BRUNSWICK — The Great State of Maine Air Show is returning for the first time since getting grounded by federal budget cuts, and advance ticket sales indicate it’s going to be a big draw from across the region.
The company hired to run the event is projecting that as many as 90,000 people will pay to watch aerial performers during the two-day event this weekend. The show will feature the Navy’s flight demonstration team, the Blue Angels, along with an Air Force F-22 Raptor and several civilian flying acts at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.
“When you have the lineup that we have and the good weather, I think it’s going to be a spectacular weekend,” said Rob Reider, the Cincinnati, Ohio-based air show announcer for the event.
Putting on an air show when Brunswick Naval Air Station was an active-duty base was relatively easy: Taxpayers picked up the tab, and the Navy provided hundreds of sailors to run the event.
That changed when the base was shut down by a base-closing commission. The air shows continued in 2011 and 2012 but they were a drain on the civilian Mid Coast Regional Redevelopment Authority, which organized the shows those years.
For the air show on Saturday and Sunday, the redevelopment authority has hired a company to run the massive event. The Air Show Network is selling tickets, hiring vendors, securing hotel rooms and rental cars, procuring portable toilets and working with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Steve Levesque, executive director of the redevelopment authority, said he’s happy to have someone else sweat the details, but the event remains an opportunity to showcase the former base, now called Brunswick Landing.
The authority remains ahead of schedule on its redevelopment efforts.
Four years since the base closed, Brunswick Landing is home to 75 businesses that have created 730 jobs, and Brunswick Executive Airport is growing as well, Levesque said.
As for the air shows, they’ve long been a tradition in Brunswick. The first air show featuring the Navy Blue Angels coincided with a visit to Maine by President John F. Kennedy in 1962.
The last air show at Brunswick in 2013 was canceled because of federal budget cuts, so there’s likely pent-up demand for to see the graceful biplanes, screeching military jets and death-defying stunts.
Barry Valentine of Camden, who first flew at age 15 and has worked in the aviation industry ever since, said he’s attended more than 100 air shows during his lifetime. He’s never missed the annual air show at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for the past 36 years, and he’s attended the second-biggest show, the Sun ‘n Fun in Florida, for 20 years in a row.
He said people can’t help but be mesmerized by aerial feats.
“The human species has been fascinated with flight since the beginning of time. It’s sort of human beings’ oldest desire, to be able to fly with the birds. There’s a natural inherent fascination,” he said.