Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Airport open house flies high

Event termed a success, despite no-shows

Express Staff Writer

The most popular exhibit was definitely the B-17G. Viewers were encouraged to crawl throughout the inside of the plane, except for the cockpit. One spectator, Jerry Seiffert, maintains that this plane is a significant factor in American history. ?Approximately 12,000 of these planes were built and hardly any still exist,? he said. ?I was reminded while inside the B-17 of what an important role they played in the European air campaign to defeat Nazi Germany during World War II.? Photo by Willy Cook

Mechanical problems prevented several historic planes from being displayed at Friedman Memorial Airport's third Appreciation Day open house on Saturday, but that didn't dull the delight shown by the more than 3,000 people, young and old, who flocked to the airport to wander through a display of dozens of large and small, fast and slow, old and new aircraft.

Friedman Manager Rick Baird termed the day a "huge success," and said it provided visitors a better understanding of the airport. He said people were "overwhelmed" with the history of aviation represented in the displays¾from a small 1930s Piper J-3 Cub to a B-17 bomber to $40 million-plus corporate jets as well as helicopters.

Some disappointment marred the day for Melidee Wright, general manager of Sun Valley Aviation and the impresario of arranging for aircraft from afar to join the display. Mechanical problems, she said, caused cancellation of appearances by a World War II P-40 Warhawk of the type flown by the Flying Tigers in China, a World War II British-made Hawker Sea Fury fighter, a 1930s Beech Staggerwing personal aircraft and Micron Technology president Steve Appleton's Cold War-era British Hawker Hunter jet fighter.

A team of Boise parachutists also canceled because of their aircraft's mechanical problems.

Wright said F-18 Marine Hornet jet fighters scheduled to be on display were canceled because warm weather and Friedman's relatively short runway at high altitude would have made the jets' takeoffs risky.

"I don't want people to think we reneged on our show," Wright said. "You have no idea how disappointing for me the cancellations were."


However, milling crowds revealed nothing but delight and enthusiasm.

The hit of the show was the Commemorative Air Force's World War II B-17G Flying Fortress bomber, Sentimental Journey, owned and operated by the CAF Arizona Wing. Throughout Saturday, 50 or more people were always in line waiting to board the shimmering, polished aluminum bomber to see the combat environment of B-17 crews who made the lumbering four-engine aircraft the scourge of Nazi Europe with their daylight raids.

Forty-two spectators also shelled out $425 for a brief aerial sightseeing ride aboard Sentimental Journey. The plane departed Friedman on Monday after the event to join an air show near Driggs.

John Lane, a Jerome resident who has restored World War II combat aircraft, did double duty¾ he flew a Vietnam-era T-28 Trojan trainer/ground support plane to Friedman, then was driven back to Jerome County Airport, where he picked up a TBM torpedo bomber and flew it to the Driggs show.

According to Lisa Emerick, Friedman airport's contracts administrator, 109 people signed up for $10 sightseeing rides over the valley in private aircraft. But several dozen were in for a special treat rather than riding in prop-driven aircraft, they were surprised by being assigned for their $10 rides to a luxurious Citation Encore corporate jet owned by valley resident and Atlanta-based jet dealer Ed O'Gara. O'Gara's pilot said 10 of the sightseers told him they had never flown before.

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