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Organizers cancel W.Va. air show after Thunderbirds drop out

Air Force cancels flying team's performance due to budget cuts

March 04, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Organizers announced the cancellation of the Thunder Over the Blue Ridge air show Monday, citing the loss of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds’ performance as the reason for the decision.

The air show was scheduled May 11-12 on the civilian side of Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport.

The 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard was told recently it no longer could host the show due to budget constraints. The 167th hosted the air show and held an open house at the base since 2010.

Air Force and Air Combat Command officials announced Friday that all of the Thunderbirds’ scheduled performances after this month were canceled due to federal spending cuts, also known as sequestration.

“Sequestration temporarily limits our ability to travel, but it doesn’t stop us from reaching out within our community to tell the Air Force story,” Lt. Col. Greg Moseley, U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron commander/leader said in a news release. “We still have an obligation to educate people about our great Air Force and the incredible things our airmen do.”

The Air Force said the decision will allow airmen to reallocate flying hours to combat readiness training, which would enable more sorties for combat readiness and deployment commitments, and ensure strategic air defense forces are ready to meet the challenges of peacetime air sovereignty and wartime air defense.

Thunder Over the Blue Ridge board president Nic Diehl said in a news release that the board would consider reinstating the event if the federal budget issues are resolved “in relatively short order.”

Attendance at the 2012 two-day show, which lacked marquee military acts, was decidedly lower than the previous years.

The Thunderbirds’ appearance at the 2010 show attracted an estimated crowd of 80,000 people for the two-day event, and organizers expected a similar turnout this year.

The 2010 show generated thousands of dollars in donations for United Way of the Eastern Panhandle. CEO Peter Mulford said the loss of this year’s show is disappointing, especially considering the community’s long-standing military connections and the patriotism the event celebrates.

Mulford said the United Way was hoping to net “seed” money from this year’s show for the organization’s next campaign year, which begins May 1. The organization will have to look elsewhere in what already is a tough time for fundraising efforts given the economy, he said.

The United Way has raised about 74 percent of its goal for the current campaign, with a goal of raising about $894,000, Mulford said.

Diehl said the Thunder Over the Blue Ridge board could not have been more excited about staging the show, since it was to feature the Thunderbirds again.

“It would have been our way of saying thank you to the 167th Air National Guard for all they do in our community,” Diehl said in the news release.

The cancellation of the air show comes after organizers of the air show at Joint Base Andrews near Washington, D.C., canceled their 2013 show due to budget cuts and changed it to a biennial event. 

The Thunderbirds’ 60th season this year was to include more than 60 demonstrations in 38 locations.

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