PITTSTON TWP. — Grasping lawn chairs with one hand and using the other to shade their eyes, spectators ooh-ed” and “ahh-ed” as they looked to the sky to watch a biplane loop-da-loop before nose-diving toward the ground and pulling back up and away at the last possible second.
Turning behind them, members of the crowd gathered at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport, then watched a helicopter take off for one of its first passenger rides of the day.
It was opening day of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Air Show Saturday, bringing in thousands from the region and beyond who were eager to see show after its 17-year hiatus. Numerous planes and helicopters were on display to see, touch and explore, while more than 20 aeronautical performers kept spectators enthralled with ongoing tricks, twists and turns.
Although initial weather reports called for rain Saturday, not one drop was seen at the airport, which allowed some great viewing for the public who came out en masse to see the aircrafts.
While some families took shelter from the sun’s warm rays under the wing of an Air National Guard 193rd Special Ops EC-130J, Clarks Summit resident Fawn Chillari watched as her son, Alex, climbed into a Geisinger helicopter. As the 7-year-old smiled out the window of the chopper, his mother explained why she brought him to the air show.
He adores planes, helicopters, everything,” she said. “I think it’s great that it’s back. After 17 years, we’ve been waiting for an air show to come. The closest one to us was in Ohio.”
A pilot’s story
Helping Chillari navigate around inside the chopper was Geisinger LifeFlight pilot Scott Walters. The pilot said he has been flying for Geisinger for the last 10 years, and he enjoys letting the public see and explore the inside of the 2013 EC145 Airbus.
“It’s a pretty neat chopper,” he said as more children climbed inside.
Walters said he started flying in the Navy, where he served as a pilot for 10 years before putting in another 10 flying for the healthcare giant. As for the air show itself, he said he was glad to see it make a triumphant return to the area, adding that seeing the show as a child helped him to mold his future career path.
“Honestly I grew up in the area and I grew up coming to this air show, and this air show had a lot to do with my love for aviation,” he said.
While some attendees were lining up to walk inside the planes and helicopters on display, others were lined up in their lounge chairs watching a variety of aircraft performances.
As the crowd watched a B-25 Mitchell zoom across the sky, announcers from Schultz Airshows commented about the history of the planes, adding an educational twist to the high-impact aerial performance. The army-green aircraft was a favorite among spectators while it was on the ground, attracting many to stand in front of its Rosie the Riveter-like painting for a photo.
Continuing a tradition
Sitting on the grass at the front of the tarmac, Jessica Rutkowski said she couldn’t pass up the chance to bring her children to the event, as her parents did for her.
“It was a tradition for us as kids, so we just wanted to do it with the kids,” she said.
The Springbrook family agreed they loved the event, and they hope officials decide to keep the show running annually.
On the other side of the viewing area was another family that made a two-hour trip to see the event one more time.
Charles Haduck Jr. sat happily in his lawn chair with his father, Charles Haduck Sr., on one end and Sherrie Hopkins on the other. The group traveled from Hershey and Lebanon, happily announcing that they never missed an air show.
“We’ve been to every one since its existence,” Haduck Jr said. “We were disappointed that it left, and now that it’s back, we’re happy, and that’s why we traveled two hours to get here.”
The father-and-son duo said they were most excited to see fighter jets such as the F-18s and F-22s perform, adding that many of the aircraft in the show hold a special place in their hearts.
“I’m a veteran, myself, and am familiar with a lot of these old planes, and I’m reminiscing about the things that I did and whatnot,” Haduck’s father said. “It brings back a lot of memories for me.”
Classic cars, rare planes
While the planes drew the big crowds, they were not the only modes of transportation on display at the show.
Classic cars also lined a large portion of the airport as part of a “Wings and Wheels” display that benefits Pennsylvania Wounded Warriors, allowing car enthusiasts to admire the varying makes, models and colors on display. In addition to passenger helicopter rides, and numerous vendors, a children’s section was also available for tots, including bounce houses with an inflatable slide, rock climbing, paintball and and aero-jump.
Located just in front of the children’s section, Peter Hague, a pilot from Ashburg, Virginia, sat atop the wing of a rare, historic aircraft — a T-6 Texan.
“This airplane trained the first female pilots in the Army Air Corps,” he said. “There’s only two of these that are left.”
He said the aircraft was based out of the Avenger airfield in Texas, and originally used to train the female pilots before they moved onto fighter and attack aircrafts. It carried two machine guns and a light bomb load, and was used in combat for the South African Air Force until 1972.
The Commemorative Air Force organization made bringing the the T-6 Texan to the air show possible.
Hague also gave some good news about future air shows at the Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport.
“We will probably be coming back next year, and hopefully we will be giving rides,” he said. “It’s been a good crowd.”
The Northeast Pennsylvania Air Show continues today.