200,000 flight fans expected for Wings Over Pittsburgh show
By Adam Brandolph
Published: Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011
Dave Laughrey will pump more than a million gallons of gas this weekend.
A tech sergeant at the 911th Airlift Wing in Moon, Laughrey of Bessemer in Lawrence County is responsible for refueling the dozens of jets, bombers and cargo planes appearing at the Wings Over Pittsburgh air show this weekend.
"Everything that flies — when it lands, we top them off and get them ready for the show," Laughrey said from an off-limits and highly secured area of the base. "It takes a lot of fuel."
While Laughrey is no longer fazed by the aeronautical gymnastics of the dozens of planes and helicopters that make their way to the show each year — he said it's "old hat" after 10 years — an estimated 200,000 people were expected to turn out over two days to get a close-up view of the nation's most advanced military equipment.
"We come every year," said Jon Smeat, 54, of Monessen. "The shows get better each time."
Thousands of people "ooohed" and "aaahed" when a B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber circled the sky. Many looked astonished when pilot Art Nalls hovered his Sea Harrier jet fighter about 100 feet off the ground, then backed it up moonwalk-style.
"It's like a helicopter, but he's in a plane," said a surprised Jenna Palty, 8, of Coraopolis. "Now he's going backwards!"
Organizers said the first day of the show was touch-and-go until the clouds over the base broke minutes before the official kickoff. A low cloud ceiling had threatened to cut short some aerial shows, but the sun came out shortly before the singing of the national anthem and a performance by the Sky Soldiers helicopter demonstration team.
"We didn't know what to expect as far as the weather. All week, it looked kind of patchy," said Sgt. Mark Winklosky, a spokesman for the 911th. "But it turned out to be a great day for the air show."
Tech Sgt. Brian Farmington of the 315th Airlift Wing in Charleston, S.C., said he always enjoys coming to Pittsburgh, regardless of the weather.
"No one's a bigger Steelers fan than me," said Farmington, who arrived Friday in a C-17 cargo plane from Virginia carrying support equipment for President Obama's visit to Shanksville on Sunday.
Ross Kline, 33, of Evans City said he enjoyed his first time at the show, which is celebrating its 10-year anniversary.
"I came because people told me how great it was," Kline said. "They never said it was going to be this much fun."
The doors to Wings Over Pittsburgh will open at 9 a.m. Sunday. Admission is free and open to the public. Those attending are asked to bring photo identification and be prepared for traffic delays.
The air show will become a biannual event after this weekend, with the next show scheduled in 2013, an organizer said on Friday.
The schedule change is due to the budget constraints and the amount of work required for troop deployments and operational requirements, said the show's director, Lt. Col. Chuck Sargent of the Air Force Reserve's 911th Airlift Wing.
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