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Thundering Birds Return to Mugu

Aviation: The elite squadron, grounded by poor weather last year, headlines at the air show this weekend.

April 19, 2002|ANICA BUTLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Todd Canterbury remembers standing among a crowd of thousands at Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix when he was 15, his neck stretched back, eyes on the sky. There, he caught a glimpse of his future.

"I remember seeing the Thunderbirds and deciding that I wanted to join the Air Force," he recalled.

Nearly 10 years after joining the Air Force, Capt. Canterbury, who has flown combat missions over northern Iraq, is one of six pilots on the Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron. The team, better known as the Thunderbirds, is again the featured act at the Point Mugu Air Show, which begins at noon today and runs through Sunday afternoon.

This weekend will be Canterbury's third show with the famed stunt pilots.

"It's been great to see all the American flags waving at the shows," he said. "With our red, white and blue planes ... we want to instill a sense of pride and patriotism."

He describes his most exciting maneuver as a fly-by in which he and a teammate close in on each other from opposite directions, going 500 mph only 150 feet apart. During a performance, the F-16s will slip as low as 200 feet above the ground so the audience can get a clear view from their seats.

On Thursday, the team arrived at Point Mugu, barreling through the sky and leaving plumes of white smoke in its wake. After landing, crew members conducted synchronized safety checks and attached ladders to the planes. Every move is choreographed, including the pilots' descent from their F-16s.

The Thunderbirds were scheduled to perform at last year's air show but were grounded because of weather conditions.

But with clear skies and temperatures in the low 60s predicted for this weekend, organizers expect more than 300,000 people to turn out for the three-day show. The Thunderbirds are scheduled to perform at 3 p.m. each day. Besides the Thunderbirds, military flight demonstrations will include the F-14 Tomcat, the FA-18 Hornet, E-2 Hawkeye and the C-130E Hercules. Stunt demonstrations by civilian performers will be staged throughout the day.

There will also be displays of current and vintage aircraft as well as events for children, including a climbing wall and a flight simulator.

Canterbury and event organizers expect that there will be an increased sense of patriotism at this year's show and that crowds will be feeling extra supportive of the military after Sept. 11. In fact, the show's theme is "The Sights and Sounds of Freedom." But national pride won't be the only thing different. Spectators should anticipate increased security.

"We're asking people not to bring in backpacks, coolers, pets or skates," said Vance Vasquez, a public-affairs specialist at Naval Base Ventura County. "We will have three entrance points, where people will be screened."

Screening may include searches of purses and other bags, and visitors may be scanned by a metal detector. Military dogs will sniff bags coming into the show.

"We recommend carpooling and arriving early," Vasquez said.

Those who attend should use Las Posas Road to reach the base and enter at Gate 1 or Gate 3. Motorists will be directed to parking, which is free. Handicapped spaces and limited RV spots are available.

Canterbury has a message for any ambitious youngsters in the audience this weekend: "Set goals and work hard to achieve those goals," he said. "Just 15 years ago, I was standing out there too."

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Today's Lineup at Air Show

* Noon: Radio-controlled airplanes

* 1:30 p.m.: E-2C Hawkeye performance

* 1:45 p.m.: Naval Weapons Test Squadron, fly-bys

* 2:00 p.m.: John Nash, Edge 540 performance

* 2:40 p.m.: Sean Tucker, Challenger performance

* 3:00 p.m.: U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds

* 4:30 p.m.: Ian Groom, Sukoi SU-31 performance

* 4:55 p.m.: F-15 Eagle demonstration

* 5:15 p.m.: Channel Islands Air National Guard water drop

* 5:30 p.m.: Bill Cornick, Pitts S2-S performance

* 5:50 p.m.: FA-18C Hornet demonstration

* 6:10 p.m.: Tailhook Legacy Flight

* 6:20 p.m.: Mike O'Hearn, Bearcat performance

* 6:35 p.m.: Tim Weber, Extra 300 performance

* 6:50 p.m.: John Collver, AT-6 "Wardog" performance

* 7:25 p.m.: F-14 Tomcat, burner takeoff

* 7:30 p.m.: "America the Beautiful"

* 7:35 p.m.: F-14 Tomcat burner pass

* 7:45 p.m.: Eric Beard, Russian Thunder pyrotechnic performance

* 7:55 p.m.: Dan Buchanan, para-glider pyrotechnic performance

* 8:10 p.m.: Steve Stavrakakis, Wild Thing pyrotechnic performance

The schedule may be modified due to weather, safety or aircraft availability.

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