Planes fly high as air show goes on

Sunday, May 25, 2008 | 6:35 p.m. CDT; updated 6:09 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Captain William "Billy" Mitchell waves to a crowd gathered around his F-18 Hornet after performing a series of aerial stunts at the Salute to Veterans Memorial Day Weekend Celebration at the Columbia Regional Airport on Sunday.

COLUMBIA — Korean War veteran Hal Dilger comes to Missouri every year around this time to visit his mother-in-law for Mother’s Day.

And every year, Dilger has missed the air show.


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This year, he wasn’t about to let anything stop him from seeing the 20th Annual Salute to Veterans air show.

“They won’t even rain me out today,” said Dilger, who worked on helicopters during the Korean War.

Dilger was one of an estimated crowd of 25,000 to 30,000 at Sunday’s event. Many spectators lined up to tour a CH-47 Chinook helicopter or meet NASA pilot Dick Ewers.

Wind and rain grounded many of Saturday’s events. Annette Sanders, spokeswoman for the air show, said high winds and a cloud level of under 300 feet prevented flight.

Sunday’s clear skies were good enough to allow flights of some World War I replicas, which are more sensitive to winds. Some were even able to fly twice.

Some of the events canceled on Saturday were offered Sunday as originally scheduled, including a canine demonstration, parachute accuracy tests and a ceremony that honored Missouri’s own fallen veterans since World War I. The air show also brought home some of Missouri’s living veterans. The event marked Lt. Brian Heater’s first time back in Columbia in eight years. Heater graduated from MU in 2000 with a degree in business.

Heater, a Navy pilot based in Lemoore, Calif., said he had managed to check out a few of his old haunts since returning Friday.

But Sunday, it was back to “work.” He flew an F/A-18F Super Hornet at the air show. It was the first time his younger brother, Brent, who lives in Kansas City, had seen him fly.

“For the longest time, I didn’t think he actually flew planes till I saw him,” Brent Heater said. “I was extremely proud.”

Maj. Gen. Byron Bagby was another honored guest with Missouri roots. Bagby is a native of Fulton and a Westminster College graduate.

“To come back to your home area, just nothing compares,” Bagby said.

The air show, whose theme was “20 Years of Celebrating the True Spirit of Memorial Day,” honored nine guests, including Bagby and astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

Aldrin does not have close ties to Missouri. At a news conference, Aldrin spoke about his flight on a B-25 Mitchell Bomber, air shows, and, of course, space travel. He said he had been to Jefferson City before and credited Raul and Vicki Walters with bringing him and his wife to Columbia. Aldrin was scheduled to take a tour of Columbia later in the day, something his wife Lois was ready for.

“I finally get to see the town where all my girlfriends went to Stephens,” Lois Aldrin said.

For most of the crowd, it was a fun way to mark Memorial Day.

Steve Christensen, a retired surveyor and postal worker who lives in Bevier, Mo., brought his two grandsons, Arthur, 9, and Shawn, 6. Christensen said he served in Germany during Vietnam but had never seen an air show.

“I like it all, I really do,” he said. “I enjoy every bit of it, and the kids have, too.”

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