by Susan Mikula Campbell
Get ready to hear that rumble in the sky. The Thunder Over Niagara Air Show returns to the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station on Sept. 10 and 11 for the first time since 2007.
"It's going to be the biggest air show this region has ever seen," said Capt. Ben Canetti, show director and member of the 914th Airlift Wing.
Both days will start with a somber note. The show also will be the largest 9/11 10-year remembrance event in the country, Canetti said.
At about 11 a.m., events will begin with a remembrance procession, which will include the Marine Corps Band, a bagpipe band, the local Patriot Riders, first responders (firefighters, police, emergency personnel) and military veterans from the most recent conflict. At the ceremony's end, there will be a near supersonic pass by of a B-1 bomber.
Canetti said remembering 9/11 isn't the only purpose of the show.
"It's a huge thank you from the 914th and the 107th (airlift wings) to the Western New York community for the support they've given to the air base over the years."
The show is being held by the two airlift wings and the Niagara Military Affairs Council.
Many air show sponsors stepped forward this year to cover expenses and the cost of civilian acts, according to Merrell Lane, NIMAC chairman.
The base hasn't been able to have an air show in recent years due to deployments to the Middle East.
"We're excited to be back up and running again," said John Cooper, show chairman and NIMAC vice chairman.
Cooper said the 9/11 remembrance ceremony "will probably be a tear-jerker for a lot of people," but the show will go on to "celebrate the freedoms we have and those who protect those freedoms."
The aerial acts should begin about noon and will probably last until about 4 p.m. The 9/11 remembrance theme is attracting flying acts from all over the country.
Stars of the show will be the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, now in their 58th season of streaking through the sky.
"They're loud, they're fast and it's precision aerobatics," Canetti said.
"I'm proud to watch them knowing they're part of the U.S. military," Cooper added.
The team includes a female pilot, Capt. Kristin Hubbard, in Thunderbird 8.
Randy Ball of Fighterjets Inc. will bring his MiG-17 demo to Thunder Over Niagara. Until the introduction of the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the MiG-17 turned tighter than any other fighter plane in the world.
Other acts scheduled include professional strongman Mark Kirsch pulling one of the base's C-130s, the Red Bull Air Force (skydivers in plane-shaped wing suits), the Wounded Warrior Flight Team, Ken Pietsch's Jelly Belly barnstorming show and many more.
Pilot Rick Volker will fly in his Sukhoi SU-26M for his first appearance at a Niagara Falls air show. Volker is a Niagara Falls dentist.
Col. Steven Brodfuehrer, commander of the VMX-22 Osprey group at Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, N.C., since 2009, will be part of the show. Brodfuehrer is a 1986 graduate of North Tonawanda High School and his parents, Diane and Charles Brodfuehrer, are Wheatfield residents.
The Osprey is a tilt rotor aircraft that combines the vertical flight capability of a helicopter with the range and speed of an aircraft. Lane noted that the roots for the development of the Osprey came right here at the Bell Aerospace plant in the 1950s.
A list of performers is available on the air show website, but there will be several other surprise appearances, either in flybys or on the ground, Lane said.
Lane and Cooper have loved the air base since they were boys and used to sit at the end of the runway to watch the planes take off and land. They've been involved in the air shows since the 1990s.
The show gives those stationed at the base the opportunity to "show people what they do when they have their uniforms on," Lane said.
Show organizers advise getting to the base early, as huge crowds are expected both days. Gates to the Lockport Road base open at 9 a.m.
"It looks like with the crowds for the air show and the construction both on Lockport Road and Niagara Falls Boulevard, it will be a little congested, so people should be prepared for that," Lane said. "They'll have fun, though."
Canetti said local law enforcement is teaming up in a joint effort to direct traffic. Base parking is expected to fill up quickly. Off-base parking with shuttles available is planned at Inducon Drive, and other locations if needed. Watch for police directions.
Cooper emphasized that air show admission is still free to the public and parking is still free, too.
However, a VIP ticket is being sold this year to help pay for the air show. The tickets provide special parking and seating privileges. Of the 400 tickets available, more than half already have been sold, he said.
To find out more about the Thunder Over Niagara Air Show, including the new VIP tickets, find the schedule and to see photos and videos of the performers and the static displays, go to www.thunderoverniagara.com.