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Thunder Over the Blue Ridge Airshow set for this weekend

September 02, 2010|By TIFFANY ARNOLD
  • The Thunder over the Blue Ridge Air Show is scheduled for Labor Day weekend at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport.
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MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Staff Sgt. Reese Pendleton seemed convincing when he said that most people who jump from airplanes for fun used to be afraid of heights.

"I had no desire to jump out of an airplane, but when I was 19 the Army told me I didn't have a choice," said Pendleton, 24, and a member of the Golden Knights, the U.S. Army's parachute team. "I did it and it was the most amazing thing I've ever done and I was absolutely in love with it from that point on."

The Golden Knights plan to leap from 12,500 feet in the air for the sake of entertaining spectators at the Thunder Over the Blue Ridge Airshow on Saturday, Sept. 4, and Sunday, Sept. 5, at the W.Va. Air National Guard 167th Airlift Wing, south of Martinsburg.

Organizers are bracing for 40,000 attendees each day; the Army's Golden Knights and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds are expected to be the main attractions, said Maj. Melissa Shade, who's with the Air National Guard.

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Shade said roads in and around the Air National Guard base will be closed due to the size of the event and for security reasons.

She said she was unable to release a detailed schedule of what times performers were going on because of security reasons. She said a more detailed schedule would be posted on the event's website, MartinsburgAirShow.com , closer to the event's date. However, as of 2 p.m. Wednesday, a detailed program had not been posted.

But Shade did say that the Golden Knights were scheduled to perform shortly after the 10:30 a.m. opening ceremonies and that the program would be the same for Saturday and Sunday.

One of those Golden Knights will be Pendleton.

He said the Knights plan to do a baton pass from a free fall.

"It's not as difficult as you might think," he said.

Spectators will also see jumpers whiz past each other at 180 miles per hour, appearing as though they're going to collide. There will also be a jumper who plummets to the point of being just heartbeats away from being too close to the ground before pulling the parachute.

How do they do this without putting themselves in real danger? Practice, practice, practice.

"We will do these maneuvers over, and over, and over until we're tired of doing them," Pendleton said. "This stuff is ingrained in practice."

He said the team uses the wind tunnel at Fort Bragg, N.C., to practice maneuvers. They spend two months during the winter training in Florida.

Soon, there will be more aspiring stunt jumpers.

Tryouts are happening next week, Pendleton said. The eight-week process starts from the basics and works up to all the Golden Knights' stunts -- enough for a baseline understanding, at least.

"They teach you everything you need to know about being a Golden Knight. At the end, if they like you, they keep you. If they don't, you go back to your regular job in the Army," he said.

But at a performance, Pendleton said the Golden Knights would like to leave spectators with something to go with all those oohs and aahs.

"The jumping is cool, it's neat," Pendleton said, "but really it's how we get to do our real job -- telling people about opportunities in the Army."




If you go ..

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WHAT: Thunder Over the Blue Ridge Airshow

WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 4, and Sunday, Sept. 5. Opening ceremonies begin at 10:30 a.m. each day.

WHERE: W.Va. Air National Guard 167th Airlift Wing, Shepherd Field, near the Eastern Regional Air Port, off U.S. 11, three miles south of Martinsburg, W.Va.

COST: Free admission to the show, though there is a requested $10 donation for United Way of the Eastern Panhandle.

MORE: Visit the event's website, MartinsburgAirShow.com.

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