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Wings of Freedom Air Show grounded

June 03, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

No World War II fighter jets, B-29s or F-16s will be on display or flying above Martinsburg in September, since a planned air show has been canceled.

Of the roughly $400,000 needed to put on the Wings of Freedom Air Show, only $20,000 in donations had been gathered, Norm Birzer, chairman of the air show's committee, said Wednesday.

A lot of pledges and promises of sponsorships remained just that when the June 1 fund-raising deadline came and went, Birzer said.

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"We couldn't turn them into hard contracts in time to meet our deadlines," Birzer said.

Part of the problem was that more money than usual was needed to cover a $35,000 loss that air show organizers suffered last year in Frederick, Md.

The air show is organized by the Stars and Stripes Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, a nonprofit organization. It was planned for Sept. 18 and 19 at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport, outside Martinsburg.

"We couldn't take any risk," Birzer said, adding that money was also needed to cover any loss caused by bad weather.

Rick Wachtel, chairman of the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport Authority, said the cancellation was announced during the Airport Authority's meeting Wednesday morning.

"We're very disappointed," Wachtel said. "I thought it would've been a tremendous success."

Those who contributed donations to the air show will receive their money back or have the option of donating it to the Stars and Stripes Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, Birzer said.

Although tickets had not yet gone on sale to the public, some businesses bought group tickets as a way of showing support for the show, Birzer said. That money will be returned.

Last month, Birzer approached the Berkeley County Commission and the Martinsburg City Council, asking for funding or in-kind contributions.

The County Commissioners agreed to provide police services at no cost, and City Council members agreed to donate $5,000 in cash, along with approximately $5,000 worth of police and emergency medical services, said Martinsburg City Manager Mark Baldwin.

"Needless to say, I'm very disappointed," Mayor George Karos said.

A downtown business owner, Karos said he and other merchants hope the show's organizers will consider planning another air show in Martinsburg next year.

"We're not even thinking about that yet," Birzer said.

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