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MARTINSBURG – The 2011 Thunder Over the Blue Ridge airshow and open house will feature what organizers are calling a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to see the United States Air Force’s F-22 Raptor, a new fighter aircraft that features plenty of power and speed.
Although the F-22 won’t be performing, airshow visitors will have the opportunity to see it up close and learn more about its capabilities from the pilots who fly it.
“Last year we brought you the Thunderbirds and this year we’re going to bring you variety and fire. It’s going to be a different show with a very exciting lineup,” Col. Brian Truman said at the July 1 afternoon press conference, where he and others discussed the free two-day event that is co-sponsored by the 167th Airlift Wing, United Way of the Eastern Panhandle and Eastern Regional Airport Authority.
Truman, who is vice commander of the 167th Airlift Wing and president of Thunder Over the Blue Ridge Inc., said a variety of military and civilian aerial acts will be part of this year’s lineup.
One new addition will be the U.S. Navy’s Trojan Horseman, a T-28 warbird aerobatic formation demonstration team, which is slated to fly six vintage World War II aircrafts, he said. The team is slated to perform its choreographed “Salute to the Armed Forces” to patriotic music.
Also appearing will be the Black Daggers, the official U.S. Army Special Operations command parachute demonstration team, as well as the Viper East F-16 Demonstration Team, Truman said.
“This is a rare opportunity to see the world’s most sophisticated fighter aircraft up close and personal right in our own backyard. It’ something people won’t want to miss,” Mueller said.
He said this stealth aircraft is assigned to the Air Combat Command’s 1st Fighter Wing based at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.
It has the capacity to cruise at supersonic airspeeds splintering the sound barrier and “boasts being capable of simultaneously conducting air-to-air and air-to-ground combat missions with near impunity,” according to a news release announcing the F-22‘s local appearance.
At some point a jet-powered truck will also “roar down the runway,” Truman said. “And we’re definitely going to blow things up with pyrotecnics. … I can guarantee you it’s going to be exciting.”
Last year’s airshow drew an estimated crowd of about 85,000 over the Labor Day weekend. The event will be held Sept. 17-18 this year when it returns to the Eastern Regional Airport. It will be open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days.
A children’s village will again be featured in one of the base’s 80,000-square-foot hangers and will offer lots of “unique hands-on activities” courtesy of NASA and others, said Sr. Master Sgt. Todd Kirkwood, who is organizing it.
Organization Vice President Nic Diehl agreed this year’s program has some real crowd-pleasers.
“Most of the acts are new. … And we have a better civilian lineup than we’ve ever had before,” Diehl said.
Donations collected at the 2010 show generated more than $100,000 from visitors, and that money was given to the United Way. Admission is free, but a $10 donation benefiting the United Way is encouraged.
United Way officials stressed the importance of funding generated by the airshow and how it helps support their work within the community.
President Tom Jones said the partnerships that made it possible were “over the top” last year. It was a cooperative effort that included 24 volunteer vendors at the show – most of them United Way agencies, he added.
“It’s a community effort and we’re happy to be part of it,” Jones said.
Wing Commander Col. Roger Nye said the community is a driving force behind this show.
“It is a great opportunity for the families to come out here. We’re talking about community. We don’t do this because we are trying to show off anything about ourselves. It’s about giving the community an opportunity to come and see what the men and women in uniform, who live and work right here, do for this nation and give them a chance to enjoy it,” Nye said. “We’re also very proud of how much money was raised last year and being able to give back to the United Way.”
United Way Executive Director Jan Callen said the $100,000 was distributed in a number of ways, including helping fund The Journal’s Warm the Children program, which offers clothing to area children; and the Warming Hands and Hearts program, which offers heating assistance to those in need.
Callen said the $100,000 generated by last year’s airshow was an important part of the approximately $300,000 allocated to about 30 agencies this week.
“The money from the airshow is almost one-third of what the board had the discretion to give out, and that’s a big deal to us,” Callen said.