For the first time since 2013, the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels on Saturday roared aggressively through cloudy skies in front of tens of thousands of spectators at the Vectren Dayton Air Show.
Crowds cheered as the Blue Angels maneuvered through complex motions and rolled their aircraft 360 degrees. Marvin Napier of Huber Heights brought his two young children to the air show for the first time so they could see the magic of the Blue Angels flying flawlessly in formation.
“The rain is better than 95 degree heat where you’re sweating,” he said. “With the clouds, the planes fly lower so it’s a win-win.”
The 44th Vectren Dayton Air Show, one of the region’s largest events of the year, drew in heavy crowds despite overcast skies and some sporadic rain. The show kicked off at noon with a full schedule of performers, including the U.S. Air Force F-22A Raptor, TORA! TORA! TORA!, aerobatic pilot Vicky Benzing and Sean D. Tucker.
“We’re thrilled the weather broke and it’s been a beautiful day for an air show,” said Shiela Wallace, air show spokeswoman. Air show officials would not comment on crowd attendance until after the weekend is over, she said.
Military jet teams like the Thunderbirds and the Navy Blue Angels are the biggest draw for air show crowds and organizers bank on their appearance to bring in tens of thousands of people at the Dayton International Airport. They can draw up to 65,000 or more spectators when the military teams show off.
Crowds jumped to their feet to gawk and take pictures as the F-22A Raptor pulled into vertical maneuvers and flew backwards.
The Blue Angels are expected to fly more than 30 air shows in the 2018 season. The team flies six blue-and-yellow F/A-18 Hornet jets as close as 18 inches apart in aerial formations. The team has flown the Hornet jets for three decades, the longest of any aircraft in its 72-year history.
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Children plugged their ears with their fingers to block out the deafening rumble of the Blue Angels, while other spectators held up their phones to capture video evidence of the Navy squadron’s skills. “Thunder, feel the thunder,” played through the speakers as the formation ripped by the crowd.
Scott Buchanan, chairman of the United States Air and Trade Show Board of Trustees, said the air show takes about a year to plan. The show is a huge boost for the local economy, with thousands of people spending money at hotels, restaurants and local businesses. Buchanan said he doesn’t expect the weather to have a huge impact the number of spectators who come out this weekend.
“It’s really an opportunity to showcase what Dayton has brought to aviation,” he said.
Chris and Sandy Porter of Bloomington, Ind., arrived early to secure front-row seats at the air show. Sitting in a blue and white U.S.A. lawn chair, Sandy Porter said she and her husband made the drive Friday night to meet with her family members from Columbus.
“It’s more just about being together with family,” she said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
In 2017, an estimated 44,000 people attended the air show – down 30 percent from expectations, organizers reported. In 2016, the show drew about 51,000 people. Organizers blamed the low attendance at the 2017 air show on the cancellation of the Air Force Thunderbirds as the headline act, due to a crash, and record rainfall Friday that caused parking issues.