Air Force Thunderbirds Return to Valley in May

VIENNA TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- The first air show in five years is preparing for takeoff at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station this spring.

“The Thunderbirds are going to be headlining this year,” Maj. Jay Ference, a U.S. Air Force pilot stationed at the base, told members of the board of the Western Reserve Port Authority Monday. The Thunderbirds are a crack squadron of F-16 jet fighter pilots who are world renown for their acrobatic and precision flying skills.

The show is slated for Saturday, May 17, and Sunday, May 18, he said.

“In addition to that, we’re looking at having 11 other civilian acts,” Ference added. “We’ll have about 12 flying acts to include the Thunderbirds, and there’ll be military static displays on the ramp for the general public.”

The last time the base hosted an air show was 2009, Ference said, and the Thunderbirds anchored that event as well. Depending on the weather, he said this year’s show could expect between 50,000 and 75,000 patrons both days of the event.

“Our themes this year are ‘Air Heritage’ and ‘Women in the Military,’” Ference noted.

Aside from the Thunderbirds, this year’s show will feature vintage aircraft dating from the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, Ference said. Among the World War II planes taking to the air during the show are B-17 and B-25 bombers, a P-51 Mustang, and a F4U Corsair – a unique gull-winged aircraft that was used mostly in the Pacific theater.

What is different from the 2009 show, Ference noted, is that no tickets will be issued to patrons. Instead, the event is free and open to anyone who can pass through base security.

Another difference is that the Air Force is working on one-third of the budget it enjoyed during the 2009 event, reported Col. James Dignan, commander of the 910th Airlift Wing at the air base. “It takes more than a half-million dollars to put on a show like this,” he said.

For its part, the Air Force is limited to spending no more than $250,000, per orders of the U.S. Department of Defense. That means other sponsors are needed to make up the rest of the costs, especially to cover the civilian component of the program.

“What we need to do is to collect all the money and pay for the things that the Air Force isn’t allowed to do,” says David Deibel, vice president of the Youngstown Air Base Community Council, an advocacy and support group formed to help with events such as this year’s air show.

To help with the costs, the Community Council is soliciting sponsorships for the show. “We have to turn around and pay for a lot of these acts. A lot of them come from a long way away.”

The campaign has quietly been raising funds for the effort, Deibel said.

Fuel, food and lodging expenses can be costly, Deibel noted, and community support is vital toward putting on a quality air show for the public.

“We have sponsor packages ranging from $10 up to as much as $50,000,” he said. Depending on the level of packages, sponsorships could include premier seating for the event, food, and rides on vintage aircraft.

“There’s a lot of money involved, and a lot that needs to be spent for a two-day event,” Deibel said. “It’s well worth it. It’s good for the community, good for the area and good for the state.”

Meantime, the Port Authority is continuing dialogue with air carriers for daily service from the airport, said the Port Authority's Tom Reich, especailly in the wake of United Airlines announcement that it plans to close its hub in Cleveland.

"Although it's not good for the city of Cleveland, it creates opportunities for the Mahoning Valley that we didn't have before," Reich told board members Monday. "As we go forward, that should be a step in the right directon for us."

Earlier this month, United announced it would be closing its hub at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport in June, the result of the airline's merger with Continental Airlines.

Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.

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