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Air Show Is Show Time for Thunderbirds Semifinalists


For many of the thousands who came to watch the 38th annual Point Mugu Air Show on Saturday, the three-day event was just a diversion.

For Air Force Capt. Todd Canterbury and 10 other Air Force pilots stationed across the country, the show, which ends today, is a defining event.

As semifinalists out of a pool of 70 applicants, their performances here could decide whether they make the final cut, joining the ranks of the U.S Air Force Demonstration Squad, better known as the Thunderbirds.

Although the Thunderbirds number 140, most are involved in support functions. There are only six slots for demonstration pilots. Only two slots are open this year.

Much to the crowd's dismay, fog and poor visibility canceled the Thunderbirds' performance for the second straight day, turning away many in the crowd that had been expected to reach 135,000.

Most other flight demonstrations also were canceled.

If the weather clears today, the Thunderbirds may finally take to the air. But National Weather Service forecasters are calling for morning fog and drizzle, with only partial clearing after 1 p.m.

Canterbury and the other semifinalists, however, weren't there to fly.

It's not their flying ability that's on the line. Those skills have already been tested.

For the Thunderbird hopefuls, who don't actually fly in the F-16s unless they make the squad, attending the air show was their chance to meet officers and enlisted members of the elite unit.

The smiles on the faces of Canterbury and other potential Thunderbirds masked anxious nerves.

"I was up very early and nervous," said Canterbury, 30, a flight instructor at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas. "This is a lifetime dream of mine."

The Thunderbirds are a recruiting tool. They're more than just pilots, according to Air Force officials. The pilots who make the grade also need to be role models as well as crowd pleasers.

"All of them are good at what they do," said Capt. DeDe Halfhill, a spokeswoman for the Thunderbirds. "But this is an opportunity to see how good they are at interacting with the public."

Canterbury got plenty of chances.

He met dozens of Thunderbirds fans. Nicholas Sands, 5, of Los Angeles, said he definitely wants to be a pilot. Although he was a bit confused about the difference between Thunderbirds and their Navy counterparts, the Blue Angels.

Since arriving Wednesday night, Canterbury and the other semifinalists have shadowed the Thunderbirds' every move.

They watched them park the F-16s and unload support equipment. They attended briefings. They hung around to watch maintenance checks of the expensive fighter jets.

They also rose early and exercised. By the time Canterbury got to Saturday's air show, he'd already spent a busy morning running and lifting weights.

Candidates also had their official job interviews during this trip. Canterbury sat with officers for half an hour one morning. He talked about his core values and why he wants to be a Thunderbird.

"I'd been coming to air shows since I was old enough to walk," he said. "They were role models. And their flying has got to be some of the most exciting flying in the world."


Times staff writer Holly J. Wolcott contributed to this report.


Point Mugu Air Show Schedule

Parking and open-air seating are free. Reserved box seats are $15 per person, and Flight Line Club tickets are $55 for adults and $25 for children ages 4-12. There are tickets available at the gate. Information: 989-8786.

From the Ventura Freeway northbound, exit at Las Posas Road. Turn west (left) on Las Posas to Point Mugu.

From the Ventura Freeway southbound, exit at Rice Road. Turn west (right) to Pacific Coast Highway south. Exit at Wood Road and follow signs to Point Mugu.



8 a.m. Gates open 8-9:30 a.m. Radio controlled airplane demonstration 10 a.m. Welcoming ceremonies Ghost Squadron Missing Man Formation Flag Presentation by Canadian Parachute Team National anthem by Kathy Kramer Invocation 10:20 a.m. AT-6 fly-by 10:35 a.m. F-15 Eagle demonstration (bomb blast) 10:55 a.m. John Collver's AT-6 Wardog 11:15 a.m. E2C Hawkeye demonstration 11:30 a.m. Lunch break Noon Naval Weapons Test Squad Point Mugu diamond formation 12:15 p.m. A-10A Thunderbolt II demonstration 12:35 p.m. Channel Islands Air National Guard C-130E water drop 12:45 p.m. Bearcat demonstration 1:05 p.m. Russian Thunder 1:25 p.m. Channel Island ANG pallet drop demonstration 1:40 p.m. Sean Tucker 2 p.m. Smirnoff MiGs 2:25 p.m. GeeBees 2:55 p.m. Dan Buchanan 3:05 p.m. FA-18 Hornet demonstration (bomb blast) 3:30 p.m. Wild Thing 3:50 p.m. Tailhook Legacy Flight 4 p.m. Thunderbirds ground ceremony 4:30 p.m. Thunderbirds takeoff and show


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