Only lightning will scuttle the air show

A stunt plane flies past the crowd upside down during the practice run at the Marine Corp Air Station Friday afternoon.
A stunt plane flies past the crowd upside down during the practice run at the Marine Corp Air Station Friday afternoon.

Only lightning within five miles of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort will derail this weekend's air show, base officials say.

With a 40 to 50 percent chance of thunderstorms for the duration of the 2009 Beaufort Air Show today and Sunday at the air station, event organizers say they're keeping a close eye on weather forecasts.

"(Base operations), base weather and the show's announcers will be making a lot of those decisions on the fly," said Gunnery Sgt. Chad McMeen, air station spokesman. "We'll really be on the lookout for lightning. If there is dangerous lightning within five miles of here, then we'll try to start clearing the runway."

"But other than that, we're telling people to come on out," McMeen add. "Bring your chairs, your umbrellas, your rain gear and have a great time."The lightning is more of a concern for the spectators than the pilots, McMeen said. Wind is their nemesis.

The air station has set up a phone hotline to provide the most up-to-date information on the air show and will work with local media to let the public know aboutany changes to the air show's schedule. The show is expected to begin at noon today with aerobatic champion Skip Stewart. The Blue Angels are expected to perform at 3 p.m.

Prior to Skip Stewart taking to the skies above the air station, McMeen said pilots from two of MCAS Beaufort's F-18 Hornet squadrons will perform the missing man formation, an aerial salute in honor of Blue Angels pilot Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Davis. Davis was killed in a crash during the final moments of the squadron's 2007 performance in Beaufort.

"2007 was a tough year for the air show and we just want to start this year in a way that honors those who died and kind of start fresh this year," he said.

All eight of the air show's aerial performers practiced Friday under threatening skies, as organizers worked to finalize last-minute details.

Patty Wagstaff, a six-time member of the U.S. Aerobatic Team and the first woman to win the title of U.S. National Aerobatic champion, arrived at MCAS Beaufort on Thursday from St. Augustine, Fla., and said she's ready to put on a show.

"They have a really great group of performers this year," Wagstaff said after a brief run-through of her routine Friday. "I love the lineup. All of the performers this year are really aggressive. It's going to be really wild."

"I really like doing Marine Corps air shows because they just know how to get it done," she added. "They cut through all of the layers of bureaucracy, and they know how to put on a great show."