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W.Va. air show won't include open house at Air Guard facility

Budget cuts and 'fiscal uncertainty' force 167th Airlift Wing to bow out; air show will be held at civilian side of regional airport

February 05, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The open house planned as part of the Thunder Over the Blue Ridge Air Show in May will not be held due to Defense Department budget cuts and “fiscal uncertainty,” organizers said Tuesday.

With the change, the air show on May 11 and 12 now will be staged on the civilian side of Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport and the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard will no longer host the event on their base at Shepherd Field, officials said in a news release. 

“Unfortunately, the uncertainty in our national financial picture has forced us to consider the possibility of some rather dramatic cuts in our funding,” Col. Roger Nye, the Airlift Wing’s commander said in the news release.

“I must ensure all the members of the 167th Airlift Wing are fully trained and ready to do the work we do for our nation.”

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Unlike previous Thunder over the Blue Ridge shows, there also will be a “nominal cost” for tickets to the show, which benefits United Way of the Eastern Panhandle, organizers said. In past years, spectators were asked to consider making a donation at the gate.

Thunder over the Blue Ridge board President Nic Diehl said Tuesday that the ticket cost had not been decided, but he expects it will be much less than what is typically charged for a show headlined by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

Among other changes, officials said event parking, which will continue to be free, will move to an area off Novak Drive and Airport Road this year. Spectators will be able to view the show from a larger grassy area with the Airlift Wing’s C-5 hangars as a backdrop, officials said Tuesday.

“We’re going to need a bunch more volunteers than we have in years past,” Diehl said. Those interested in volunteering will soon be able to sign up on the event’s website at http://martinsburgairshow.com or they can also contact United Way of the Eastern Panhandle, Diehl said.

The Airlift Wing, which opened the base free of charge to the public for the past three years for the event, will still accommodate the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds by allowing the aircraft to park on the base ramp for the show, officials said.

The U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team and civilian aerobatic performers, Bill Finagin, Jerry Wells and Charlie Schwenker are slated to join the Thunderbirds for this year’s show.

Diehl said organizers are continuing to work on landing additional performers and including static displays and the Kid’s Village for this year’s show.

The 167th Airlift Wing, along with the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport Authority and the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle, had partnered for the past three years to hold the event. Previous air shows had been held on the civilian side of the airport, officials noted.

Attendance at the 2012 show, which lacked marquee military acts, was decidedly lower than past years.

The Thunderbirds’ appearance at the 2010 Thunder over the Blue Ridge show attracted a estimated crowd of 80,000 people and organizers said in December 2012 that they expected similar turnout for this year’s event.

The Thunderbirds’ return to Martinsburg came after the organizers of the annual air show at Joint Base Andrews announced last year that they would be holding a biennial event and not hold a show this year due to defense budget cuts.

The change at Joint Base Andrews might have factored into the Thunderbirds’ decision to come to Martinsburg, Nye said in December.

In its 60th season, the jet team is slated to perform more than 60 demonstrations in 38 locations, including a six-week tour through the Pacific.

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