California News

Safety first and foremost at Salinas air show

Friday, September 23, 2011

Last week's tragic accident at the Reno air races is weighing heavily on folks at an air show in Salinas where safety considerations are numerous.

F-16 Fighting Falcons took to the Salinas sky Friday afternoon to perform practice maneuvers before the evening's air show. The team says every second in the air is focused on crowd safety

"Each type of maneuver requires a certain distance, as well as you got about six or seven eyes just from Air Force looking at that aircraft all the time," said F-16 pilot and safety observer Alex Esson.

The annual California International Air Show Salinas is an air show, not an air race. The tragedy in Reno, which killed 11 people and injured more than 50, was an air race. Terry Wordwell, executive director for Air Show Salinas, says there is a huge distinction.

"Air shows are flown parallel to the crowd, out several hundred feet, in some cases 1,500 feet from the crowd," said Wordwell. "There's no energy directed toward the crowd. So it is different."

The air show offers all the thrills of an air race, but there are required setbacks, ranging from 500 to 1,500 feet.

"I'm an artist. That plane right over there, that's my paintbrush, the sky's my canvas and I'm up there trying to paint that beautiful picture," said five-time U.S. aerobatic champion Kirby Chambliss. "If I can leave here and people say, 'God, I've never seen an airplane do that before,' then I've done my job."

From aerobatics to the precision Canadian Snowbirds, the Salinas air show delivers excitement, but promises safety first and foremost. There hasn't been a spectator killed by an aircraft at a U.S. air show in 60 years. Even in the aftermath of the Reno air race disaster, no one expects that safety record to be broken.

"Personally, I have not seen that. I hope to never see that," said F-16 maintenance team leader Michael Bylico. "I hope to God it never happens here or anywhere else."

This event, in its 30-year history, has raised more than $7 million for charity.

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salinas, california news, karina rusk
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