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Part of U.S. 11 to close for Labor Day air show

Two-day event is free but visitors are encouraged to make donation

August 19, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD
  • Stunt pilot Bill Finagin gives Woody Fletcher of Martinsburg flight instructions aboard his Pitts S-2C aerobatic aircraft at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport on Thursday. Shown at rear are Nicholas Diehl, left, vice president of Thunder Over the Blue Ridge Inc., and Col. Roger Nye, commander of the 167 Airlift Wing of the Air National Guard.
Matthew Umstead, Staff Writer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. --Traffic on U.S. 11 south of Martinsburg will be restricted for much of Labor Day weekend to accommodate the Thunder Over the Blue Ridge Open House & Air Show at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport.

"Route 11 between Paynes Ford (Road) and Business Park Drive will be closed to through traffic and everyone needs to be aware of that," said Col. Brian Truman, vice commander of 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard, which is hosting the two-day event Sept. 4-5.

Depending on traffic, the road closure could be from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. both days, Truman said Thursday during an air show promotional appearance by stunt pilots Bill Finagin and Jerry Wells.

"We need it closed to control the traffic for the safety of the air show spectators," said Truman, who chairs the board of Thunder Over the Blue Ridge Inc., a nonprofit corporation formed to organize the event.

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Truman told the Berkeley County Commission on Thursday that a notification letter had been sent to about 400 residents who live along U.S. 11 between Paynes Ford Road and Business Park Drive about the event and how they can get to their homes.

"We're trying to make it as easy for the residents as we can," Truman said.

For safety reasons, residents of about 80 homes near the airport will not be allowed on their property while two acts perform during the air show, but those affected are being invited as "special guests," organizers have said.

The road closure is expected to accommodate buses, which will be shuttling spectators from off-site parking areas to and from the base, and organizers are encouraging people to take Interstate 81 Exit 12 at Tablers Station Road instead of U.S. 11.

The two-day event is free and there will be no charge for available parking, but organizers are encouraging visitors to donate $10 at the gate to benefit United Way of the Eastern Panhandle, the event's fiscal agent and underwriter.

"I feeling very comfortable that we have all of our acts paid for and the nuts and bolts of the show are covered," said Nic Diehl, vice chairman of the Thunder Over the Blue Ridge board.

Given the economic downturn, Diehl said he felt they would have to "step up" their sponsorship drive, but the 167th Airlift Wing's decision to host the event helped bring in more revenue.

"The reality is they have been very supportive as best as they can and we've secured other sponsors that are more military-type sponsors that we would not have been able to touch otherwise," Diehl said.

Diehl could not say what the show's budget is because he said there are unknown costs to be calculated.

The Spirit of America Over Martinsburg Air Show in 2008 cost more than $140,000, but this year's event, headlined by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the U.S. Army Golden Knights, is much bigger, Diehl said.

Finagin, 73, of Annapolis, Md., and Wells, 45, of Fredericksburg, Pa., flew into the airport Thursday to perform a short aerial demonstration.

"I'm like a kid in the candy store after 55 years," Finagin said before taking Martinsburg resident Woody Fletcher on a stunt-filled flight above airport in a Pitts S-2C.

"If you go to an air show, you'll be hooked," said Finagin, the 2008 International Aerobatic Club Hall of Fame honoree and winner of more than 45 championship contests.

The upcoming show will be sort of a homecoming for Wells, who has been performing in air shows since 2001 and flies a King Air for Arcadia Aviation, a charter company based at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport. Wells flew into the airport Thursday in a Bucker Jungmeister, a German airplane designed in the 1930s.

"It's just all about the fun," Wells said.

More information about the open house and air show is on the Internet at http://www.martinsburgairshow.com/index.html.

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