Crowds flock to MacDill AirFest after 2-year hiatus
St. Petersburg Times
TAMPA – Kate and James Camp left their Brandon home at 9 a.m.
Saturday to head out to the AirFest at MacDill Air Force Base.
They got there five hours later after inching along roads leading to
the base. Traffic was backed up for miles on Dale Mabry Highway,
MacDill Avenue, the Gandy Bridge and Leroy Selmon Crosstown
Some vehicles never made it through the base’s gates before they
closed at 3 p.m. Despite the traffic snarls, the Camps exhibited no
frustration as they stood on the tarmac waiting for the Blue Angels,
the U.S. Navy’s precision flying team, to take to the skies. They
were just glad to be there.
“There’s a surge of patriotism nowadays,” said Kate, a former
Marine. “I’m proud as heck.”
Dolores Brown, who with her husband, Gerald, was sporting the day’s
most popular fashion choices – T-shirts with American flags, and
red, white and blue ensembles – said she, too, was feeling
“People are really feeling appreciative of our servicemen,” said
Brown, who lives in Portsmouth, N.H., and spends her winters at
The day began with a moment of silence for the members of the armed
forces killed during the war on terrorism and those whose lives
remain in danger. One of the largest bursts of applause came when a
fighter jet taxied down the runway with its canopy open, the pilots
waving a large American flag.
Still, not everyone saw the day as a celebration of American
Donna Douglas, of Dunedin, sheepishly admitted she just likes the
planes and thinks it’s a fun thing to do with the kids.
The festival, which features displays and airborne demonstrations
that cover the history of military aviation, has been a popular
annual tradition since 1987.
Event organizers estimate that 200,000 people flocked to the base
Saturday, and even more are expected today.
The AirFest had been canceled for the past two years because of
safety concerns after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
This year, security was tighter than it had been in the past. People
going to the air show passed through a metal detector, guards
searched backpacks and purses, and there was an increased presence
of bomb-sniffing dogs, said Sgt. Chris Miller.
Once on the base, festival goers peeked into the bomb bay of a B-25
used during World War II to bomb Tokyo and cruised through the
cavernous fuselage of a cargo plane large enough to transport two
tanks. They shielded their eyes from the sun as they watched fighter
jets speed past the crowd and shoot up into the sky, and biplanes
leave spirals of smoke as they twisted through the air.
Robert Morgan, 85, an original crew member of the World War II
bomber Memphis Belle, signed copies of a book he wrote about the
plane, which was used to bomb Tokyo in 1942. He was at MacDill this
weekend for the first time since training there more than 60 years
Today’s planes, he said, are so computerized it makes flying a
completely different experience than it was when he was learning to
“You push buttons to fly most of them,” said Morgan, who lives in
Asheville, N.C. Back in the old days, he said, “You had to fly by
the seat of your pants, by feel.”
A steady stream of children climbed into a Black Hawk helicopter and
took aim with its machine gun while proud parents snapped
Ten-year-old Elwin Martin of Temple Terrace noted that the
helicopter looked much like one in his Grand Theft Auto video game.
“In the game it’s like this,” he said, holding his hands inches
apart and then stretching his arms as wide as possible. “In real
life, it’s this big.”
Ivan Feo, 52, of Safety Harbor, was waiting outside the gates of
MacDill at 7 a.m., and just after 8, when the gates opened, he
staked out a spot near the Blue Angels planes for friends and family
who would arrive later.
He’s been attending the MacDill AirFest since 1989, he said, and was
particularly excited about Saturday in light of the show’s two-year
“I’ve been waiting for it. I called the base and asked for posters
to hang them up around work so I could get people to come,” he said.
He sees the reinstitution of the AirFest as a sign that the United
States has the war on terrorism under control.
“We’re standing up,” he said. “We’re not afraid.”