More than 15,000 turn out for Thunder in the Valley Air Show

benw@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 15, 2014 

With a huge American flag strapped to his side and red smoke marking his path, an Airborne soldier from Fort Benning landed on the main runway at Columbus Airport Saturday to kick off the annual Thunder in the Valley Air Show.

“This shows people that there are still people worried about their freedom, their rights and what makes this country great,” said Jim Flavin, who came with son Aidan and three other members of Boy Scout Troop 21 from LaGrange, Ga.

Flavin arrived before the gates opened for the show that attracted 15,000 to 20,000 people. The event which ends Sunday features 19 planes in the air show and another 25-30 on display, said Robert Kemp, a volunteer and spokesman for the event. Aircraft included several pre-World War II Stearmans, a Douglas AC-47 gunship, U-10 Warbird, a jet-powered school bus and other equipment.

Kemp said the show didn’t have any of the modern military jets but the organizers brought in private jets instead.

“This year we knew we weren’t going to have them so we brought in privately owned jet that will be performing,” Kemp said. “We’ve got three different ones. People like to see speed and hear sound.”

Compared with the show last year, Kemp said, “I think we are definitely ahead.”

Flavin said the trip to the air show gives the Boy Scouts a chance to learn about supporting their country and being self sufficient.

“We’ve got people fighting for us right now and and they are out protecting us,” Flavin said. “I think these boys do appreciate it and they understand it. They are out here to have a little fun and see stuff they have never seen before.”

John E. Laughter, a 70-year-old Stearman pilot, said he’s been coming to the air show for about 10 years. He said his bright yellow aircraft was built between 1938 and 1945. It was used to train pilots during World War II.

In the middle of the air show, Laughter joins six other pilots to fly in a formation. “I love it,” said Laughter of Atlanta. “Formation flying gives us something to do with the airplane instead of just flying around. Of course, it does acrobatics and stuff. As a training airplane it had to do all that.”

Laughter has been flying since he left the Navy where he flew the Crusader, the F-4 Phantom and F-8. The Stearman is not as fast as those jets he piloted. The Stearman has a 220 horsepower engine and cruises at about 100 mph, he said.

Proceeds from the event go to support youth charities.

Although there is some rain in the forecast, the air show continues from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Sunday. There is free parking on University Avenue at Columbus State University. A free shuttle bus will take visitors from the parking lot to the air show.

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