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Thunderbirds to star in summer air show at base

The Thunderbirds, part of the U.S. Air Force Demonstration team, will be part of the 2007 Thunder of Niagara air show next summer at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, organizers announced Thursday.

Members of the Niagara Military Affairs Council and local politicians were able to persuade the Thunderbirds to make another appearance for the free show, which has been canceled three times since the start of the Iraq War. The team's last public visit was in 2001.

"The efforts of the Air Reserve Station, along with strong congressional support and NIMAC's efforts, have made this event possible," Merrell A. Lane, Niagara Military Affairs Council chairman, said.

Col. James B. Roberts, who commands the base and the Air Force Reserve's 914th Airlift Wing, said the base will be proud to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Air Force during the show on Aug. 11 and 12, as well as mark one of the greatest accomplishments in aviation.

Roberts referred to 60th anniversary of Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier in the Bell X-1, which was built in Wheatfield at the Bell Aerospace plant.

Roberts had announced in July that there was to be no air show this year.

"This is the wrong time for an air show," Roberts said at the time. "It would drain our resources and energy at a time when our main focus remains the conflict in the desert."

The air show also was canceled in 2003 and 2005 due to the war. It went on in 2004 when enough reservists were on hand to hold the large show.

The 2004 show attracted 100,000 people from all over Western New York and was a big draw for families that braved rain that weekend. The event has featured Vietnam War air re-enactments and some of the largest cargo planes in the world.

It also is used as a recruiting tool for the base.

Air base spokesman Neil Nolf said the show will hopefully attract more military recruits with the ongoing war in Iraq.

He compared the number of servicemen and women who served the U.S. during World War II with the number of recruits currently serving. In World War II, 16 million people served the country, Nolf said.

There are currently 2 million or 3 million people serving for the U.S., he said, adding, "You've got to have people who are willing to volunteer."

"This is exciting news for the air base which will benefit the community economically," Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds said in a statement. "With the great maneuvering our community did to save the air base, it is only fitting that we will be able to enjoy the Thunderbirds' maneuvers as part of the air show."

During the show, the community also will celebrate the return of the 914th Airlift Wing from recent deployments and the continued missions by the 107th Air Refueling Wing and other local military units in the war on terrorism.

e-mail: pkowalik@buffnews.com

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