Air show needs lift with funds

VIENNA – The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds will be joined by a wingwalker, a glider act and a ground-air race involving an inverted aircraft and a motorcycle, among many other acts planned for this spring’s Thunder over the Valley air show here, planners outlined Monday.

But without about $200,000 in private funding, the Valley won’t be thundering come May 17 and 18.

In addition to the U.S. Air Force elite demonstration squadron, the Thunderbirds, so far 11 civilian acts have been booked. The two-day event is expected to draw some 50,000 visitors a day to the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport and U.S. Air Reserve Station in Vienna, Major Jay Ference of the 910th Airlift Wing told members of the Western Reserve Port Authority Monday.

Details are still being hammered out, but initial plans expect the show to run from about noon to about 5 p.m. with the Thunderbird performance as the finale each day. Saturday’s show will be repeated on Sunday. The Thunderbirds, known for their demonstration of modern airpower in the F-16 Fighting Falcon, will perform about an hour each day, showing off more than 40 awe-inspiring maneuvers including formation flights and solo routines. They are expected to practice at the air base Thursday and Friday.

The show involving the Thunderbirds will be one of only 16 in the world this year approved by the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Air Reserve Station Commander Col. James Dignan said.

But while plans are moving along swiftly, representatives of the airbase and the Base Community Council, were stressing the need to find financial support to make the show a reality.

“They thought it was important that the Mahoning Valley get representation, and we get a team like the Thunderbirds here,” Dignan said. “But there was only one caveat. They said, ‘We want you to put on a world-class air show, but you have to do it with a lot less money.’ “

The local Air Reserve Station will spend about a third what the base spent to stage a similar show in 2009. That two-day show brought in about 70,000 visitors. Now the base is looking for help from the airport and community partners to help fund the show.

“We can’t do the show without the funds,” said Holly Baker, a member of the Base Community Council, a community organization comprised of about 100 members that assists the local airbase in fundraising and other support. She said more than $200,000 is needed to make the event a reality.

Varying levels of sponsorships have been created in which sponsors will be rewarded with flights on World War II-era air show planes like a B-17 and B-25, the day before the show begins.

In addition, a “local hero” flight will be awarded to a member of the community, and some members of the media will be permitted to fly with the Thunderbirds on Friday. The Thunderbirds also are expected to visit local schools and hospitals in the days leading up to the shows.

The military-civilian committee working together to plan the show is ironing out details like parking and traffic. Bids will be taken to fill openings for about six to eight local concessionaires.

Efforts to coordinate the air space with regularly scheduled commercial flights by Allegiant Air also are being worked out, planners said.

Details and sponsorship information will be available at