Sunday, February 18, 2018

Cocoa Beach Air Show hopes for space shuttle flyover

As air show flyovers go, this one would be huge: a NASA space shuttle riding piggyback atop a massive 747 airliner.

That sight already has wowed crowds this year in New York and Washington, and local promoter Bryan Lilley figured that Florida residents — specifically, those at his air show — should get one last shot at seeing the shuttle before NASA completes its delivery of the retired orbiters to museums nationwide.

So Lilley gambled.

Rather than schedule the Cocoa Beach Air Show during its usual time slot in late October, he moved the event to mid September in hopes the timing would coincide with the transfer of shuttle Endeavour from Kennedy Space Center to Los Angeles.

He missed by at least two days and now is pulling every string he can to persuade NASA to delay Endeavour's departure so it can take a star turn at his two-day air show, which starts Sept. 22.

"People will come from all over the country to see something like this," said air show president Lilley, who recruited the help of Florida's two U.S. senators, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, as well as U.S. Reps. Bill Posey of Rockledge and Sandy Adams of Orlando. The four lawmakers earlier this year asked NASA chief Charlie Bolden to change the Endeavour departure date to accommodate the air show as well as to honor the space center.

"The event would not only provide a larger audience for the flight, it would give the dedicated Space Shuttle work force a final chance to bid farewell alongside their Space Coast friends and family," the four Florida legislators wrote Bolden.

So far, NASA has said no.

"In order to maintain delivery schedules and minimize cost, logistical complexity, and liability, NASA does not plan to have the Orbiter … take part in the air show, though the Agency appreciates the invitation and interest," the agency wrote.

Endeavour is the last of four orbiters headed to a museum. Discovery is at a Smithsonian complex near Washington, and Enterprise is on the flight deck of the USS Intrepid in New York. Atlantis is being prepped for a place at the Kennedy Space Center visitor center.

The transfers to Washington and New York, which included flybys of the National Mall and Statue of Liberty, drew huge crowds in the middle of the week.

An early timeline indicated that Endeavour would leave Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 20 and arrive a few days later in California, although NASA said the schedule still is being finalized. A parade and other celebrations are planned for its arrival and eventual rollout through the streets of Los Angeles to the California Science Center.

Agency officials noted that the Space Coast still would get a dramatic flyover. When NASA flew Discovery to the Washington area in April, the 747 pilots looped around the Kennedy Space Center's beaches; NASA plans a repeat performance with Endeavour.

NASA just won't commit to the air show,. But even if NASA remains stubborn, there's a chance for air show fans.

Weather delayed the transfer of Enterprise to New York, and another string of bad — or good — luck could mean air-show attendees could get a glimpse anyway.

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