01/10/08 — SJAFB air show grounded for 2008

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SJAFB air show grounded for 2008

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on January 10, 2008 2:21 PM

It started as an open house, an opportunity for Wayne County residents to take an up-close look at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base -- the facilities, airmen and aircraft housed there.

But when air show "headliners" like the Navy Blue Angels and Air Force Thunderbirds began signing on to entertain the crowds, the annual event turned into something more.

There will be no Wings Over Wayne this year, in large part because of the success of the last two, base officials said.

So the handshakes, "thank-yous," "oohs" and "ahhs" will just have to wait until 2009.

But officials on and off Seymour Johnson see the news as a positive, something they say will ensure better acts, more visitors and higher profits when the show returns the following spring.

4th Fighter Wing Maj. Trent Tripple said the decision was also based on a desire to expand the show -- replacing the 10-hour event with a two-day celebration of the United States military.

And that, he said, is something everyone should smile about.

"We felt that a two-day show would bring a lot more people in from the surrounding areas," Tripple said. "As a result, recruitment numbers might go up and more people are coming through the community. But to do that, we're going to need a little more time."

It was not even a year ago when members of the Navy Blue Angels, Tora!Tora!Tora! and the F-15E Strike Eagle Demonstration Team took to the skies over the Seymour Johnson tarmac with local stunt pilots, a Coast Guard helicopter and the U.S. Army Golden Knights.

Tripple said more than 100,000 people graced the flight line that day.

"It's a growing thing," he said. "Our last show was the biggest show we've put on. That momentum has pushed (the show) to a magnitude that we need to spend some time on."

Officials outside the gate are excited about the prospect of an increase in tourism associated with a two-day event.

After all, the 2007 show brought more than $2 million to city and county coffers, they said.

Travel and Tourism director Betsy Roseman said the success of the previous two air shows made a significant impact on the local economy, as those who attended stopped for gas, food and shopping on their way in and out of town.

"We were so fortunate," she said.

So she does not see a year without Wings Over Wayne as a "major problem," but rather, as an opportunity.

Tripple agrees.

"If we do it right and put some time into it now, it allows us to put on the type of event this community deserves," he said. "A class act."

Plans are already in the making for a May 2009 show, one Tripple said will likely feature "headliners" of the same caliber as the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels.

And while both of those acts will likely be pursued, so, too, will the Air Force's F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team, a B-2 flyby and the Army's Sky Soldiers, a Vietnam-era act, Tripple said.

"All of those are big players," he said. "We're looking forward to seeing what we can get lined up."

But it is not just about the acts.

Taking a year off has other advantages, too, the major said.

"It gives us a chance to recover from the two (shows) that were pretty much back-to-back," Tripple said. "That's a huge manpower input from us."

And with hundreds of Seymour Johnson airmen currently deployed in support of the Global War on Terror, better planning should help offset their absence and offer those setting up and executing the event better odds to "put the time and energy into a show we think would benefit the Air Force and local community."

More information on Wings Over Wayne 2009 will be made available as plans continue to flesh out, Tripple said.

But Mrs. Roseman said those who still want to catch a glimpse of their hometown heroes and the Strike Eagles as they fly this year still have options.

In fact, the Chamber of Commerce just began offering free tours of Seymour Johnson a few months ago.

Those who wish to sign up for a tour are asked to call the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce at 734-2241.