Budget Cuts Keep Military From Tacoma Air Show


Tacoma's Freedom Fair air show next week will fill the skies over Commencement Bay with aerobatic planes -- just not Raptors, Hornets and anything called Stealth.

Federal budget cuts resulting from sequestration and imposed by the Department of Defense have done what enemy forces only wish they could do: ground U.S. air power. The Defense Department has canceled military aircraft participation at air shows and other public events across the country and even at the recent Paris Air Show.

The Blue Angels, a staple at Seattle's Seafair, will be a no-show at the August event for the same reason.

"Nationwide, there's no military participation whatsoever (in air shows)," said Doug Fratoni, Freedom Fair's air show coordinator.

It hasn't been easy, but Fratoni was able to keep the show at the usual two hours by increasing the number of civilian acts.

Crowds at Thursday's Freedom Fair still might see a C-17 over Commencement Bay -- but only if one of the giant planes is making a final approach to McChord Field as they do on most days.

Usually, one of the Globemasters can be counted on to thrill Freedom Fair crowds with a low flyby along the Ruston Way waterfront.

But not this year.

Last year, crowds were enthralled by the aerobatics of the nation's most advanced jet fighter, the

F-22 Raptor. At one point, the stealth fighter joined up with a vintage P-51 Mustang for an intergenerational flyby. Thousands of cameras up and down the waterfront recorded the moment.

"We normally count on military participation to fill out the show -- almost up to half," Fratoni said. "We've had to hire more performers. It's put a real financial hurt on us."

Stunt performers have carefully choreographed and timed shows, usually 10 to 15 minutes long, and can't simply tack on extra minutes.

This year's show features new and returning acts.

--Will Allen, The Flying Tenor, will open the air show. He sings the national anthem while performing aerobatics in his biplane.

--Gregory "Wired" Colyer will fly the Ace Maker T-33 Shooting Star, one of the earliest jet trainers dating from the late 1940s.

--Vicky Benzing will fly her 1940 Stearman biplane, which first went into service as a World War II trainer. The big red plane has a slow roll rate, but Benzing's barnstorming maneuvers are a crowd pleaser.

--The father and son team of Bud and Ross Granley come from a large Canadian family of military and civilian pilots. Both Granleys now live in the Puget Sound area, and they will fly two aerobatic planes in a duo performance.

--Renny Price of Tualatin, Ore., will fly a Russian-made Sukhoi SU-29. The lightweight plane can perform a 360-degree roll every second.

--Dan Vance flies his P-51 Mustang, known as "Speedball Alice," in the Reno National Championship Air Races every year. In Tacoma, he will perform a warbird aerobatic routine.

--Tim Weber can pull 10 g's in his German-built Extra 300S. His routine consists of low-level aerobatics, gyroscopic tumbles and zero-airspeed maneuvers.

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