Depsite Thunderbirds cancellation, Dayton Air Show thrills crowd

Spectators came out for the 2017 Vectren Dayton Air Show on Sunday, despite a performance schedule cut short after the cancellation of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds act.

While the Thunderbirds did not fly Sunday, the 2017 show featured 10 other performances, air show organizers said — drawing large crowds under cloudless, blue skies on both Saturday and Sunday.

Plans for a jam-packed schedule, highlighted by several military acts, took a turn when a two-seat F-16 Thunderbird jet overturned at the airport after landing Friday. The mishap trapped the pilot and passenger until they were freed by first responders hours later. Both were hospitalized and reported in good condition. One team member has been released.

» RELATED: Thunderbirds will not perform Sunday at Vectren Dayton Air Show

The top attractions instead included a U.S. Air Force F-35 Heritage Flight and U.S. Navy F-18 Super Hornet demonstration along with Sean Tucker, Misty Blues All Woman Skydiving Team, GEICO Skytypers, Redline Airshows, Rob Holland Ultimate Air Shows, Suzuki Aerosports and a commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the famous Doolittle Raid.

Thunderbirds Capt. Erik Gonsalves remains in Miami Valley Hospital after he was extricated from an F-16 that overturned on the runway Friday at the Dayton International Airport. Gonsalves Tweeted Saturday a picture of himself in the hospital bed stating, “Thanks for all the love and support. I’m doing okay. More to follow, I’m thankful for all our friendships.”

Dayton Aviation Director Terrence Slaybaugh said while he was disappointed by the Thunderbird’s absence, the top priority of the airport was ensuring the safety of the crowds and the performers.

» RELATED: Former F-16 pilot says wind likely factor in flip over

Slaybaugh said the mishap was a “best-case scenario,” with a quick response from emergency teams and no fatalities. The airport will work “arm in arm” with the military during its investigation into the accident. The Thunderbirds remained grounded for the entirety of the air show, aggravating some spectators.

Carol Shaw drove nearly three hours from her home in Coshocton, north of Zanesville, to watch the Vectren Dayton Air Show on Sunday. She said she was shocked to hear about the cancellation of the Thunderbirds performance, but would’ve come to the show regardless.

“I have to say I’m a little disappointed, but we’ve been coming here probably 20 years,” she said. “We like it better than the Cleveland air show.”

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Chris Bruening, a Beavercreek resident, sat in a lawn chair and awaited the start of the performances. He attended the air show throughout childhood, and said he was particularly interested in seeing the pilots of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter take to the sky.

“The crowd does seem smaller this year,” he said.

Tens of thousands typically show up for the air show each year, however attendance records won’t be released until today. In 2016, an estimated 51,000 vistors came to watch aerial performances at the Dayton airport, and officials said attendance was impacted by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels cancellation. The Blue Angels did not perform last year after a fatal crash in Tennessee.

Bill Mangas, medical operations manager for the air show, said his team saw fewer medical emergencies this year compared to 2016. On Saturday, the team treated 17 patients and sent one to a local hospital. On Sunday, the team treated an estimated 36 patients by 3 p.m., and sent three of them to local hospitals. Mangas attributed the decline in medical emergencies to cooler temperatures.

“The breeze was definitely a life-saver,” he said.

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Highlights of the show included daring acts by the F-18 Super Hornet and the Redline aerobatic flight duo. Sean D. Tucker, who thrilled the crowd with his tight maneuvers and excessive speed, pulled G-force after G-force and talked through the speakers to the air show crowd.

This could very well be one of Tucker’s last solo appearances at the Dayton Air Show. Tucker, who flies the single-seat, 400-horsepower Oracle Challenger III biplane, said he will retire from solo flying after the 2018 air show season. He hopes to find a sponsor to launch a formation flying team as his next chapter in aviation takes center stage.

“I love Dayton, and I love sky dancing,” he shouted from the cockpit of his spinning aircraft.

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