BRUNSWICK (AP) – Jets screamed overhead and parachutists floated gracefully to the ground as an estimated 130,000 or more people turned out Sunday for what may have been the final air show at Brunswick Naval Air Station.

Crowds gathered early as the flying began in midmorning for the Great State of Maine Air Show with a lineup of daredevilry and sheer speed.

The headliner was the Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration team, a squadron of six jets that puts on a heart-stopping display of precision formation flying and high-speed maneuvers at speeds of up to 600 mph.

But the show also included the Army Golden Knights parachute team as well as several civilian aerobatic acts featuring loop the loops, dive bombing, smoke screens and a wing-walker who stood on a stunt plane’s wing as the pilot dipsy-doodled through the air.

The show brought memories for many in the crowd. With the base scheduled to close in 2011, the show might have been the final one in Brunswick.

Scott Day, 45, of South Portland, has seen the show a half dozen times. His father was stationed in Brunswick when Day was a child. Day later served in the Army.

“I’m sure they’ll find someplace else in New England to have it,” he said, “but this is such a great place for the show.”

The two-day show has drawn more than 200,000 people in years past. The show is thought to be the biggest single-event gathering in Maine.

By comparison, 60,000 to 70,000 people attended Phish rock concerts in northern Maine in 1997, 1998 and 2003. The Fryeburg Fair draws close to 200,000 people a year, but over eight days.

Rain and clouds kept Saturday’s crowds to under 30,000. With clear skies and comfortable temperatures, officials estimated that Sunday’s attendance was between 130,000 and 140,000, putting the two-day total at 160,000 to 170,000. Sunday’s attendance was a one-day record, said base spokesman John James.

Base officials are seeking to host another show in 2008, but won’t know until November if it will happen.

On Sunday, crowds milled about, touring small and large planes and helicopters parked on the ground and eating food from dozens of vendors. There was a festive atmosphere and all eyes turned to the skies when pilots showed off their aeronautical wizardry.

Paul Ouellette, 65, of Alna, was drawn to the show in part for the Blue Angels and in part because his son served in Iraq in the Army.

“We’re proud of all our servicemen,” Ouellette said as he took photos of a stunt plane flying in front of him. “It’s an honor to have them serving.”

This was the 16th time that an air show has been held in Brunswick since 1962; that first year it coincided with a visit by President John F. Kennedy. The most recent shows were in 1999 and 2005, with a 2001 show being canceled after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

On Saturday, a group of more than 50 protesters marched from downtown Brunswick to the base in a demonstration organized by Maine Veterans for Peace. The group says the show is little more than an expensive promotion that glorifies war and recruits young people to the military.

But the mood inside the base was celebratory on Sunday. Flags waved and people took photos and sang the national anthem. Recruiters from the military branches manned their booths.

By the time the Blue Angels performed in the late afternoon, the crowd area at the base was a sea of humanity. In the towns of Brunswick and Topsham, people watched from store parking lots and from the sides of roads and highways as the jets screamed by.

David Fleming of Alfred said it’s sad this could be the last air show at the base. It’s also sad, he added, that the base itself is closing.

“I think it should stay open, and I think I’m one of many,” he said. “I’m sick of shopping malls. We need our bases.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.