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Fuel Prices Won't Ground Air Show

April 29, 2006|Cynthia H. Cho | Times Staff Writer

The soaring cost of jet fuel won't keep the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds from tearing up the sky at this weekend's air show at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, but the price was high enough to ground a couple other aerial acts.

A flyover by a Russian MiG fighter jet was scuttled, and at least one other flight suffered the same fate, because of the steep increase in fuel prices, but base officials said it could have been much worse.

Months ago, when planning for the air show began, some base officials wondered if this year's "Thunder Over the Empire" event would survive.

"Trust me, gas was a concern," base spokesman Maj. Don Traud said. "With the increase, we had to look at maybe taking out some acts or making other changes."

Traud said spectators probably won't notice the small cutback since there is an aerial act scheduled to take off every 20 minutes today and Sunday. More than 300,000 people are expected to attend the air show.

"It's a relief that it all came together," Traud said.

On Friday, military and law enforcement personnel and their families, and people with disabilities, were invited to the base to watch a practice run of the air show, which will include everything from F-117 Stealth fighter jets to a World War II-era B-25.

California Highway Patrol Lt. Cmdr. Todd Sturges, 42, brought his 7-year-old son, Dane.

"I stole him out of school today," Sturges said with a laugh. "When I was about my son's age, my father brought me to an air show. It had such an impact on me. I was awestruck."

Covering his ears and looking up at the sky at an F-15 flying by, Dane shouted, "It made the ground shake!"

"I like them and they go really fast," Dane said a few minutes later. "But I don't like the noise."

Thirteen-year-old Robert Jugas agreed. "It's loud," he said. "It's really loud."

Robert, whose father works for the Air Force, came to the air show with his mom, grandparents and two siblings. They came early in the morning and set up folding chairs closest to the barricade to get the best view of the planes.

"Mainly we came to see the Thunderbirds. They're amazing," Robert said.

As much as the kids look forward to the Air Force's premiere flying team, the pilots of those red-white-and-blue F-16s look forward to meeting the kids. After each show, the pilots sign autographs and shake hands with eager youngsters.

"Seeing smiles on the kids, that's the most exciting part of the job," said Maj. Scottie Zamzow, 34, who is in his third season with the Thunderbirds. He flies the No. 2 jet as left wing in the diamond formation -- where four planes, traveling up to 500 mph, are only 18 inches apart at times.

Many of those on the base Friday were young kids, like Robert, eager and curious to see, hear and touch the planes.

Over the weekend, visitors will be able to climb aboard many of the 20 or so planes that will be on display.

For more information, visit the air show's website at

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