Air show carries theme of national patriotism

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff

The National Guard has been stationed at Tri-Cities Regional Airport since the Sept. 11 attacks. Saturday afternoon the troops' presence at the airport was as elusive as the threat on American security when thousands flocked to the Tri-Cities airport for the first day of the air show.
   The Celebration of Freedom Tour carried with it a strong patriotic theme and events were kicked off with the singing of the Grand Old Flag and the National Anthem. World Champion parachutist, Cheryl Stearns, helped get the show under way when she jumped from a plane displaying the American Flag as she descended.
   The air show featured several aerobatics performances throughout the afternoon from members of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. The U.S. Navy Blue Angels were the premier and closing act of the afternoon. There was a flight demonstration by the Firebirds; and Jim LeRoy, former Marine Corps sniper, performed in "Bulldog," a 400 horsepower Marine Alpha I, prior to the Blue Angels' performance.
   The audience also enjoyed an F-15 Eagle tactical jet demonstration and the performances of Dan McLung. McLung prepped the crowd with, "This is going to be a fantastic air show," before he took off in his PRC Desoto Red Eagle. He kept the audience informed by speaking to it from the cockpit as he performed a variety of rolls and aerobatics.
   The Blue Angels began their ninth show of the season with a C-130 named "Fat Albert." The jet represented the types of jets that have been used most recently in Northern Africa and Afghanistan. The C-130's short field landing and backward taxiing capabilities were demonstrated while an American Flag emerged from the cockpit.
   Six Blue Angel F-A18 Hornets took to the sky after Fat Albert and performed a series of high precision and tactical maneuvers. The Boeing F-A18 was the first jet to be classified as both an attack and fighter jet, and the Blue Angels demonstrated many of the aircraft's capabilities. The six pilots performed at maximum speed within the minimum amount of separation from one another.
   Many individuals that saw the Blue Angels perform came to the air show as volunteers and played a large part in the day's success. Jack Snider was a volunteer at the last air show in the Tri-Cities two years ago and was at the air field Saturday lending a helping hand. "I feel that I owe something back to the community and I am active in the Bristol Chamber of Commerce that is involved in this so I guess I wanted to give something back," Snider said.
   Seeing the planes brought back old memories for the Senior Vice President of King College. Snider was a gliderman in the U.S. Army and is very interested in the new innovations in flight. "It was another way of getting behind enemy lines when we had the paratroopers and the gliders. Now they do not even have gliders anymore because helicopters have taken their place," Snider said. "Having been in the Army, even though this is the Navy, I am very interested in the air show."
   Apart from the action in the sky there was plenty to do on the ground. Aviation organizations had booths set up and equipment from all four armed forces was on display. Ground convoy units were available for the public to enter in order to gain a better understanding of the vehicles. Local police, fire and EMS officers also had displays and there was entertainment including rock climbing and flight simulators for children.
   Marines from an air station in Jacksonville, Fla., brought a fleet of helicopters to display at the air show that included two CH-53's, two 46's and a Cobra. The CH-53 Echo gained a lot of attention while on display. "It is the biggest that the U.S. has in its inventory. It is used mainly for troop transport and cargo hauling. It is 100 feet long, can carry up to 55 combat loaded troops and will travel at about 50 knots and go for about four hours without air refueling," Maj. Trey Meadows said.
   Maj. Meadows travels to several shows around the country. "Air shows are nice because we get treated well and it is different from what we normally do," he said.
   The Bristol, Johnson City, Kingsport, and Elizabethton Chambers of Commerce, together with the Tri-Cities Airport and the Air Show Network presented the 2002 Celebration of Freedom Tour. It is only the third time that all local Chambers of Commerce have been involved in planning an air show.
   The air show appealed to the public's renewed interest in the armed forces by reinforcing a national pride in the United States' military. "Because of what has been going on in the country, we expect to have a special impact this year," said David Wortman, a member of the Elizabethton Chamber of Commerce.