The Impact of Air Shows, Fly-overs, Open Houses, and Guest Days 
on Public Opinion
Jon Connor, Patricia Huizinga, Peter Kerr
  • Introduction
  • Demonstration Teams
  • Air Show Cost & Popularity
  • Theoretical Basis
  • Costs of Military-Sponsored Public Events
  • Study Design, Method & Results
  • Pilot Study
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions
  • Appendix A
  • Appendix B
  • Appendix C
  • Appendix D
  • References
  • About the authors
  • From a theoretical basis, all reduction of uncertainty can be seen as a step in the right direction for improving public relations. The uncertainty reduction theory (Berger, 1979; Berger & Calabrese, 1975), or URT, attempts to explain and to predict interpersonal communication during the beginning of a relationship. Just as this theory has been adapted to organizational communication research by Lester (1987), it can also be seen as applicable to understand public affairs interactions through military-sponsored events (Infante, Rancer & Womack, 1997). 

    The theory's premise is that when individuals meet, they desire to reduce uncertainty about each other and, at the same time, they want to increase their own ability to predict their behavior as well as their partner's. By predicting a partner's behavior, people can choose more appropriate complimentary behavior. The more uncertainty is reduced, the more the pair will like each other.

    Applying this theory to military air shows, guest days, open houses, and fly-overs, it makes sense that the more the military exposes itself to the civilian community, familiarizing the public with the equipment, duties and service members, the more the civilians will know, understand and hopefully support the military. This liking will occur as people can better predict the military's attitudes and way of life, and in turn people can better select their methods of interacting with the military. A practical example would be that when the public sees a military vehicle on the television news, they will not just think of it as part of the unknown, but can instead remember having seen the vehicle before, and will then realize military people like the ones they met are inside driving and risking their lives for their country's objectives.

    As with most institutions, the military has separated itself from society at large to better perform its mission. The fences around military installations, and military laws establishing codes of conduct and grooming standards best exemplify this separation. While these laws may be beneficial, they often also have the negative effect of isolating the military, and making the public not able to relate to the military lifestyle. Unintentional poor representations of the military by the movie industry tend to exacerbate this division, as military members are often portrayed as insensitive or warmongers. Air shows, fly-overs, open houses, and guest days help ameliorate this division, by allowing the public to put faces on the military institution, and by seeing they are welcome on military installations. 

    Ultimately, if the non-military population has formed a positive impression of the military, the people should prove more agreeable to supporting the military financially and socially. In practice, people will allow their positive impression of the military influence their communication with their respective congressional lawmakers who directly impact military funding.


    The collection of this type of data is quite difficult, due to the varying circumstances of each military public event. Not only are four different types of events being compared, but also the events are further obfuscated as all four different armed service branches host them. While it is possible to ascertain one event's total costs and approximate impact on public relations, the findings would not be very generalizable to a different service, location, or event.

    Since the interest lies both in being able to differentiate the costs and benefits derived between events as well as to provide an estimated prediction of cost and impact of a particular type of event, the best solution is to compile data that spans all services and all events in the continental CONUS. Outside CONUS events are better left out of the study, as events in foreign nations may involve different kinds of costs and audience sizes. This collection of data, while ideal, is impractical, and thus for research purposes the sample size should be three installations from each service that host all four types of events annually. 

    The first step is to poll every large military installation in CONUS to develop a list of what kinds of events occur annually at the various installations. The 15 Air Force bases, 15 Navy Bases, 15 Army Posts and 12 Marine bases recommended for polling are listed in Appendix 3. Polling these installations is not conducted under the current study, as a complete study on this topic would necessarily have to call all these installations anyway in case changes in annual events have occurred.

    This website was constructed as part of a research project under the auspices of the University of Oklahoma and does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Defense.