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Minnesota National Guard
Airshow: Minnesota Air Spectacular launches Saturday and Sunday

June 8, 2012
By Tanner Kent Free Press Features Editor

MANKATO — Nothing has been left in the air for the Minnesota Air Spectacular

Except, of course, the aerobatic performers who will take to the skies on Saturday and Sunday over the Mankato Regional Airport

“It’s been a huge undertaking,” said Mark Knoff, Mankato’s director of public works who co-produced the air show alongside Burt Lyman, director of the Verizon Wireless Center

“We’re looking forward to putting on a great show for everybody”

The air show includes performances from the US Navy Blue Angels as well as a distinguished lineup of non-military performers, including Sean D Tucker who is the only civilian ever allowed to fly in close formation with the Blue Angels Visitors also can get a look at more than 20 ground displays, many of which are vintage military aircraft

For those who have never attended an air show -- especially one in which the Blue Angels are participating -- Knoff said it’s an unforgettable experience

“When they come in low and hot over the ground,” Knoff said, “it’s heart-pounding”

City officials began pursuing an air show about eight years ago In January 2011, Mankato received word it had been granted a visit from the Blue Angels who, along with the Air Force Thunderbirds, are perhaps the most recognizable and skilled flight demonstration team in the world

Since then, the pace of preparation has gradually gained intensity, reaching its zenith this month as organizers put the final details in place

“It’s been like a full-time job the last few weeks,” said Jason Ceminsky, himself a former military pilot who still flies with the Minnesota National Guard Ceminsky is now an instructor for Pro Train, a division of North Star Aviation, and was appointed to serve as Mankato’s liaison with the Blue Angels

“Getting the Blue Angels is a big win, a huge score for our town But it does make an air show more challenging”

Though the Blue Angels travel with a 60-person crew, six performance aircraft, one spare aircraft and an amalgam of spare engines and parts, they require a massive amount of local support to pull off an air show

Pointing to a large three-ring binder several inches thick, Ceminsky said the Navy has an exhaustive series of requirements

The Blue Angels crew requires 24-hour security for their jets and thousands of pounds of jet fuel They required the airport to install specialized arresting equipment to stop their F/A-18 Hornets on the runway, a process that began with local crews digging trenches and driving giant plates in the ground to anchor the system

Local officials also had to procure equipment such as specialized 20-foot towing bars to accommodate the long nose of the Blue Angels’ jets and several semi loads of maintenance equipment from the Minnesota Air National Guard

That’s all in addition, of course, to coordinating crowd logistics

Knoff said organizers are expecting up to 40,000 visitors during the two-day event To that end, they’ve carved out about 10,000 parking spots on the airport grounds (with overflow options) and enough portable bathrooms to accommodate a crowd of 30,000

Knoff said about 30 city employees have been working on the event

“There are a lot of resources we have to provide,” Knoff said “(The Blue Angels) want the show to be successful as much as we want it to be successful”

Mankato last hosted such an event in 2003 when the Air Force Thunderbirds conducted a show At that time, however, the runways were not long enough at the Mankato airport to accommodate a landing, so the Thunderbirds arrived and departed from the Twin Cities

But in 2007, the airport’s main runway was extended from 5,400 feet to 6,600 -- long enough to accommodate the 6,000 feet required by the Blue Angels

Though Knoff said the runway extension was intended to increase the “operational capability” of the airfield and not to lure flight demonstrations, the latter is still a nice reward

Ceminsky agreed, saying visitors will have a much more intimate experience with performers than in previous Mankato shows

“People will get to see so much more,” Ceminsky said “It’s exciting to actually have them in town”
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