U.S. Army parachute team expected to join Thunderbirds at Martinsburg air show

December 18, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Golden Knights, the U.S. Army’s parachute team, are expected to join the Air Force’s Thunderbirds for the 2013 Thunder over the Blue Ridge Open House and Air Show in May, organizers announced Tuesday.

A complete lineup of aerial acts for the May 11 and 12 show hosted by the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard isn’t expected to be finalized until March or early April, according to organizers.

Col. Roger Nye, the Airlift Wing’s commander, said at a Tuesday news conference that organizers requested the Thunderbirds or the Navy’s Blue Angels for next year’s show before they take “a little break from air shows — at least a year or so.”

“And when the Thunderbirds came to us and said ‘Hey, how about May, instead of September?,’ we did a lot soul searching and talked to lots of folks, including members of the community and everybody said, ‘Let’s do this,’” Nye said.

Some of the show’s Kids Village, static displays and “anchor” civilian aerial acts, including Bill Finagin and Jerry Wells, are expected to return to the show, which Nye described as a “big hurrah” before they take a break from the air show scene. Nye noted that he is retiring in November 2013 and indicated it will be up to the new commander to decide what will be done in future years. Nye said he expects an open house will be held in 2014.

The Thunderbirds’ return next year also means the return of a show box — an area cleared for safety reasons — at the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport to comply with federal safety requirements, according to Nye.

The show box impacted more than 100 homes near the airport when the Thunderbirds performed in 2010, according to Nye.

Lt. Col. Melissa Shade said she has fielded considerable interest from aerial acts since the Thunderbirds’ 2013 schedule was unveiled last week at the International Council of Air Shows Convention in Las Vegas last week.

The Martinsburg show benefited from the decision by organizers of the air show at Joint Base Andrews near Washington, D.C., to change to a biennial event after this year’s show in May due to budget cuts, according to organizers and published reports.

“We are taking (Andrews’) date in May,” Shade said. “So a lot of the acts already have it on their schedule to go to the East Coast, which is very fortunate for us.”

The 167th Airlift Wing, along with the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport Authority and the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle, have partnered for the past three years to hold the Thunder Over the Blue Ridge Open House and Air Show and will continue that partnership next year.

The Thunderbirds’ appearance at the 2010 show attracted a crowd of 80,000 people for the two-day event and organizers expect a similar turnout for the event in May.

“This ought to be a great show,” said Nic Diehl, who is serving as president of the Thunder Over the Blue Ridge board.

The air show’s budget has not been determined, but will be supported by military funding and is dependent upon sponsorships as well, organizers said.

Individuals interested in sponsoring the event can obtain more information on the air show’s website at

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