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Air fair still a gas without military planes, personnel

Posted: May 15, 2013 - 9:53pm

Even without the gigantic Boeing C-17s Globemaster IIIs or the bulbous, four-propellered Lockheed C-130 Hercules, it’s still a good time. Even the Blackhawks don’t need to be there to have fun.

And for this year’s 13th Annual Kenai Peninsula Air Fair and Poker Run, they won’t be, Kenai Municipal Airport Manager Mary Bondurant said. Federal sequestration, she said, has chased off the normal military planes, helicopters and personnel. She said the military band won’t even be able to make it.

But she is not worried.

“Of course the C-17, C-130, the helicopters, the military — they’re a huge draw,” Bondurant said, but it’s not the first time the air fair has been without the machines or their operators.

The fair is on June 8. Pilot breakfasts and registration for the poker run — a timed flight to five of the seven Peninsula airstrips — will open from 8-11 a.m. at the Soldotna Airport’s MARC Hangar, 565 Funny River Road, Soldotna.

Another registration will open from noon to 3 p.m. at the Kenai airport’s operations facility, 515 N. Willow, Kenai. The Kenai airport will hold its barbecue during the same time, and Troubadour North will play from noon to 1:45 p.m. Music will follow from 2:30-3:15 p.m.

The American Legion Post 20, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10046 and Kenai Composite Squadron Civil Air Patrol will fly colors 2-2:25 p.m.

The deadline for pilots competing in the poker run to turn in the cards collected at the five air strips is 2:30 p.m. Poker run awards immediately follows.

Henry Knackstedt, the Kenai airport chairman and a pilot, said flocks of other pilots and bystanders have come out during past years when the military was deployed and there were no aircraft on display.

Traditionally, the air fair has been a display of military appreciation, he said. It began with the Collings Foundation flying North American B-25 Mitchell and Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers from the East Coast, across the Lower 48 and up to Alaska, he said.

“That’s how it started,” he said. “It was a military appreciation.”

Back then he was the Kenai contact for the foundation, he said. The organization flew from airbase to airbase in Alaska and Lower 48, he said.

With the excitement of military aircraft and personnel, he said the air fair has grown from its early years. He said the barbecue in Kenai probably helps too.

“We get pilots all over, from Southcentral (Alaska); even some from Fairbanks come over,” he said.

Also, pilots need few excuses to fire up their planes, he said. One time he flew the 200-plus miles to King Salmon for a stale Snickers bar, he said.

“We’ll do just fine,” he said.

Bondurant expects 40 to 45 planes in the poker run and about 400 spectators in the afternoon for the festivities.

She has also sent invitations to Era Aviation, Grant Aviation, FedEx and the Alaska Aviation Museum in Anchorage, hoping to bolster the fair’s exotic plane displays, she said.

However, Shari Hart, executive director for the Anchorage aviation museum, said Thursday the museum’s 1931 Pilgrim needs work before it can fly down to the Peninsula. “That is the only plane we have insurance on,” Hart wrote in an email.

Although the military planes will not be there as they have in past years, Knackstedt is optimistic.

“Sometimes you have parties for people even when they can’t be there,” Knackstedt said.

Dan Schwartz can be reached at daniel.schwartz@peninsulaclarion.com.

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