Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

F-14 Tomcat's scram wows air-show fans

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THE wild blue yonder was distinctly grey yesterday afternoon, but that didn't hinder the mighty Tomcat's astounding debut prowl at the Winnipeg Air Show.

Eyes turned toward the heavens, hands covered ears, and jaws collectively dropped as the spectacular F-14 Tomcat, the pride and joy of the U.S. Navy, soared past a huge crowd on Day 1 of the annual aviation extravaganza.

It marked the first time the jet -- with speeds exceeding Mach 2, or about 2,400 km-h -- has been included in the air show, which proceeded with just a few minor program changes despite the cool, wet and windy conditions and very low cloud cover.

And fans, many in their rain gear, were duly impressed.

"It's unbelievable something that big can go that fast," said Richard Carradice, 41, of Winnipeg, who had the entire family out to see the sky-high exhibition. "They said it weighs like 30 tons, and yet the way it manoeuvres is unreal."

The F-14 Tomcat was the jet featured in the 1986 Hollywood blockbuster Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise.

"That's Tom's plane," one fan shouted as it made its second high-speed, deafening pass. "I can't believe it's actually here."

Carradice's nine-year-old daughter Erin admitted she stuffed her fingers in her ears when the fierce fighter stormed by.

"It was cool, but it was loud," she said. "I like to watch planes, but I'm not the biggest fan of flying. That's too fast and scary for me, like when they do all the flips."

As it rocketed past the throng of spectators, pilot Lt. Andrew (Stik) Mrstik's voice boomed over the public address system: "It's great to be in Canada," he said.

Top-gun wannabe Kevin Harder, sitting in the VIP area, was in his glory.

"This is like Christmas for me," he said. "You don't get to see aircraft like this around here. We see Hercules in the skies every day, but these U.S. fighters are amazing."

Harder, there with partner Orianne Donig and their two daughters, said he's been dreaming of soaring through the clouds since he was a kid.

"When I win the lottery, I'm taking flying lessons," he joked.

While the Tomcat was the big star of the show, smaller jets such as the CF-18 Hornets, CF-5 Freedom Fighters and F-16 Falcons were also a huge hit yesterday.

The always popular Snowbirds squadron did its thing, too.

Don Marion, 55, was just as impressed with the Griffon helicopter and its search-and-rescue demonstration, in which a man slid down a rope to the ground to aid a mock disaster victim. The victim was placed on a stretcher, then hoisted back up to the hovering helicopter.

"With these winds, he's risking his life for our entertainment," laughed Marion. "It's very impressive. Apparently, they patrol from Timmins, Ont., to the Rockies. I'm glad they're out there for us."

Air show executive director Barry Lynds said the event tries to offer something for everyone.

"For me, the Tomcat is the real show-stealer this year. But whether you like the jets, the old war birds, the stunts or the helicopters, there's lots to see," said Lynds, adding he was flying high with a tremendous turnout, despite the weather.

"The show has gained a certain status where we are getting the very best performers available. They'll only go to shows that are safe and well-organized.

"We have 500 volunteers -- the backbone of the show. And they've done a heck of a job."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 8, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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