The Navy’s Blue Angels will fly at the Vectren Dayton Air Show next year after the popular jet squadron and the Air Force Thunderbirds waved off flight acrobatics nationwide this year because of sequestration-forced spending cuts.
The addition of the Blue Angels to the lineup at the June 28-29, 2014 show was greeted with enthusiasm because organizers had been told the F-18 Hornet blue and yellow jets could be out of the air show season a second straight year.
“It’s like winning the lottery,” said Michael Emhoff, chairman of the United States Air and Trade Show board, which oversees the air show. “It really came out of nowhere. It was really kind of surprising.”
The Thunderbirds canceled an appearance last June at Dayton International Airport, a big reason show organizers blamed for a low turnout of about 23,000 spectators over two days, the lowest attendance in recent years.
Tragedy also struck when a fatal biplane crash claimed the lives of wing walker Jane Wicker and her pilot Charlie Schwenker, both of Virginia, at show center June 22 in front of thousands of spectators. The National Transportation Safety Administration expects to issue a report on the crash.
The Defense Department cut 45 percent, or $104 million out of a public outreach budget for fiscal year 2014, but kept enough money to fund jet and parachute teams demonstration teams, band and ceremonial unit appearances, port visits, and community outreach weeks, the Pentagon said.
The Dayton Air Show lost more than $150,000 with poor attendance and ticket sales this year, but that was less than the $200,000 the event had budgeted to lose, Emhoff said. Two or three more shows with poor attendance could put the air show at risk, he said.
A military jet team historically attracts as many as 80,000 spectators in a weekend with good weather, he said.
“Having military aircraft at a show in a place like Dayton, Ohio was really, really important,” said Tony Sculimbrene, executive director of the National Aviation Heritage Alliance in Dayton.
Leann McLaughlin, co-owner of Bunkers Sports Bar and Grill, 893 E. National Road, said the thin air show crowds could not helped but be noticed last June in nearby Vandalia.
“This year, you could tell the city was nothing like it was in previous years because of not having the big names (at the air show),” she said. “As a business owner, I’d appreciate it if they bring them back.”
Jacquelyn Powell, president and CEO of the Montgomery County Convention and Visitors Bureau, expected an uptick in business next season with the show’s announcement. “Typically, crowds will come from a little further away which is good news for our hotels and restaurants,” she said.
Sequestration forced the cancellation of 62 air shows nationally, said John Cudahy, president of the International Council of Air Shows, Inc. “That’s more than 20 percent and it’s unprecedented in the history of the air show industry,” he said. “It will be a change of $300 million or more for the country for having the jet teams back for the 2014 season.”
The Blue Angels’s $37 million budget will fund appearances at 34 locations and 65 scheduled shows, said Navy Lt. Katie Kelly, a team spokeswoman.
In an unusual move, each pilot will be back in the 2014 season. Typically, three naval aviators replace departing pilots at the end of a show season.
The last time the Blue Angels were out of commission for a show season was June 1950, when the pilots flew in a wartime squadron in the Korean War, she said. The Blue Angels resumed public demonstrations the next season.