Air show won't feature high-speed aerobatics '97 crash still worries those in Bowleys Quarters

March 12, 1998|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Stung by the spectacular crash of a Stealth fighter aircraft last year, the Chesapeake Air Show will be held again this fall, but without high-speed aerobatics and under new leadership.

At a meeting last night in Middle River, community leaders were told the show will be held, but with slower-flying aircraft performing airborne tricks.

As part of an agreement with skittish residents in Bowleys Quarters and Wilson Point, air show jets will not fly but will be part of a ground display during the show, scheduled for Sept. 26 and 27 at Martin State Airport.

The no-jet compromise has pleased most residents, many of whom had sought an end to the air shows that began in 1990.

But others remain shaken long after the crash.

"Several people are still being seen by counselors," said Thomas Lehner, president of the Bowleys Quarters Improvement Association. "Their lives are forever changed."

He added that residents remained skittish because propeller-driven aircraft will be flying at low altitudes during the weekend of the air show.

On Sept. 14, an Air Force F-117A, one of the world's most sophisticated aircraft, broke up during a low-level pass that was part of the show over the airport. The Stealth crashed into an unoccupied house on Chester Road in Bowleys Quarters, erupting in a fireball, and the Air Force pilot parachuted to safety.

No one was injured.

The federal government cleaned up the crash site, a project that ended in December. The Department of Defense also assisted residents affected by the crash.

A house is under construction at the site of the destroyed home.

Some minor complaints remain -- such as trampled grass and bushes not replaced, Lehner said.

The air show drew up to 15,000 spectators annually.

But the Essex-Middle River Chamber of Commerce -- which had sponsored the show since 1990 and used the profits to fund scholarships and provide support to youth groups and the Glenn L. Martin Museum -- has dropped its sponsorship.

It will be staged by a private, nonprofit corporation headed by Edward Ziegenfuss, the former executive director of the chamber.

"It will showcase the area," Ziegenfuss told area residents in a letter announcing last night's meeting. "It will be good for business," he wrote.

Ziegenfuss retired from the chamber in January but continues to use stationery from the chamber.

He also works on the air show from the chamber office in the 400 block of Eastern Blvd.

But Nancy Hubers, president of the chamber, tried to distance her organization from the air show yesterday.

She said the organization no longer stages "extravaganzas" and is working to attract economic development by networking with other metropolitan chambers.

"There will be some chamber officials involved with the air show but they will be working individually," Hubers said.

The chamber was also affiliated with the troubled Chesapeake Country Music Festival, which was also staged at Martin State Airport.

The chamber owes $90,000 to creditors from the music festival and faces three lawsuits.

Residents said the crash shattered decades of peace between residents and members of the Maryland Air National Guard and owners of more than 250 private planes at Martin, the state's largest general aviation airport.

Lehner said state military officials respond quickly to community concerns.

The Maryland Air National Guard canceled sharp vertical climbs by its A-10 Thunderbolt attack jets the day after the organization complained late last year, he said.

Brig. Gen. Bruce F. Tuxill, commander of the Air Guard, said that his unit also will be issued eight state-of-the-art C-130 cargo planes this fall to replace similar aircraft nearly 40 years old. The new planes will have curved propellers, which will significantly diminish the roar of the props, now heard miles away.

Pub Date: 3/12/98

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