Air show draws big crowds over weekendBy Taylor Holland | 04/01/2012 11:10pm
More than 75,000 spectators flocked to Tuscaloosa Regional Airport Saturday and Sunday to watch the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and other aircraft perform in the city for the third time in the last four years.
Mayor Walt Maddox said it was very rare for a non-military community like Tuscaloosa to have the opportunity to host three shows in a four-year period. He said the feat speaks to the hospitality of the community, the work of city staff and the number of people who attend the air show.
“When [the pilots] look at these crowds, it gets them really pumped up about being in Tuscaloosa,” Maddox said. “They rarely see communities go the extra mile like Tuscaloosa does — and Northport — to make this a great air show.”
Besides the Blue Angels, performers included the U.S. Army Golden Knights, a parachute team, the Firebird Xtreme Aerobatic Team and the Alabama State Trooper Aviation Unit, among other aircrafts.
Blue Angel, C-130 pilot and Auburn graduate Capt. John Hecker of the United States Marine Corps said he was excited to be back in Alabama for the show.
“I’m so happy to be back here and to get to share what I do with everybody in Alabama,” Hecker said. “[Tuscaloosa] is a fantastic place to put on a show. It definitely rivals a lot of shows out there throughout the year.”
Prior to the air show, Hecker said the team had just finished three months of training on the West Coast, where they practiced six days a week and took multiple flights each day.
Despite the intensive training process, Hecker said he and the other pilots have an absolute blast doing what they do.
“We work our tails off, but we have a good time, and it’s fun,” Hecker said. “Every time we go to a new city — we do 35 cities a year, 70 different shows, we travel over 100,000 miles in our C-130 — and everywhere you go, you meet the best people. Americans are so proud of what all the [servicemen are] doing out there, and to see them come out there and show that pride is just amazing.
“We get to go out there and show them what the F-18 can do, what the C-130 can do, and they are just beaming. The fact that we get to meet them, shake their hand and share stories with them... It’s fantastic.”
For Katie Fraley, a senior majoring in secondary education, the show was her first.
“It made me realize that Tuscaloosa is an incredibly resilient town,” Fraley said. “I’m so proud that we are able to host a myriad of events and celebrations like the airshow months after such a disaster.”
Also in attendance at this year’s air show, themed “Honoring Our Heroes,” were a group of Tuskegee Airmen. Maddox said it was fitting to have the Airmen at the show and that it was another way for both the city and state to show the significant contributions they make to the country.
Maddox said the weekend was also a good opportunity to attract new businesses to the community.
“We have several clients that we’re looking at putting businesses here and industries here that we’re going to be entertaining over the course of the weekend, and using this as a selling point for the city of Tuscaloosa,” Maddox said Thursday when the Blue Angels arrived at Tuscaloosa Regional Airport.
Seven years ago, when Maddox was first running for office, he said his campaign talked about transforming Tuscaloosa from good to great. Last weekend’s air show, he said, further exemplified that.
“When you think about what we’ve done in the last seven years, we have one of the best amphitheaters in the United States, we have a vibrant downtown, an amazing riverfront, and we’re also hosting events like the triathlon and now one of the largest air shows in the country,” Maddox said. “The transformation of this city in the past few years is remarkable, and events like this continue to stamp our mark that we’re one of the best communities in the United States.”