Thunderbirds Cancel Burlington Appearance
March 12, 2013
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  • By: Joel Banner Baird

    The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds aerobatics team will not appear as scheduled at a summer air show in Burlington, the team’s website reports.

    Show organizers for the Aug. 10-11 “Wings Over Vermont” event are expected to announce updated plans today, said Kelly Goudy of Essex Junction-based Revision Military, which is the air show’s chief sponsor.

    Funding constraints imposed by the congressional sequestration — expected to affect many federal programs — will eliminate all of the 50 or so demonstration flights after April 1, Maj. Darrick B. Lee wrote earlier this month on the squadron’s website.

    The tightened budget will mean reallocating flying hours to combat-readiness and training, Lee said.

    Wings Over Vermont is a fundraiser for the Essex Junction-based nonprofit Vermont National Guard Charitable Association, which provides emergency financial help to Guard families.

    Rick Brehm, the foundation’s air show director, announced last year that the Thunderbirds were to be “a fantastic addition to our already stellar lineup of air show performances.”

    Organizers said they expected about 40,000 people to attend the free event.

    The last Wings Over Vermont airshow took place over the skies of Burlington in 2006, and featured the Thunderbirds.

    That event, and the one planned for August, presented policy challenges to former Progressive Mayor Bob Kiss.

    Soon after taking office in 2006, Kiss took flak from citizens upset by noisy fighter jets, air pollution and a perceived military endorsement.

    Although Kiss had “inherited” that show from the administration of former Mayor Peter Clavelle, he encountered a barrage of similar concerns during public hearings for the 2013 event.

    The then-mayor made two nonbinding recommendations that the Parks and Recreation Commission had earlier approved:

    • The Vermont Air National Guard should consider carbon offsets for the fuel burned during the two-day event.

    • In the future, air-show organizers should consider alternatives to military team headliners — such as antique or civil aviation standouts.

    In his endorsement of the upcoming event, Kiss noted that tens of thousands of people attended the 2006 show, resulting in successful fundraising for the charity, as well as benefiting dozens of local businesses.