Takeoff at twilight

Saturday, July 10, 2004

The heat and humidity of earlier in the day had subsided and a breeze was blowing by Friday evening, just in time for the opening of the Cape Girardeau Regional Air Festival.

The spectacle of twilight flight is special, said Steve Gustafson of the AeroShell Aerobatic Team.

Unlike daytime shows, the sparkling red, white and blue lights on the team's World War II-era planes are visible, he said, as are the flames.

For spectators like Scott and Stephanie Wilkins, who brought their 3-year-old son Zachary, the evening air show was the place to be.

"We came here during the day last year and it was too hot," Stephanie Wilkins said. "It took the fun feeling away from it."

Starting things off was a performance by the super loud, super fast F-18 Hornet, showing off gravity-defying maneuvers high above the crowd at Cape Girardeau Regional Airport.

The F-18 was followed by another fighter jet, the Air Force's A-10 Thunderbolt, which performed more intricate and demanding maneuvers. Children watched with awestruck expressions.

That's what Maj. Robert Brogan likes.

Brogan, the A-10's pilot, said his airplane and its Air Force team make appearances in air shows like Cape Girardeau's to get children excited about aviation and possibly a career in the military.

Today's A-10 performance should be particularly exciting, the pilot said, because there will be simulated weapon use with pyrotechnics.

One of the highlights of the evening, judging by the crowd reaction, was the performance by Gustafson's AeroShell Aerobatic Team, made up of four pilots in North American Advanced Trainers.

The team had a memorable takeoff, with thick, plumes of smoke trailing from the backs of the planes and even bursts of flames.

Once in the air, the four planes soared through close formations and performed loops, rolls and dives that drew oohs and ahhs.

This is the first time the aerobatic team has made an appearance at Cape Girardeau's Air Festival. Gustafson said this show was just one of the 25 air shows his team will attend this year.

kalfisi@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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