Listen to this article

It’s time for a confession. I take ownership of this article because I actually live a double life. By day I’m a mild-mannered auto journalist, but after hours I swap wheels for wings. Specifically, those wings are connected to vintage U.S. Air Force aircraft at the South Dakota Air & Space Museum and, actually, I need your help. More on that in a bit. 

Once a year my two lives cross paths in a very cool way, and this time around was keen for me to share my adventure. It starts at the aforementioned museum and, yes, there is a significant outer-space connection from my rural western South Dakota home. Once upon a time, dozens upon dozens of nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles filled silos throughout the area, all under the command of Ellsworth Air Force Base.  

Wings Wheels Photoshoot Field B-52 ICBM

Photo Credit: Christopher Smith /

The missile fields are long gone, but Ellsworth endures as one of two remaining bases for the supersonic B-1B Lancer – the latest in a long line of heavy aircraft at the base going all the way back to B-17s in World War II. As such, there’s a very cool museum preserving this legacy just outside the gate at Ellsworth, and I’ve spent considerable time there in both official and unofficial capacities. 

Back in 2017 I came up with a crazy idea called Wings & Wheels. The premise was simple – get cool cars and park them with cool vintage aircraft. And why not? The museum’s outdoor airpark is an outstanding venue for epic auto-aircraft photo opportunities ranging from bombers to fighter aircraft. Where else can you park under the belly of a B-52, or next to the art-endowed nose of a B-29? And for fans of the Chevrolet Corvair, the T-38 at the museum is the exact same aircraft GM featured in its vintage Corvair media photo (below left) from the 1960s. All things considered, I prefer the 1960s Corvette on the right.

10. Chevrolet Corvair And Unsafe At Any Speed
Wings Wheels Photoshoot C2 Corvette

Photo Credit: General Motors (left), Christopher Smith / (right)

Coronavirus obviously tossed the original show plan out the window, and canceling it was considered as recently as a week prior to the event. The safety of residents as well as base personnel was paramount, but before pulling the eject handle, I asked an odd question. Can we hold a cool car event with social distancing built into the plan, where people don’t even have to leave their cars if they don't want to? 

If the photo gallery below is an indication, the answer is a resounding yes. For 2020 only, the Wings & Wheels Car Show became the Wings & Wheels Photoshoot & Parade. With help from an epic team of South-Dakota-based automotive photographers at FOTOmotive, the museum welcomed enthusiasts to the airpark for staged one-on-one photoshoots with five rare planes, and let’s be honest: what car fanatic doesn’t want to see sweet rides parked with awesome aircraft?

Gallery: Wings & Wheels 2020 Photoshoot

Just a portion of the cars that attended Wings & Wheels 2020. Photos courtesy of FOTOmotive.

Two teams stayed busy all morning, shooting everything from a Honda S2000 with the T-38 to classic American muscle with the B-29, and even a vintage Mercedes-Benz Unimog with the big B-52. After the photoshoot, the cars joined a mile-long parade in the nearby town of Box Elder, rolling past the outskirts of the base and nearby residential areas to create a rolling car show that residents and base personnel could watch from a safe distance, or even the comfort of their own home.

Wings Wheels Photoshoot Unimog
Wings Wheels Photoshoot GT500 Titan

Photo Credit: Christopher Smith /

Through it all, drivers and passengers had the option to stay in their car the entire time, even during event registration. With the photoshoot being a one-on-one affair, getting outside meant only small groups of people were in the airpark at any given time. With South Dakota a current COVID hotspot in the US, I’m proud of the engineering in this event to help mitigate coronavirus spread while still offering something for local car fanatics to safely participate in. And actually, Wings & Wheels 2020 still isn’t done. This is where you come in. 


Since the museum has a bevy of professionally staged photos of cars with aircraft, holding a virtual car show in a coronavirus world is a no-brainer. Every day this week, the South Dakota Air & Space Museum’s Facebook page will post a group of photos from the event. In short, the photo that gets the most likes/loves each day wins a modest trophy from the museum. And admittedly, the museum gets a bit of exposure from all this too. 

I won’t be shy with the shameless plug here. I’m always fascinated by people who visit the museum and are gobsmacked that such a cool place with jets and rockets exists in the South Dakota prairie. Perhaps you’ll be surprised, too. 

Special thanks to Black Hills Energy for event sponsorship and for event support. All photos courtesy of FOTOmotive unless otherwise stated. 


Got a tip for us? Email: