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Patriotism shines bright for AirSho spectators

Some 25,000 to 30,000 people showed up for Day 1 of the Fargo AirSho Saturday, surpassing attendance expectations. Air show co-chairman Dick Walstad didn't have an exact gate count Saturday afternoon, but with the help of Navy Blue Angel officers...

Some 25,000 to 30,000 people showed up for Day 1 of the Fargo AirSho Saturday, surpassing attendance expectations.

Air show co-chairman Dick Walstad didn't have an exact gate count Saturday afternoon, but with the help of Navy Blue Angel officers who have seen many an air show, he estimated the fluid throng at more than 25,000 but just under 30,000.

They lined the tarmac, where Hector International Airport property kisses corners with the North Dakota Air National Guard complex, drinking copious amounts of water and pop to beat the effects of the blazing sun.

Credit for the stellar attendance goes to a wave of patriotism sweeping the nation after the Sept. 11 terror attacks and to an ideal June day. A noticeable number of spectators wore T-shirts emblazoned with American flags or tucked small flags into their backpacks or lawn chairs.

Those patriotic people, no doubt, came to see a display of America's air power. They went home satisfied as the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels, a crack flight demonstration squadron, gave a show-closing performance of perfectly polished precision flying skills.


Tim Fowler of Perham, Minn., arrived at the air show by 8:30 a.m. with his four young children. For rising with the sun, they were rewarded with front row positioning. But seven hours later, when the Blue Angels took to the sky, little Blake Fowler, 4, was fried to a lobster red and limp as a noodle in his canvas chair. The rest of the family -- Ciera, 12, Sam, 10, and Lexi, 5 -- lined the fence, capitalizing on their front row status.

"Yes, definitely," Tim said. "The Blue Angels were worth the wait."

Flying at speeds of up to 1,000 mph and sometimes pulling seven G's (meaning the pilots' bodies felt seven times the force of gravity) the Blue Angels didn't perform stunts or tricks. Instead, said Blue Angels announcer Leonard Anderson, the squadron performed only the types of precise tactical maneuvers it would use in combat situations.

At times the Blue Angels' moves looked militarily threatening and at times it looked like a blue-sky ballet. Sometimes, when they soared straight up, up, up, it seemed they'd skewer the sun.

See it again today

Air show organizers said today's forecast -- hotter with a greater chance of thunderstorms than Saturday -- may tilt attendance strongly in favor of Saturday. However, those who missed the show Saturday will see the exact lineup of military and civilian aircraft today.

The day began with radio-controlled plane demonstrations and a record-setting performance by Skydive Fargo!. The skydiving team set a North Dakota freefall record when 16 parachutists leaped out of a Douglas DC-3 at 14,000 feet.

Today, the second and final day of the air show, Skydive Fargo! will attempt to better that record with 17 skydivers.


The crowd rose as planes took to the sky and took to their seats (or blankets on the ground) as planes landed. When planes jetted skyward, children sprang up, straining on their tip-toes to see over adults.

Generally, those under 50 stood to see the height of the action while those over 50 remained in their lawn chairs. The up-and-down action of the younger folk brought grousing from some older folks.

The kids didn't care; they had springs in their legs, and they did whatever it took to achieve the best view. But some of the older folks didn't quit hollering, "Sit down. If you sit down, everybody can see." In the end, it was an all-day standoff between the sitters and the standers.

Angels a big draw

Fargoan Pam Morris was at the AirSho Saturday with her 8-year-old niece, Jordie Braaten of West Fargo.

"We've been watching the Angels practice over the industrial park for two days," Morris said.

Jordie said her favorite part was the parachuting sky divers. For Morris, it was the Blue Angels. "I wanted to grow up to be a Blue Angel when I was headed up to UND, but my mother said I couldn't because I was a woman," she said.

Jan Severson of Hawley, Minn., said he was looking forward to the Blue Angels as well.


"They're so precise," he said. "It's so fun to watch them. With this time of year and patriotism, it's so great to know we have a tremendous military."

Elias Larson and his son-in-law, Pat Schliesman of Fergus Falls, both served in the Air Force.

"I kind of enjoy the props and he enjoys the jets," Larson said.

Larson served from 1957 to 1961, and Schliesman served from 1982 to 1986.

"I just wish they had a little more of my era," Schliesman said. "They don't even use the F-1-11 anymore."

