Blue Angels fill blue sky
Officials hope show's success sends message about base's importance
SOARING ABOVE The Blue Angels take to the air at the 2004 Wings Over Meridian air show at Naval Air Station Meridian on Saturday afternoon. The air show continues today; gates open at 9 a.m. and the event is free to the public. Photo by Paula Merritt / The Meridian Star
By Georgia E. Frye / staff writer
April 18, 2004
Paul and Angela Bierdeman drove about 90 miles from Brandon on Saturday to watch the first day of the 2004 Wings Over Meridian air show at Naval Air Station Meridian.
The Bierdemans were among thousands of sun-drenched spectators who turned out to watch the world-famous Blue Angels and other civilian and military pilots perform.
The clear blue sky offered the perfect backdrop for the air show as spectators peppered the base and lined the runway.
As the Bierdemans took in the sites and sounds of the air show, they said they were especially impressed with NAS Meridian. And, they said, they were concerned about it being closed in the Defense Department's next round of base closures, commonly known as BRAC, scheduled for 2005.
The second and final day of the air show begins today when gates open at 9 a.m. The show starts at noon; the event is free to the public.
This year's show has been in the works for years after a planned 2001 show was canceled for security reasons after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Besides the Blue Angels, other featured pilots include Greg Koontz of Birmingham, Ala.; Gary Ward of Lincolnton, Ga.; John Moody of Brandon, Fla.; the father-son team of Tim and Andrew Boyd of Canada; and JATO (Jet Assisted Take Off) by "Fat Albert," the name affectionately given to the C-130.
But the air show is about more than aerobatics and stunts. It also is used as a recruiting tool for the base. And some local officials said they hope the large turnout will send a message to the base closure commission that Meridian supports and wants to keep its military bases.
Local officials have said that community support is expected to be a key factor in efforts to save the base from the next round of base closures.
NAS Meridian has survived three previous rounds of BRAC. This time, however, NAS Meridian isn't the only local military bases that could be targeted. BRAC has been expanded to include National Guard installations across the country.
Wade Jones, president of the East Mississippi Business Development Corp., said that Meridian supports its military bases everyday, not just during times of BRAC.
Phillip Martin, chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, munched on hot dogs Saturday as he watched the Blue Angels. Martin said he supports NAS Meridian and all that it does.
Martin, who helped sponsor the air show, said he hopes the publicity surrounding this year's event will help protect the base.
Some local residents said the show did make them feel proud.
Grady Alexander of Meridian said he believes NAS Meridian is an important part of the community. And, he said, he hopes the air show helps keep it open.
Meanwhile, others who helped promote the event said they were impressed with the crowd.
Tom Williams, president of the Meridian Airport Authority and primary sponsor for the air show, said the turnout for the air show far exceeded his expectations.
Air show facts
Going to Wings Over Meridian 2004 today at Naval Air Station Meridian? Then check out the following tips, courtesy of the air show's Web site at www.meridianairshow.com.
Unauthorized Items: Don't plan to take coolers, backpacks, carryall bags, large
handbags, animals/pets, bicycles/
skateboards, kites/balloons, contraband, weapons, knives, guns.
Authorized Items: You can take small purses; clear bags for medical items
medication or infant care; portable lawn chairs (but not in their bag carriers); still and video cameras (but not in camera bags); strollers/wagons.
Don't forget: Sunscreen, chairs, hearing protection, cash (although there will be limited ATM availability).
All vehicles will be subject to inspection upon entry to NAS Meridian, so plan to arrive early to avoid long lines.
All bags will be searched.
Concessions will be available.
If coming from Meridian, take Highway 39 to Stennis Drive. Enter the base off Stennis Drive.
If coming from north of Meridian, enter the base off the northern part of Campground Road off U.S. 45.
If coming from south, west and east of Meridian, enter the base off the southern part of Campground Road.