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Dayton Air Show expects low turnout

DAYTON, Ohio – Organizers of the Dayton Air Show expect smaller crowds for the two-day event this weekend, thanks to the Air Force Thunderbirds and other military support pulling out because of federal budget cuts.

The show, one of the oldest and most prominent in the country, usually draws around 70,000 people and gives a $3.2 million boost to the local economy. But the Thunderbirds precision jet team had to withdraw earlier this year because of federal cutbacks. Military support from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base also will not participate.

The base near Dayton is the state’s largest military installation and typically lends aircraft, vehicles and about 300 personnel to help set up the show. The U.S. Department of Defense has barred military aircraft on air show grounds, marking the first time in the four-decade history of the show that the Air Force will not have a giant cargo jet on display.

Air show general manager Brenda Kerfoot told The Dayton Daily News that without the jet team in the lineup, the show could see 30 percent fewer people.

Dozens of air shows across the nation have shut down this year because they lost military planes. The Dayton show cut its budget by about one-third this time.

But organizers of the Dayton show and others decided to have them anyway.

“We are going to put together a very diversified world-class, highly entertaining show for the family, and we have things coming out that we normally wouldn’t get,” Kerfoot said.

The show, sponsored by Vectren Corp., will feature civilian aerial performers such as Team Fastrax, which is replacing the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team, and pilots who fly classic military jets.

John Cudahy, president of the International Council of Air Shows, said 61 air shows out of about 300 nationwide canceled this season because military jet teams and other support were removed. He said it amounts to a total economic loss in those communities of about $400 million.

“The number of cancellations and the types of shows that have canceled this year is unprecedented,” he said, adding that it’s a result of federal budget cuts and the military’s decision not to support air shows.

The Dayton show’s largest crowd in recent years was 80,000 in 2009 when the Thunderbirds performed. The Navy Blue Angels are scheduled to perform at next year’s show, but nobody knows if that will happen.

Last year’s crowd dropped to 47,000 because of extreme heat.

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