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MacDill Airfest takes flight this weekend

A member of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds prepare for practice Thursday for the group’s AirFest performances this weekend.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

A member of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds prepare for practice Thursday for the group’s AirFest performances this weekend.

TAMPA

Eyes will be on the sky this weekend as an expected 70,000 spectators fill MacDill Air Force Base for an annual air show.

Admission and parking are free for the Saturday and Sunday shows, which feature a signature performance each day by the Thunderbirds, the U.S. Air Force's demonstration team.

"This is MacDill's way of opening up the base to the community," said base spokesman Sgt. Bryan Gatewood.

Gates open at 8 a.m. Base parking is limited to about 20,000 spaces, and roads leading to the base become congested with cars, so officials are urging visitors take HART's Route 36 bus, which runs from Fletcher Avenue to MacDill.

MacDill AirFest is usually held every March, but organizers moved it to November after learning they couldn't secure the Thunderbirds for that time. The March event also conflicted with a number of other Tampa events, said another spokesman, Michael Ellis.

Ellis said the event will move to an 18-month rotation, meaning the next one will be during the spring of 2013.

AirFest 2011 comes nearly two months after a Reno, Nev., air show in which a vintage World War II-era fighter plane, flown by Ocala pilot Jimmy Leeward, plunged into the grandstands, killing nine people and injuring 54.

Gatewood said there are distinctions between the two events.

The Reno event was an air race, whereas the MacDill shows consist of performances. And only a handful of the MacDill acts will be performed by civilians.

Still, he said, "Obviously safety is at the forefront."

The big event will be performances by the Thunderbirds, which have been taking the show on the road for 58 years. The unit is scheduled to perform at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Others performances include a comedy show by OTTO the Helicopter, demonstrations by U.S. Special Operations Command's parachute team and formations by heritage aircraft.

The Dale Mabry Highway and MacDill Avenue gates to the base will be open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days.

Attendees are prohibited from bringing weapons, coolers, alcohol, pets and glass containers, among other things.

Weather is expected to be sunny with temperatures in the high 70s or low 80s.

Reach Jodie Tillman at jtillman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3374.

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MacDill Air Force Base AirFest 2011

Where: MacDill Air Force Base in South Tampa; Dale Mabry Highway and MacDill Avenue gates open

When: Saturday and Sunday. Gates open at 8 a.m.; shows from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: Free admission and parking

Events: For more information or a schedule, call (813) 828-7469 or visit macdill-airfest.com. To see where you can jump on HART's Route 36 bus line, visit gohart.org.

MacDill Airfest takes flight this weekend 11/03/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 3, 2011 11:17pm]
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