Organizers move ahead with fall’s Thunder Over the Blue Ridge

MARTINSBURG – Months after a deadly crash halted the Thunder Over the Blue Ridge Air Show, organizers say they’re making progress on staging another spectacular aerial event for autumn.

In the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 17 crash that killed a North Carolina-based stunt pilot, organizer Nic Diehl heard from Panhandle business sponsors and citizens alike who wanted to see Thunder go on.

Martinsburg will again host the Thunder Over the Blue Ridge Air Show in September.

This week brought the announcement that contracts have been signed with three aerial acts as well as with Larry Rutt to serve as air show announcer.

Bill Finagin, Jerry Wells and Charlie Schwenker will return to perform for the Sept. 15 and 16 air show and open house, which will unfold on the grounds of the 167th Airlift Wing at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport in Martinsburg.

Finagin will demonstrate the aerobatic capabilities of the Pitts S2C, a light, highly maneuverable aerobatic bi-plane designed for air show performances.

Wells will perform in both a Bucker Jungmeister, a 1930s German bi-plane known for its agility and originally used as a trainer for the Luftwaffe, and in an Extra 300, a German aerobatic monoplane.

Rutt served as announcer for the 2010 and 2011 Thunder shows.

Event organizers say they will continue to work with military and civilian aerial demonstration teams.

Shaun Perkowski, president of Thunder Over the Blue Ridge Inc., says he hopes to see more local companies partner with Thunder Over the Blue Ridge.

“Sponsors have the opportunity to maximize exposure of their product while helping build an exciting community event,” he said.

Proceeds from Thunder support local charities through the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle.

Anyone interested in sponsoring the 2012 Air Show can contact Perkowski (304-283-1038 or totbr2010@gmail.com) or Diehl (304-702-3700 or nicdiehl@yahoo.com).

The disaster that brought a premature end to last fall’s Thunder came after rain forced the delay of the event’s start by hours.

After the crash, organizers sent spectators home and called off the rest of the two-day air show.

The 2:35 p.m. crash killed John “Jack” Mangan, 54, who was flying a 1950s-era T-28 Warbird.

The crash and the following explosion left the crowd stunned and silent.

The audience watching when the crash happened was smaller than at the 2010 air show and open house, which over two days brought some 80,000 spectators to Martinsburg.

The day before the Panhandle crash, a pilot and eight others were killed during an air race in Reno, Nev. More than 60 people on the ground were sent to the hospital.

Mangan, of Cornelius, N.C., was killed following an acrobatic maneuver with the Trojan Horsemen flight demonstration team.

He was one of six pilots taking part in the team’s Salute to the Armed Forces, which has as its finale a “bomb burst,” a synchronized pyrotechnic display that creates a wall of fire.

Mangan, a Boston native, graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1979. After retiring from the Air Force, he owned a restaurant.

“We were fortunate that the safety measures put in place by the Federal Aviation Administration ensured the safety of those on the ground,” said Major Gen. James Hoyer, adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard.

As in the Nevada crash, the plane that crashed in Martinsburg was a restored propeller-driven military aircraft manufactured just after World War II.

Many who called for the event to continue after the crash point to the good that its proceeds do in the Panhandle.

Those who come to see Thunder are asked to make a $10 donation to the United Way as they pass through the gates onto the air base.

Before coming to Martinsburg, Diehl, a Beckley native served as the executive director of United Way of Southern West Virginia. He said the air show and open house is important to the community because it gives the region a chance to shine.

“As someone who’s from southern West Virginia, I know all about the negative stereotypes that get attached to our state,” Diehl said in September. “That’s one of the reasons the air show is such a good thing for our community.

“The air show is the perfect opportunity to showcase West Virginia – that’s what’s driven this from the beginning.”

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived on the scene early Sept. 18. The final report on the crash still hasn’t been released.

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