Air show returns to Tri-Cities

By Megan R. Harrell

   Blue Angel # 8, an F/A-18 Hornet, landed at the Tri-Cities Regional Airport Friday afternoon. The plane is one of seven U.S. Navy Blue Angels that will perform in the 2002 Tri-Cities Air Show on April 13-14. The Angels have not performed in this region since 1991.
   Capt. Len Anderson and Lt. Marcello Cacercas made the trip to the Tri-Cities in the F/A-18. Cacercas is the Events Coordinator for the Blue Angels, and Anderson has been flying with the Angels for two months and will be the No. 7 pilot in April's air show. Anderson joined the Blue Angels after nine years of active service in the U.S. Marine Corps.
   "We have the best flight show out there as far as tactical maneuvers. I am as much a fan as I am a pilot," Anderson said.
   The Bristol, Johnson City, Kingsport and Elizabethton Chambers of Commerce, together with the Tri-Cities Airport and the Air Show Network, will present the 2002 Celebration of Freedom Tour. It is only the third time that all local Chambers of Commerce have been involved in planning the air shows.
   "The 2002 air show is a good chance for the Chambers of Commerce to show regional cooperation," said Darrell Rice Sr., chairman of the air show.
   The local Chambers of Commerce have applied for but have not been able to book a premier aerobatics act since 1996 when the Thunderbirds performed. "We must have a leading act like the Blue Angels to draw a crowd, so the event will pay for itself," said David Wortman, representative with the Elizabethton Chamber of Commerce.
   Previous shows have drawn audiences as large as 40,000 but even larger numbers are anticipated this spring. The air show is expected to appeal to the public's renewed interest in the armed forces. "Because of what has been going on in the country, we expect to have a special impact this year," Wortman said.
   The 2002 air show promises to be different from previous shows. It is the first time that the show has run for two days and stunt pilot, Jim LeRoy, will be performing in addition to the Blue Angels. LeRoy, a former Marine Corps sniper, is one of the nation's top aerobatics performers. "We are always looking to make the show bigger and better," Wortman said.
   Other activities appealing to the entire family will be available at the air show. The local Chambers of Commerce are still in the process of booking ground displays, but audiences can expect static displays and U.S Marine Corps and Air Force participation. The finalized acts list is not expected to be released until the end of January. The level of military involvement in the show is dependent on what is going on in the war effort.
   The Tri-Cities Airport has closed for previous air shows but will remain open during the 2002 show. The airport is in the process of working with commercial airlines to reschedule flights on April 13-14, but no flights will be canceled as a result of the show.
   Gates will be open to the public from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. both days of the show. Tickets will go on sale at the Bristol, Johnson City, Kingsport and Elizabethton Chambers of Commerce the first day of February. Tickets will cost $15 for adults and $10 for children ages 5-12. There will be a discounted rate for tickets bought in advance. Flightline reserved seating will be available for $25, and corporate packages are available.
   Due to increased security requirements no coolers or glass containers will be allowed inside the gates and all bags will be searched at the air show.
   Volunteers will be needed to help with bus transportation and clean-up duties. Help is also needed with concession, souvenir and food stands. Those interested in helping in any of these areas can contact your local Chamber of Commerce for more information.