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Aviation thunder rolls over air show crowd

September 04, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD
  • A U.S. Air Force Thunderbird plane flies upside-down Saturday at the Thunder Over the Blue Ridge Air Show and Open House at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport near Martinsburg.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Amber McKiddy's first-ever flight in an airplane on Saturday was "surreal."

The 25-year-old Westernport, Md., native was treated to a flight aboard one of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, which are headlining the Thunder Over the Blue Ridge Air Show and Open House this weekend at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport.

"I don't think I've wrapped my mind around it quite yet," McKiddy said about an hour after her orientation flight in an F-16 amid the aerobatic display of civilian and military aircraft.

An estimated crowd of 30,000 to 35,000 people turned out for the first day of the show, which is being hosted by the West Virginia Air National Guard's 167th Airlift Wing, said Lt. Col. Michael O. Cadle, spokesman for the guard.

The show, which was capped by the high speed and seemingly daring maneuvers of the Thunderbirds, painted trails of smoke across a blue sky dotted by puffy clouds.

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Windy conditions, while an added comfort to spectators already soaking in Saturday's mild temperatures and mostly sunny weather, prevented the performance of the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team.

Two jumps are scheduled today when the aerobatic performers take to the air again, Cadle said.

Gates open today at 9 a.m., with opening ceremonies starting about 10:30 a.m.

McKiddy, a Loudoun County, Va., firefighter, was nominated for the orientation flight by her aunt, Nina Fazenbaker of Marlowe, W.Va., as part of a "Hometown Heroes" essay contest.

"She's like my child ... I'm just very proud of her," Fazenbaker said. "She's a good person. She works very hard."

Other than feeling a moment of sickness after hitting some turbulence, McKiddy said the approximately 30-minute flight was "absolutely stellar."

McKiddy said getting ready for her takeoff was similar to going to a fire scene.

"It's like you got to get stoked and excited ... and you do the same thing when you're in a fire engine (in the F-16)," McKiddy said. "I was like, 'Let's go, let's go.'"

Among the display of military aircraft at the air show on Saturday, an eagerness to go took on an entirely different meaning for Brian Heishman.

After touring a C-130 cargo plane, the Kearneysville, W.Va., man's 4-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter tugged at their father, eager to see the C-5 Galaxy, the giant airlifter used by the 167th Airlift Wing.

"We want to get on the big one," Heishman's daughter squealed.

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, who recognized those who organized the event on Saturday, flew his 1981 Piper Saratoga to the show Saturday morning.

"People are coming from all over," Manchin said. "I've met people from three or four states already this morning."

While some spectators shared experiences of extended travel time getting to the show on Saturday, others interviewed indicated they had no problem.

Berkeley County Sheriff Kenneth M. Lemaster Jr. said Interstate 81 was clogged by traffic going to the air show about 10 a.m., but he said traffic conditions otherwise were better than expected overall.




If you go



What: Thunder Over the Blue Ridge Air Show and Open House

When: Sunday, gates open at 9 a.m.; opening ceremonies at 10:30 a.m.; gates close at 4 p.m.

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

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