Parachuters, World War II planes highlight air show's second day

Sunday, May 29, 2011 | 8:30 p.m. CDT; updated 10:35 a.m. CDT, Monday, May 30, 2011

COLUMBIA — Five parachuters engaged in a 120 mph free fall during the final act of the Salute to Veterans Corporation Airshow on Sunday afternoon.

The 101st Airborne Division Screaming Eagles parachute team made its jump despite weather problems that canceled yesterday's act and delayed Sunday's performance. 

The parachuters adjusted and jumped from 6,000 feet rather than the 12,500 feet originally planned, so their free fall was limited to about 20 seconds, Screaming Eagles parachuter Jerad Gough said.

The Canadian Forces Parachute Team, the SkyHawks, also jumped and performed acrobatic tricks as the crowd looked on with excitement.

Children rushed to shake hands with the parachuters and to ask them questions.

“If you’ve ever stuck your hand out the window going down the interstate, it feels a lot like that but about twice as fast," Gough said.

Kevin Presgraves, a parachuter on the Screaming Eagles team and a military policeman by training, said parachuting isn't something you can muscle your way through, so being relaxed and able to finesse the wind makes a difference.

Jumpers must take into consideration wind speed and direction, clouds and obstacles near the landing zone such as people and fences. The Screaming Eagles have dealt with all three this weekend and will make the jump again Monday morning for the Salute to Veterans Parade, weather permitting.

The Screaming Eagles team that jumped in Columbia is made up of a military policeman, an infantryman, a parachute rigger, a petroleum supply specialist and the newest team member, a cook.

Nine-year-old Nathan Lantermant of St. Charles came to the show with his dad and sister. He was sure to get close so he could shake several of the parachuters' hands. Nathan said they were his favorite part of the air show.

Nathan’s dad, Bryan Lantermant, said they like coming to the Memorial Day air show every year because it has a "nice flavor" and because there are so many different aircraft to see. Because the show focuses on veterans, it’s a family-oriented event, he said.

One of those aircraft was a B-25J Mitchell Bomber, restored from a silver paint job and missing guns back to its glory in the colors of the 345th Bomb Group based in New Guinea during World War II, said its pilot, Pat Kesler.

The plane was built in Kansas City and rolled off the production line in December 1944, Kesler said. He said the bomber never made it to the South Pacific theater because in March 1945, U.S. armed forces stopped shipping B-25s to the South Pacific in anticipation of bombing Japan that August.

The 345th Bomb Group was known as the Air Apaches, and the same patch that World War II veterans wear on their hats today is emblazoned on the back of the plane.

“Every now and then you’ll have a guy come up with a 345th Bomb Group hat that flew in the 345th Bomb Group,” Kesler said. “If they ever show up we like to get them up into the cockpit. And that’s what makes it all worth it, when you find a veteran that flew in this group’s airplane.”

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