Days of thunder

Sunday, July 13, 2003

It may be hard to capture lightning in a bottle.

But thunder in an airplane ... now that can be done.

The Cape Girardeau Regional Air Festival showcased a wide range of aircraft Saturday, the second day of a three-day event.

Fighter jets impressed a crowd estimated at 5,000, flying by at speeds of about 700 miles per hour, nowhere near their maximum speeds, but close to breaking the sound barrier. First an F-18, then later in the afternoon, an F-16 darted past the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport, the thunderous sound of jet engines screaming in their wake.

Harley Scherer, 10, of Benton, Mo., who has some model airplanes, an airplane hat at home and sometimes thinks he might want to be a pilot, was definitely impressed.

"It was pretty neat to see how fast they go," he said. Scherer had a poster autographed by F-18 pilot Rob Loughran of New Jersey.

Loughran said he doesn't hear the roar of the engine, and a special suit pressurizes his body when experiencing the force accompanied with high G-force combat maneuvers.

But it's still a thrill.

"It's fun," he said, while signing autographs. "Sometimes I don't believe they pay us to do this."

Daryl Smith, who made the trip to Cape Girardeau from a town near Paducah, Ky., had to meet Loughran after the F-18 show, which included several different maneuvers, including a touch-and-go landing, some flips and twists and a near vertical ascent. Smith served six years in the Navy, stationed in the Mediterranean on a destroyer escort during the Vietnam War.

"That was great," Smith told the pilot after his flight. "You did the Navy proud. I never saw anything like that when I was in the Navy."

There was plenty of show, too, for those who preferred precision over speed and sound.

Sounding like weed trimmers next to the jet engines, the six bright yellow T-34 prop airplanes flown by the Lima Lima flight team didn't fly nearly as fast, but the props were daring in their own way with life-and-death choreography. They broke up into smaller groups, played chicken in the air, only to break off in twists and turns, creating various designs in smoke.

A couple of Black Hawk helicopters were also showcased as military reservists demonstrated a typical refueling operation.

A free-fall team of three parachutists dropped from a helicopter about two miles away from the airport and navigated their way back to the runway.

The Ramjet, a jet-propelled truck, was also a crowd favorite as fire roared from the rear and the truck reached speeds of more than 300 mph on the runway.

"I liked the jet-powered truck when it shot out fire," said Dylan Watson, 8, who made the 90-mile trip with his family from Ellsinore, Mo.

Rick Reeves, Watson's stepfather, said they heard about the air show on television and radio.

"The children are having a blast looking at the helicopters, the planes and the truck," Reeves said. "And I had to see the jet-powered porta-potty."

The portable toilet on wheels is a 1,000 horsepower spoof. Flames shoot from the john's smokestack, and it travels about 40 miles per hour.

Airport manager Bruce Loy said the show is increasing its versatility every year.

"I was very pleased with the show," Loy said. "The crowd seemed to like everything we had."


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