For the love of loop the loops

September 18, 2008|By JULIE E. GREENE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Sherri Pennington said she was a little nervous when she stepped into the 1986 Pitts aerobatics plane, but by the time she stepped out about 30 minutes later she was full of excitement.

During that time she'd been taken on a ride that included a loop; a steep vertical climb followed by an intentional stall and spinning dive; a four-point roll; and option passes, during which pilot Bill Finagin was flying so low to the runway - about 50 to 60 feet off the ground - that he could have landed.

"I had just some yogurt for lunch. I feel like I have a strong stomach. I could really feel the Gs pulling on the incline," said Pennington, 49, of Martinsburg. In the air she was able to see the other end of Martinsburg and Summit Point, W.Va.

Pennington and her husband, Butch, own several Martinsburg businesses and were a sponsor for the 2006 Spirit of America air show. As sponsors they attended a thank-you reception last year and Sherri Pennington's name was one of several drawn to win a plane ride. She got her ride last week.


Visitors to the Spirit of America Over Martinsburg Air Show this weekend will, weather permitting, have the opportunity to see Finagin's aerobatics as well as several other air acts. As of Tuesday, the National Weather Service was forecasting a mostly sunny weekend.

The show was not held last year because the runway was being renovated and expanded to accommodate the West Virginia Air National Guard's larger C-5A Galaxy planes, event organizer Nic Diehl said.

This weekend's show will open each day with skydivers from the Chambersburg (Pa.) Skydiving Center bringing the U.S. flag down.

The parachutists are one of 11 aerial acts scheduled to entertain an expected crowd of about 20,000 people each day, air show Chairman George Smith said.

Visitors won't have to crane their necks to see all the planes. Several planes will be stationed on terra firma so visitors can check out their details and talk to pilots. These include an Army Black Hawk helicopter, an Air Force F-86 fighter plane and two A-10 Warthogs manufactured by Fairchild in the Hagers-town area. A C-5A Galaxy, the largest plane in the U.S. military's arsenal and the type used by the West Virginia Air National Guard stationed near Martinsburg, will be open for tours, Smith said.

Before and after the air show, from 10 a.m. to noon and 5 p.m. to dusk each day, rides may be purchased on a few single-engine planes, including a Waco biplane, a Stearman World War II biplane trainer, and a Cessna 172, Smith said. The Waco and Stearman have open cockpits.

Other sights to see in the sky will be vintage fighter planes (for more on them, go to, the U.S. Air Force F-16 demo team (go to, wing walkers (go to, and several aerobatics pilots - Finagin in his biplane, Matt Chapman in an Embry-Riddle Eagle 580 (go to, and Rob Holland in an MX2 carbon fiber plane (go to

The aerial act pilots will be available for autographs, Smith said.

Finagin, a retired Naval officer, is quick to note he does aerobatics, not stunts. Stunts connote risk taking or recklessness, said Finagin, 70, of Annapolis, Md. Aerobatics are planned, very carefully choreographed with minimum risk.

Inspired by his older brother, a World War II fighter pilot, Finagin got his flying license when he was 17.

He flew on and off while serving as a dentist with the Navy and got serious about aerobatics around 1980. He's won about 50 aerobatic competitions and will be inducted into the International Aerobatic Club's Hall of Fame on Oct. 24.

Finagin helped organize the air show and has been teaching aerobatics for more than 30 years.

Before he takes to the sky to try a maneuver for the first time, he spends the off-season choreographing the move. Factors include speed and the G-loads on the pilot and plane. Then there are hours of practicing and improving technique.

Early practices are done at an altitude of more than 4,000 feet.

"You do it very high and if you mess it up, you still have altitude to recover with," Finagin said. "Good training is the secret to all of this."


WHAT: Spirit of America Over Martinsburg Air Show

WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 20, and Sunday, Sept. 21. Gates open at 10 a.m. The air show is from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Airplane rides from 10 a.m. to noon and 5 p.m. to dusk Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. to dusk Sunday. The aerial acts are weather permitting.

WHERE: Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport, south of Martinsburg, W.Va.

COST: Admission at the gate is $15; free for ages 11 and younger. Buy your ticket in advance through and cost is $12. Parking is free.

CONTACT: Call 304-263-2106 or go to

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