Schliesman also wanted to see some performances from his branch of the service, rather than the Navy.

"I wish they would get the Thunderbirds," he said.

Sandi Roland, Wahpeton, came to see her son, Adam, in action. Not flying, but pulling. Adam Roland, a member of the UND football team, was part of the airplane pull. The football team actually pulled a C-47 aircraft in a test of strength against other muscular types.


"I think it's great. The weather turned out good. They did a great job of organizing it," Sandi Roland said.

As the sun warmed the day to 84 degrees, many air show spectators found shade under aircraft wings. Jason and Karla Middlestead, and their children Austin, 5, and Alexis, 3, camped beneath the tail of the MeritCare Lifeflight plane.

"It's a lot of fun and it's fun to look at all the planes. The kids love it, too," Karla Middlestead said.

Wendall Martinson, Grafton, pronounced the air show "the best thing to happen here for a long time."

Making memories

Dennis Eggert of the Aviation Art Museum was selling models and prints of planes. He said people of all ages buy them, whether a child developing an interest in aeronautics, a history buff, or someone who's sentimental about certain planes.

"The old-timers buy them because they flew and worked on them or they could have been crew members," Eggert said.

Eggert said he's been an airplane buff from the time he was young, joining the Civil Air Patrol, then the Air Force Reserve and serving in the Air National Guard.


"It's been airplanes from little boy to big boy," Eggert said.

Souvenir booth workers said their most popular sales were of the Blue Angels die-cast metal toy airplane and blue Beanie Babies.

Patriotic clothing, such as T-shirts and denim shirts, were also popular purchases.

Marlys Pederson was selling souvenirs to raise money for her son's jazz band. But she thought the best souvenir was a picture she and her son had taken in the cockpit of a Blue Angels jet.

"My 90-year-old father lives in Grafton and couldn't come. This will be a nice memento for him. Plus, I've never sat in a cockpit before," Pederson said.

Steven Blevins, owner of Dream Photos, said he's taken lots of photos of entire families sitting in the cockpit of the F-4 Phantom. This type of aircraft was flown by the Blue Angels from 1969-73.

"It's an opportunity for them to sit in a real jet cockpit," Blevins said. "You're buying a memory of a day with the kids."

Dan Teiken of Detroit Lakes and his 3-year-old son Dylan had their picture taken in the cockpit.


"It was his first air show, so I figured it would be something to remember it by," Teiken said. "He wants to be an airplane driver one day."

Hooray for Hooligans

The U.S. Marine Harrier jet was the first display of the day which brought the crowd to its feet. The aircraft, known as a "jump jet" because of its ability to shoot almost straight into the air with hardly any horizontal ascent, amazed the audience with its vertical leap and hovering ability.

The F-16 Fighting Falcons, flown by Fargo's own Happy Hooligans, were of course, a crowd favorite. These are the planes the N.D. Air National Guard used from Sept. 11 to April to safeguard the skies over the White House, Capitol and the Washington, D.C., area. The pilots performed moves, including a triple roll, that churned the stomachs of even those on the ground. And when the Fighting Falcons flew low and close for a photo op, it seemed they were close enough to give a flat-top haircut to those directly beneath them.

Wait to watch, eat

Watching an air show is something like being an ambulance driver -- hours of waiting followed by moments of adrenalin-pumping action.

The waiting between acts was not the fault of organizers. In fact, many in attendance sang the praises of the volunteer group who orchestrated the event, providing ample parking, food, water and toilets for the throng. The waiting was a simple matter of logistics. It takes time to move groups of aircraft onto runways and clear them for safe flight. Plus, at times, the show planes had to wait for Northwest Airlines to land its scheduled flights.

Although food was plentiful, those who were hungry stood in line 30 minutes for the privilege of plunking down $4 for a chicken sandwich or $2.50 for a bottle of water. It was a family-type crowd. Few queued up for the beer line, but about 200 parents and kids stood single file at each of several hotdog stands around the noon hour.

Popular spots for people to watch the show from outside the airport were the 12th Avenue North bridge, 25th Street North near Cass County Highway 20 and parking lots near the Fargodome and North Dakota State University. Other viewers set up chairs along 19th Avenue North or at homes and businesses along North University Drive.

Traffic was smooth going into the show because people filtered in from 8 a.m. until about 2 p.m., but roads were congested at the conclusion of the Blue Angels' performance.

Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple contributed to this story.

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