Blue Angels to fly at air base's last show
US Navy team will soar above Maine
BRUNSWICK, Maine - The Navy's Blue Angels will roar overhead in a demonstration of jet-powered precision flying. Other nationally acclaimed stunt pilots will perform daring rolling and tumbling acrobatics, and a couple will engage in mock dogfights.
And way up in the sky - 12,500 feet up, to be exact - the Army's Golden Knights will hop out of an airplane, parachute downward, and try to land on a dot on the runway.
This weekend will mark the final Great State of Maine air show at Brunswick Naval Air Station before the base closes in 2011. Last year's performance was originally thought to be the last, but base organizers decided to give it another go.
They're pulling out all the stops for the last show.
Other performers include Patty Wagstaff, three-time national aerobatic champ, along with other pilots in high-performance and vintage aircraft. There will be a wing-walking act and a paragliding show by a paraplegic who refused to let the disability stop him.
"It's a great venue. It's a great show. It's great people. And I'm sorry to see it go. But they're going out with their heads held high, that's for sure," said air show announcer Rob Reider, of Cincinnati, who travels to dozens of air shows from coast to coast.
On air show weekends, Brunswick has about 100,000 people gathering on each day of the two-day event in good weather.
The Navy base's large tarmac creates plenty of space for spectators to get a close-up look at a variety of military and civilian airplanes and helicopters, more than 30 aircraft in all. Pilots like it because there is unrestricted air space overhead.
For Army Specialist Mike LaRoche, Brunswick will mark his fourth appearance at an air show as a member of the Golden Knights, the Army's parachute team.
Assuming the weather cooperates, he and eight others will leap out of an airplane at 12,500 feet and perform maneuvers in the air while plummeting downward at 120 miles per hour. Each member will have a smoke canister attached to help spectators follow the team's movements.
"It's amazing. In freefall, for me, it's the only thing that I can do [where] I'm totally unattached from anything. You're falling through the sky. There's nothing hanging onto you. For me it's a big refresher," said LaRoche, who is from Riverside, Iowa.
After deploying their chutes, the goal of each member is a perfect landing, aiming for the circle the size of a medium pizza at the center of an X on the runway.
Also performing will be Greg Shelton, whose act features wing walker Ashley Battles hanging onto his Super Stearman during maneuvers including loops, the "Cuban 8," and "hammerhead," in which he takes the biplane straight up until it slows to nearly a stop, then zooms straight down.
Afterward, people will mob Battles to seek her autograph. "The first thing people ask her is if she's crazy," said Shelton, of Oklahoma.
There's a rich history at the Brunswick base, which was created during World War II to train pilots.
After the war, the base was deactivated for a time before the Navy moved in. Since then, a variety of maritime patrol aircraft has operated from the base. In recent years, it has been home to P-3 Orion aircraft whose missions include hunting down enemy submarines.
The first air show featuring the Blue Angels, the Navy's flight demonstration team, coincided with a visit by President Kennedy in 1962. Kennedy met with the six pilots and maintenance crew before departing for an island where he was vacationing off the coast.
Since then, the Blue Angels have performed 16 times.
While it's a must-see for aviation buffs, the air show won't be welcomed by everyone. Critics include peace activists who note that the air show is a major recruiting tool for the military.
They are planning an overnight vigil outside the base, coinciding with an "Afterburner Blast" reception Friday. Flying begins Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m.