Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

MacDill AirFest draws 80,000 fans of flight and spectacle

TAMPA — Brad Mathias, age 8, looked up at the hulking wing of a B-52 Stratofortress, age 50.

The B-52 can hold forty-five 1,000-pound bombs. But Saturday, all it held was the Tampa boy's attention.

"It's pretty cool," he said. "Just the way it looks. And big."

Rick Mathias, Brad's dad, confessed he's a bit older than the B-52. "Not by much," he said.

Exactly how much shall remain classified.

The MacDill AirFest opened Saturday under blue skies that drew about 80,000 spectators of multiple generations — kids, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents — all united by a love of flight and country.

Vietnam veteran Guy Love, 64, was looking for a Huey, the workhorse of that war. He was having trouble finding one. But a nearby B-52 prodded a memory.

As an Army infantryman, the Tarpon Springs man once bathed in a huge crater that one of the aircraft's bombs created. "It's been a long time," he said.

Then a conversation with a stranger led to a devilish bit of aircraft trivia. One man mentioned a nearby jet aircraft was built during the Eisenhower administration. Love said he saw Dwight Eisenhower when he was a boy.

Well, did he know the name of the first U.S. president with a pilot's license?

Too easy. Eisenhower.

A series of different aircraft danced in the sky much of the day. Marco Willey, 5, chased after his mother as a P-51 Mustang flew in tight formation with an F-15 fighter jet.

"Mommy, they're flying together!" the Tampa boy marveled.

Then he hit his mom, Mercy, with the standard parent-flummoxing question: "Why, mommy?"

Not far away, retired Air Force fighter pilot Ahmed Ragheb showed off his pride: a Nanchang CJ-6A, one of just 300 in the United States. The Chinese use it as a trainer.

It is a joy to fly, Ragheb said. As to where a pilot must shop to buy such a plane, Ragheb offered this clue: "I didn't get it at Walmart."

The name of the aircraft, painted next to the nose, is Miss Stress. Ragheb wanted to call the aircraft "mistress," perhaps a nod to the all-consuming passion of flight.

"But my wife vetoed that name," he said.

The AirFest appeared to go off without incident. The only smudge on a bright day came when one of the six F-16s in the Air Force performing squadron, the Thunderbirds, was forced to land during its performance because of a minor technical glitch.

The remaining five jets continued to the requisite "oohs" and "ahhs."

Out by a B-1 bomber on display, 6-year-old Jaren Smiarowski of Apollo Beach seemed a little overwhelmed.

As he waited to climb up inside the big bomber with his family, Jaren offered this thought: "I'm really afraid of big bombs."

Not a sentiment shared by Air Force Capt. Andrew Jerz, 29, a bomber weapons officer, who explained why he loves his job.

"I guess it's because I get to blow stuff up for a living."

The AirFest is scheduled to continue today with gates opening at 8 a.m.

Contact William R. Levesque at

MacDill AirFest draws 80,000 fans of flight and spectacle 11/05/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 5, 2011 11:01pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 'What Happened'? Clinton memoir sold 300,000 copies in first week


    Despite being met with decidedly mixed reviews, What Happened, Hillary Clinton's new memoir about the 2016 presidential campaign, sold a whopping 300,000 copies in its first week.

    The new memoir by former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton sold 300,000 copies in its first week.
  2. After Irma topples tree, home sale may be gone with the wind

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — To house hunters searching online, the home for sale in St. Petersburg's Shore Acres neighborhood couldn't have looked more appealing — fully renovated and shaded by the leafy canopy of a magnificent ficus benjamini tree.

    Hurricane Irma's winds recently blew over a large ficus tree, left, in the yard of a home at 3601Alabama Ave NE, right, in Shore Acres which is owned by Brett Schroder who is trying to sell the house.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  3. Bucs' Josh Robinson excited for return to Vikings


    For much of Josh Robinson's four seasons with the Vikings, there was excitement leading up to the arrival of the $1.1-billion U.S. Bank Stadium, which opened last season, just as Robinson signed with the …

    Josh Robinson (26) tackles Chicago punt returner Eddie Royal (19) during a game between the Bucs and Bears in 2016. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  4. For starters: Rays at Orioles, meeting up with ex-mate Tim Beckham


    The Rays open their final roadtrip of the season tonight in Baltimore, and - continuing the theme of the week - willl cross paths with another familiar face, INF Tim Beckham.

    Tim Beckham made a smashing debut with the Orioles, hitting .394 with six homers and 19 RBIs in August.
  5. Unemployment claims double in Florida after Hurricane Irma


    The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dropped by 23,000 last week to 259,000 as the economic impact of Hurricane Harvey began to fade.

    Homes destroyed by Hurricane Irma on Big Pine Key last week. Hurricane Irma continued to have an impact on the job market in Florida, where unemployment claims more than doubled from the previous week.
[The New York Times file photo]