Residents demand end to air show Homeowners upset in Bowleys Quarters over September crash

November 14, 1997|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

An angry crowd of Bowleys Quarters residents demanded last night an end to a popular air show in the wake of the crash of a stealth fighter jet in September.

"I don't want to see an air show anymore. [The chamber] has to recognize that families live in this area," Thomas Lehner, president of the Bowleys Quarters Improvement Association, said to a group of about 50 homeowners and business leaders.

Lehner told a hushed audience how he saw his wife and two children hugging the ground screaming, as the jet exploded in a fireball about 300 feet from their waterfront home on Frog Mortar Creek.

But Edward Ziegenfuss, executive director of the Essex-Middle River Chamber of Commerce, said, "We think we'd like to do another air show. It showcases the area. But we can't guarantee another situation won't happen again."

To the surprise of many, no one from either the Maryland Air National Guard or Martin State Airport attended the meeting.

Earlier complaint

The Air Force F-117A Nighthawk crashed during the Chesapeake Air Show on Sept. 14. Three weeks earlier, a community leader complained to the Federal Aviation Administration about life under the Martin State Airport flight path.

Lehner said FAA officials told him they were unaware of risky maneuvers by Maryland Air National Guard jet pilots over the airport. An investigation could be started, he was told.

But Brig. Gen. Bruce Tuxill, commander of the air guard, aimed to resolve the problem days after the crash by discontinuing sharp vertical climbs over the neighborhood.

The Essex-Middle River Chamber of Commerce, which arranged the stealth flight, has sponsored the air show since 1990. That year, a stunt pilot was killed in a crash at Martin State Airport.

Revenue source

Ziegenfuss said the air show is crucial to the business group's budget and improves the east side's image and economic development.

After this year's air show, the Pentagon defended using expensive military aircraft -- such as the stealth, which costs about $43 million -- in public air shows.

For homeowners only hundreds of feet beyond the airport's main runway, however, thundering C-130s and A-10 attack jets are noisy neighbors and frightening reminders of when the stealth jet crashed into a home on Chester Road.

Several residents and firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation, but no one was killed in the incident. The pilot parachuted to safety.

More than 250 private and corporate aircraft rent "parking" or hangar space at Martin, on Eastern Boulevard in Middle River. Fees collected from owners of those aircraft contribute to the $43 million in revenue the airport generates.

Since moving to Martin in the late 1950s, the Maryland Air National Guard has embarked on a building program with hangars and administrative offices. Eight C-130 cargo planes and 17 A-10 jets are based there, and the Guard pays the state $25,000 in annual rent.

The Guard has an annual payroll of $33 million, is involved in many community programs, conducts hurricane relief and participates in worldwide missions, Tuxill said.

Jake West, manager of the airport since 1980, declined to attend last night's meeting for personal reasons. No airport representatives were sent in his place.

Pub Date: 11/14/97

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