MORENO VALLEY (CNS) - The first day of the two-day March Air Reserve Base ``Air & Space Expo'' will get underway today, featuring supersonic jet demonstrations, mock dogfights and other low-flying, high-speed entertainment.
Despite rumors that the show might be derailed because of a last- minute cancellation by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, after one of the team's pilots died in a crash in Nevada, everything remains on track, according to base spokeswoman Linda Welz.
She said March Air Reserve Base commander Col. Matthew Burger will address attendees at the beginning of both today's and Sunday's shows, and his remarks will include an homage to Thunderbird No. 4 -- Maj. Del Bagno -- who died Wednesday morning while engaged in a practice exercise over the Air Force's Nevada Test & Training Range, in preparation for the March air fest.
USAF Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt at Nellis Air Force Base announced immediately after the accident, which is still under investigation, that the Thunderbids would be standing down this month -- and possibly for the rest of the year.
Rehearsals for March's Air & Space Expo were held Friday, and some of the action included simulated bomb drops, setting off pyrotechnics that frightened motorists on nearby Interstate 215, who called 911 believing that an aircraft had crashed, according to Welz.
``People saw the flames and feared the worst,'' she told CNS. ``But it was just part of the rehearsal.''
March holds air shows every two years but is making this event the centerpiece of its centennial celebration, looking back on 100 years of military aviation -- and forward to what the future holds for air power.
Attendance at previous shows has exceeded a half million over the two- day period, but Welz acknowledged that without the Thunderbirds, the draw may not be as large this time.
The Thunderbirds have traditionally been the show stopper, performing a series of eye-rolling formation and breakout maneuvers for nearly an hour in F-16 Fighting Falcons.
On tap for today and Sunday is a mix of yesteryear and modern aircraft performances, including Vicki Benzing in her Boeing Stearman, John Collver in his T-6 Texan and Anthony Oshinuga in his Pitts S-1.
The U.S. Army's Golden Knights parachute team will make a formation drop over the airfield, and March's 452nd Air Mobility Wing will deploy some of its aircraft for the show, featuring flyovers by mammoth C-17 Globemasters and KC-135 air tankers.
The crews will also demonstrate an aerial refueling operation.
An F-16 pilot is slated to give a ``wall of fire'' demo -- well away from onlookers -- and a ``planes of fame'' flight will feature a P-51 Mustang alongside other World War II-era combat planes.
A mock dogfight between an American F-86 Sabre and a Russian-made MiG- 15 will run about 10 minutes, and a U.S. Army flight crew is expected to put a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter through a series of low-level maneuvers.
The Air National Guard is scheduled to fly an MQ-9 drone to exhibit how the unmanned aerial vehicle is launched and recovered.
Veteran aviator Greg Coyler will be on hand, flying his Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star, used for decades as a basic jet trainer in the U.S. Armed Services.
There will be a large inventory of aircraft that fest celebrants can check out on the tarmac, as well as other equipment displays, according to base officials.
Admission to the fest and parking on base will be free. More information is available here: http://marchairshow.com/ .