Organizers hope air show will attract big crowds

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By The Staff

Organizers of an air show at the Lancaster County Airport/McWhirter Field hope the event will draw people from all over the region.

The 2008 Palmetto Thunder Air Show, slated for May 17 and 18, will feature action from jets, helicopters and World War II-era bombers.

See Lancaster Executive Director Frank Keel, one of the event's local organizers, hopes for $120,000 in ticket sales and 10,000 people each day.

"It's going to be big," Keel said. "Hopefully, we'll attract local folks and those from the Charlotte and Rock Hill area."

See Lancaster, Comporium Communications, Founders Federal Credit Union and Lancaster Aviation are primary sponsors. Donations have been received from private and public groups.

"This has definitely been a community effort," Keel said. "We started talking about this a year or so ago, but it really got serious in October."

This year's event is expected to have a $400,000 economic impact locally, between hotels, gasoline and restaurants.

"I hope to make this a yearly thing. That depends on how well it does this year," Keel said.

A jet-powered school bus?

David Schultz, owner of David Schultz Air Shows, said crowds are in for a treat.

FA-18s, C-17s, Warthogs, Corsairs and Cobra helicopters will blaze through the air. The Canadian military parachuting team, the CANFORCE Skyhawks, will show case their parachuting skills.

Some of the best in civilian aerobatics will be there, including Tim Weber, Goody Thomas and Mike Wiskus, Schultz said. The Red Eagle Air Sports team will also showcase its aerobatic maneuvers. There will be something in the air almost non-stop, Schultz said.

"Our goal is pure entertainment value. There's so many things a family can be doing on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon," he said. "We want to give families, kids and adults the opportunity to be constantly entertained."

The military presence, whether through aircraft or personnel, will give the armed forces "positive exposure," Schultz said, since it will be Military Appreciation Weekend.

Vietnam and Desert Storm helicopters will simulate an attack on the airport with pyrotechnics. If that's not enough, a jet-powered school bus will race a jet on the runway, with the jet given a head start.

The bus can travel 300 mph.

Schultz, who has been doing air shows for 14 years, said the public will have ample opportunity to interact with pilots and ask questions.

How the idea was launched

Keel said Gary Laubscher, owner of Lancaster Aviation, first approached him and asked for help in organizing an air show.

Laubscher, a former Navy pilot, now runs businesses in Lancaster and Rock Hill that offer flying classes, plane maintenance and fuel sales. He said the event will be great exposure for his business, hopefully generating fuel sales and more flight instruction students.

"I get the privilege of having 20,000 people come to my business," Laubscher said.

Keel talked about the show's itinerary with County Council on Monday. Council Chairman Rudy Carter said the show will not only be fun for residents, but show the county's potential to draw other major events and attractions.

"This is not just a little show," Carter said. "This is a showcase of Lancaster County."

Praying for good weather

Comporium Communications is handling the regional marketing blitz, which consists of heavy print, outdoor and television advertising. There are now 12 billboards throughout the Charlotte region advertising the air show.

If there's bad weather, there won't be a rain date, but there will be insurance for ticket sales.

"Let's just pray for good weather," Keel said.

See Lancaster has helped raise $65,000 to bring the acts here and hopes to raise at least $120,000 in ticket sales to finish paying them. The city of Lancaster and Lancaster County have each donated $15,000 to the event.

Parking will be available at the former Springs Global customer service center and the Grace plant on S.C. 9. Additional parking will be available at the Lancers Center on the S.C. 9 Bypass, with free shuttling offered by Lancaster Tours.

At the site, no coolers will be allowed and there will be a designated area for smoking. No alcohol will be allowed. Food and drink will be for sale, including, barbecue, funnel cakes, hamburgers, hot dogs, ice cream, Italian sausage, turkey and chicken legs.

No seating is provided, so attendees should bring blankets or chairs, Keel said.

Ticket prices are $15 for adults, $10 for children ages 3 to 12 and $10 for active and reserve military personnel with military identification. Tickets may be bought at the airport gate on the days of the show or in advance at See Lancaster, 201 W. Gay St., or at Lancaster Aviation at the airport.

Contact reporter Johnathan Ryan at jryan@thelancasternews.com or (803) 416-8416