04/12/09 — Air show officials ready for weekend

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Air show officials ready for weekend

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on April 12, 2009 2:00 AM

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Visitors to the 2007 Wings Over Wayne air show look skyward next to one of the F-16s on the tarmac that year.

The Navy Blue Angels will soon rip through Wayne County skies -- and the Army Golden Knights will fall from them.

But local officials said Seymour Johnson Air Force Base's two-day open house and air show has the potential to be much more than a chance for fans of high-speed flight to get their fix.

Wings Over Wayne, they contend, will also provide an affordable weekend getaway for those coping with tough economic times -- and pump a much needed stimulus into local coffers.

Air show director Maj. Trent Tripple said the base is prepared to welcome as many as 150,000 people onto the installation between April 25 and 26.

"With the economic times we are having right now, there is no better thing someone in Wayne County or the state can do with their time that weekend," he said, adding that admission to the event is free. "Of course, if the checkbook is getting tight and you would like to do something to enjoy as a family ... you can't beat it."

Officials outside the base gate are anticipating a crowd, too -- one they say will pump money into Goldsboro and Wayne businesses.

Travel and Tourism director Betsy Rosemann said her office has already spent nearly $23,000 to advertise the air show on radio and television stations, Web sites and billboards.

But the money, she added, was well spent -- as the average tourist spends $20 a day and those who stay overnight nearly $130 a day -- a formula vetted in 2007 when an air show crowd of 100,000 translated into a more than $2 million boost to the local economy.

This year, though, with the two-day format, Wings Over Wayne could bring in much more.

Both the tourism office and the base are already receiving calls from those interested in finding accommodations for a weekend stay.

"From a tourism standpoint, Wings Over Wayne is always our biggest event throughout the year," Mrs. Rosemann said. "But now, with it being a two-day event, it's even more exciting."


It's not easy to pull off a two-day air show on a military installation.

Just ask Tripple, who said by the end of the month, thousands will have contributed to the success of the event.

"For us, we've done this a couple of times before, so there are not a lot of huge surprises," he said. "But having a two-day show, it's a big increase from what we have had in the past. We've always had Sunday to fall back on -- to recover."

Instead, the new format has base and other air show personnel "working feverishly" toward the finish line.

"We are in full throttle. The funny thing about an air show is that there is a lot of work that goes into it with very little payback until the actual show takes place," Tripple said. "Our payback is the day of, when we have all the folks from Wayne County and the surrounding areas on base ... to see the good work that the 4th Fighter Wing and 916th Air Refueling Wing are doing.

"I think we're ready for a big surge and we're hoping the weather cooperates," he said. "There are a lot of variables in play out there that we don't have any control over, but the things that we can control, obviously, we think we have a pretty good grip on."


The headliners will surely please those who turn out for the show, Tripple said.

But Wings Over Wayne is about more than the Blue Angels, Tora!Tora!Tora! and the Golden Knights -- even Seymour Johnson's own F-15E Demonstration Team.

It's also a chance for the "civilian sector" to look into the eyes of the men and women who have -- and will soon -- endure tours in Afghanistan and beyond.

"It's a duty weekend for us. All the personnel on base are going to be in uniform so they will be easily recognizable and we encourage people to interact with them," Tripple said. "We talk a lot about the air show portion of it but it really is an open house for us. It's a chance to let people see what we do on a daily basis.

"It will give a chance for the public to see something good about the Department of Defense. That's our main focus: to remain positive," he added. "There's a lot that goes on in the media and in the news that is not positive -- from the economic standing to the war on terror .. so this is our chance to say, 'Hey, this is what we're all about.' Hopefully, through that, we can uplift the community a little bit."