A World War I-era five-ship formation performs during a previous Aviation Nation Air Show at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Budget cuts across the Air Force have canceled many air shows already, including those of the Thunderbirds. (Staff Sgt. Jeremy Smith / Air Force)
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Tighter budgets and the looming threats of sequestration have forced some bases to close their gates to the public and cancel air shows.
So far, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C.; Luke Air Force Base, Ariz.; and Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., have announced they have canceled their air shows, with more bases likely to follow suit. While hundreds of thousands of civilians won't have the chance to check out their local bases, the funding initially allocated for the air shows will now be available for training.
"Overall, what we really needed to do was enable wing command to increase combat readiness training," said Maj. Steven Befferding, the director of the air show at Seymour Johnson.
The Wings Over Wayne Air Show at Seymour Johnson attracted about 160,000 people during its last run in 2011. This year, the event had a budget of about $200,000 and would have included about 1,000 airmen.
But after the Feb. 15 decision to cancel it, that funding is now available for more flying hours. The airmen involved in planning are now focusing on their main job full time, Befferding said, which is training F-15E Strike Eagle weapons systems officers.
"I understand the thrill of flying in air shows," said Befferding, who flew in more than 30 in 2011. "It's a little disappointing to see."
Luke expected about 1,000 airmen and civilians would put in approximately 25,000 man-hours for its event. Canceling the air show there frees up about $300,000 that was allocated for the event, according to the base.
"We are able to put that money back into our local operations and maintenance budget to fund a variety of wing priorities," base spokeswoman Lt. Col. Holly Slaughter said. "For example, we will be able to purchase a few more needed parts or supplies, or make a few more facility repairs, or conduct a little more training."
The Air Combat Command's aerial demonstration teams are still continuing their certification procedures for the 2013 air show season, which the Thunderbirds started Feb. 24 with a fly-by for the Daytona 500.
The team was originally scheduled for more than 30 events, including the now-canceled ones at Luke and Langley. However, Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry Spencer said in early February the Thunderbirds would likely be grounded April 1 if the massive spending cuts known as sequestration are enacted.
The Seymour Johnson air show was scheduled to feature the Navy's Blue Angels demonstration team.
"We are also prioritizing efforts to sustain force structure and preserve combat capability for the joint force," Air Combat Command spokesman Col. Todd Vician said. "And canceling or curtailing air shows, as commanders have done recently, allows wings to reallocate funds planned for the open houses to combat readiness training."
The decision to cancel air shows came at the base level, with no major command directives to curtail open houses, at least yet, Vician said. Base commanders said the decision came down to priorities. "I cannot in good conscience spend some of our limited resources to host an open house while the Defense Department considers potential furloughs," said Brig. Gen. Michael Rothstein, commander of the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke, in a statement.
The threat of sequestration hasn't shut down the U.S. military's presence at air and trade shows overseas. They will attend the Australian International Air and Aviation Trade Show at Avalon Airport in Victoria from Feb. 6 to March 3.
A cross section of U.S. military aircraft and equipment is scheduled to present static displays and aerial demonstrations, including the F-22 Raptor, C-17 Globemaster III, F-16 Fighting Falcon, B-52 Stratofortress, KC-135 Stratotanker and a Marine CV-22.
Gen. Herbert J. "Hawk" Carlisle, Pacific Air Forces commander, will attend and speak at the aerospace symposium held in conjunction with this event.
"Through participation in airshows and other regional events, the United States is able to demonstrate its commitment to the stability and security of the Asia-Pacific region, promote the standardization and interoperability of equipment and display capabilities critical to the success of military operations. It also serves to strengthen long-standing mil-to-mil relations between the U.S. and Australia," states a Feb. 20 news release from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.