Thousands of spectators in their lawn chairs squinted up at the sky and erupted into cheers when Canada’s Master Cpl. Brad Gaiger jumped out of a helicopter and displayed the American flag as he descended to a grassy landing area.
Despite recent rainy weather, an estimated 20,000 people showed up at Columbia Regional Airport on Saturday to watch the demonstration by Gaiger and the rest of The Canadian Forces Parachute Team — The Skyhawks — as well as the other avionic displays during the Salute to Veterans Memorial Weekend Air Show.
Gaiger was the fourth member of The Skyhawks to jump out of the helicopter. He said Columbia was an ideal place to visit and perform.
“The wind was a little high,” Gaiger said, “but it makes for a safer landing. Missouri is a great place to come; it’s a lot slower-paced than most places, and there’s not so much smog. So, we like it.”
U.S. Air Force Capt. Kerry Tidmore had similar feelings toward Columbia. He is the lead demo pilot and team chief of the East Coast T-6A Texan II Aerial Demonstration Team.
“We rated this show the best,” Tidmore said. “Our demo teams try to spread themselves out from the East to the West, and we voted this the best out of the 18 shows we did last year. When you fly during Memorial Weekend, it adds a degree of direct connection. We get to fly for the veterans, and we know that’s what the air show’s all about. It adds that patriotic element of when you know what your audience is, and it’s people that have served your country, just like we’re serving now.”
Veteran Ed Watson, who served in the Missouri National Guard in the 1970s, said the weather Saturday suited the air show nicely.
He said the scattered clouds made the planes easier to see.
“It’s always good to come and see the capabilities of our military and see where our tax dollars are going,” Watson said.
The air show began with a salute to the late Col. Travis Hoover, who died in January and was scheduled to be one of the honored guests at this year’s show. The Army Black Daggers parachute team performed after the salute, followed by Tidmore’s U.S. Air Force T-6A Texan II Demo Team as well as the U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet Demo Team and The Skyhawks.
After those demonstrations, a ceremony took place that honored special guests and included a reading of the names of the Missourians who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Next up was a demonstration by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbolt Team that filled the sky. At 1:30 p.m., with bagpipes playing in the background, a Heritage Flight featuring a P-38 Lightning “Porky II” and a U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt flew over the air show. It was named the Heritage Flight because of the 60-year difference between the aircraft. The show concluded with the U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcat Demo Team.
The planned mass jump by The Canadian Skyhawks and The Black Daggers was canceled due to high winds.
No parking was allowed at the airport because of recent rainfall. Shuttle buses were available from the Hearnes Center and the Jefferson City Airport for $2. Many visitors parked along the outer road that leads to the airport.
Today’s show will open at 10 a.m. rain or shine.
“With any outdoor event, you’re weather-dependent,” said Ken Hines, air show media spokesman.
Hines said there are always static displays — planes on the ground that can be viewed regardless of the weather.
“With all intent and purposes, we plan on having an air show,” Hines said.