Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

July 12, 2012

Flying Fortress, air shows: Time to have fun at Mercer airport

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — Years ago, before my schedule became too crazy, I was a member of the Bluefield Lions Club. My time with the Lions was fulfilling, but too often I just couldn’t make it to the meetings. A lunchtime meeting on Friday was the worst possible time for me; here at the newspaper, it’s what I call a crunch day. We’re trying to get stories ready for Saturday, plus finish up pieces for Sunday and Monday.

The Lions do a lot of  good work in the community, and I was happy to be a part of it. Naturally, because of my experience with the media, I was chosen to be the publicity coordinator.

One of the Lions Club’s biggest fundraisers is the annual pancake jamboree at the Bluefield Recreation Center. The Lions get up in the early morning and prepare pancakes and sausage for hundreds. At the Daily Telegraph, we usually try to run a feature picture that helps attendance on the second day.

Those pancake fundraisers were always fun, but I remember one year when we had something quite different — an air show at the Mercer County Airport. This idea came about when a World War II vintage bomber belonging to the Confederate Air Force landed at our county airport for repairs. I think it was a North American Mitchell B-25. That type of twin-engine bomber saw a lot of action during the war. Well, a lot of people went to the airport to see it. Later a B-17 Flying Fortress and a Liberator came to the airport and drew thousands. I even talked to some local veterans who had flown in bombers just like them during the war.

They are awesome aircraft. I remember one morning when I was living in Brushfork. I was getting ready to go to work when an awesome drone filled the air. I went outside, and there was that Flying Fortress pulling itself into the sky. That thundering aircraft had a majesty today’s aircraft are hard pressed to match. I tried to imagine hundreds of those planes flying overhead at once, and it’s so hard to grasp what a spectacle that must have been.

Well, the Lions staged an air show at the Mercer County Airport, and I have to say that despite some last-minute cancellations, the results were good. Hundreds of people attended. One collector brought his P-51 Mustang, arguably one of the finest fighter planes ever created, and flew it over the airport. I read about one Luffwaffe, or German air force, officer who said that he and his fellow pilots equated the Mustang’s arrival in Europe as the beginning of the end, and I could see why. The Mustang was incredible.

The Lions even managed to arrange a quick visit by F-16 fighters. The crowd loved it. I don’t think the club ever put on another show; logistically, it was a considerably bigger challenge than the already-successful pancake jamborees.

Memories of the air show came back Tuesday while I was covering the Mercer County Commission meeting. The commissioners tabled the reappointment of two current members of the Mercer County Airport Authority so more people can apply for an available seat on its board.

I know there have been improvements at the airport, but not a lot of activity ever since commercial flights stopped coming here. That air show hosted there years ago demonstrated that events like it can work. There’s an annual air show at the Tazewell County Airport, so there’s no reason why the Mercer County Airport can’t have one, too.

An air show doesn’t have to be a gigantic extravaganza like those big shows hosted in England and France. We might not be able to get Russian jet fighters or super-sized cargo planes to our local airports, but we can still have some interesting aircraft the public rarely gets to see up close and personal. For instance, I once attended an air show at the Raleigh County Airport that featured F-14 Tomcat fighters and an A-10 Thunderbolt, the type of ground attack jet that chewed up Iraqi tanks during both wars with Iraq. I can easily picture those sort of aircraft coming to Mercer County.

Interesting aircraft fly over our region all the time. After that June 29 storm ravaged the state, my nephew A.J. and I took a walk to see the local damage. A Blackhawk helicopter, likely with the National Guard, flew overhead. It was probably surveying the damage. There’s no reason why one couldn’t stop at a local air show.

On another occasion, I was driving to an appointment in Tazewell County when an F-16 came roaring over the valley. Even a brief sighting can be thrilling, and the Lions were able to get that quick visit from F-16s for the air show.

Even though the Mercer County Airport doesn’t have commercial flights, it does have private air traffic, and it can be a venue for events such as an air show. Even a modest exhibition could bring hundreds of people there and stimulate activity. The county has a good airport, so why not do something fun with it?

Greg Jordan is senior reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at