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Tampa Bay AirFest returns to MacDill this weekend

Here’s what to expect at the first AirFest since 2018, which will bring the famous Blue Angels and other aerial performers.
The U.S. Navy Blue Angels, shown here in Tampa in 2018, will return to the Tampa Bay AirFest March 26-27 at MacDill Air Force Base.
The U.S. Navy Blue Angels, shown here in Tampa in 2018, will return to the Tampa Bay AirFest March 26-27 at MacDill Air Force Base. [ LUIS SANTANA | TIMES | Tampa Bay Times (2018) ]
Published Mar. 22

For the first time since 2018, MacDill Air Force Base will be open to the public this weekend for the Tampa Bay AirFest, with tours of vintage military airplanes and performances by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels.

The event, once put on by MacDill, is now run by a volunteer organization in cooperation with the base and local businesses. It has also reduced its appearances to every two years because of budget cuts.

It was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, so this will be the first time since 2018 that the public will get to tour the displays and see aerial shows on the base that has called Tampa home for more than 80 years. Some 150,000 people are expected to visit over the weekend.

Related: Lt. Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla to lead CentCom at MacDill

The event is free, but you can buy premium seating tickets for $40 for the shows at tampabayairfest.com.

There will be burgers, hot dogs, snacks and beer for sale. A Kids Zone sponsored by the Blue Angels will have a 36-foot-tall corkscrew slide, multiple Blue Angel slides and bounce houses, along with an Extreme Air Power Jump.

In addition to air shows, visitors will be able to tour aircraft at MacDill Air Force Base, like they did at the 2018 AirFest.
In addition to air shows, visitors will be able to tour aircraft at MacDill Air Force Base, like they did at the 2018 AirFest. [ LUIS SANTANA | TIMES | Times (2018) ]

Gates open at 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, and opening ceremonies begin at noon. This year’s AirFest coincides with the U.S. Air Force approaching its 75th anniversary on Sept. 18. As a result, Gen. Mike Minihan, the four-star general in charge of Air Mobility Command, will pay a visit.

There will be a flyby of the KC-135 Stratotanker, which provides aerial refueling, and a demonstration of the stealth and maneuverability of the F-22 Raptor. Matt Younkin will perform aerobatics in his World War II-era Twin Beech 18 aircraft, among other aircraft shows. MacDill’s Special Operations Command Para-Commandos will jump from planes with flags, smoke, sparklers, or a combination of each, before the 3 p.m. shows each day by the Blue Angels.

To get to the base, vehicles coming from South Tampa and areas east of Tampa should utilize the Dale Mabry Highway and MacDill Avenue gate, organizers said. Vehicles coming from west of Tampa should take S West Shore Boulevard to Interbay and enter the Tanker Way Gate just east of Manhattan Avenue.

The U.S. Special Operations Command Para-Commandos jumped from planes with smoke and sparklers to perform for the crowd at AirFest 2011 at  MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
The U.S. Special Operations Command Para-Commandos jumped from planes with smoke and sparklers to perform for the crowd at AirFest 2011 at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. [ Times (2011) ]

AirFest tips

Expect it to get hot on the tarmac, so bring water bottles that can be refilled at the numerous stations set up around AirFest.

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Other suggested items to pack include:

  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Hearing protection, especially for children
  • Hats
  • Credit cards or cash, though ATMs are available
  • Empty bottles to fill with chilled water
  • Backpack-type folding chairs
  • Small umbrellas that can fit in a purse or backpack (large golf umbrellas are banned)
  • Small snacks that can fit in a purse or backpack (coolers, glass containers and large camera bags are not allowed)

Expect delays when exiting the show, so have snacks or games to occupy the kids in the car.

Ride shares and public transportation will not be available this year, but you can enter the base via bicycle at the MacDill Avenue gate. Bike helmets are required.

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels, shown here performing at MacDill Air Force Base in 2018, will return to the Tampa Bay AirFest March 26-27.
The U.S. Navy Blue Angels, shown here performing at MacDill Air Force Base in 2018, will return to the Tampa Bay AirFest March 26-27. [ "LUIS SANTANA | TIMES" | Times (2018) ]
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