patrol, St. Lucie Centennial High School JROTC, to name a few. The more tickets we sell, the more we can push back into the community.