By Jordan Cohen
The roar of Thunder Over the Valley was largely muffled by the sound of raindrops splashing on the tarmac at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station.
The on-and-off rainfall throughout Saturday afternoon washed out the highlight event — the performance by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds — and all but three other flying demonstrations.
“The clouds are problematic, and low clouds and rain are going to cause us problems,” said Maj. Curtis Daugherty, a Thunderbird pilot who signed autographs two hours before the scheduled takeoff. Daugherty said the unit requires a ceiling of 1,500 feet and at least 5 miles visibility for its high-speed performances.
The weather broke briefly, and it appeared the Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds’ formal name, would fly.
Its six F-16 jets taxied into position onto the runway when low-hanging dark clouds moved in bringing more rain. Several thousand spectators scattered to the safety of the open-aircraft maintenance hangars or huddled under the wings of C-130 aircraft that were on display.
“We can’t come back tomorrow, so I hope they can fly,” said Carrie Kirchner of Youngstown as she and her 11-year-old son, Trenton, stood in a hangar and waited.
The Thunderbirds stayed on the runway and taxiway, engines running. The sun broke through on the northwest side of the base, but dark clouds remained over the southeast. After nearly an hour, a unit spokesman announced to a collective groan from spectators the performance had to be canceled.
Despite the cancellation, some who attended said they were glad they came.
“We aren’t sorry, no; we enjoyed it,” said Eva Hartman of Sebring as her 9-year-old son Ryan nodded in agreement.
Eric White, public affairs specialist for the 910th Airlift Wing at the YARS, said he hoped for a minimum of 35,000 spectators each day of the two-day air show. No official figures were available, but Saturday’s rain-soaked turnout appeared to be well below that figure.
Still, there were plenty of activities for adults and children, and many were inside the maintenance hangar.
Thomas Cheesbro of Howland and two of his four children studied the automatic weapons on display by Air Force security forces. Tyler, 11, and 5-year-old Abigail were given flak jackets to try on.
“These jackets stop bullets, so you are the safest kids here,” said one of the military demonstrators.
Melissa Miller of Columbiana and her three children climbed aboard a C-130 called the Hurricane Hunter, flown to YARS from Mississippi. They admired the weather terminals and screens that provide data to the unit when it flies into hurricanes.
“It’s big,” said 3-year-old Ryker Miller, wide-eyed as he stared at the equipment.
“Even if they’re not able to fly today, it’s still pretty amazing,” said Richard Gonnella of Hubbard as he stood in the cockpit of a KC-135, the supertanker that refuels jets in midair.
“It’s really incredible to see this technology up close.” The same aircraft will be used to refuel the Thunderbirds for the unit’s return to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.
Today looks to be much more promising with forecasts for a mostly sunny day and temperatures in the low 60s. The gates open at 9 a.m. with the Thunderbirds’ show scheduled for 4 p.m.
Parking and shuttle service are available at Eastwood Field in Niles and Delphi-Packard Systems at North River Road and Larchmont Avenue in Warren. The shuttle service concludes at 7 p.m. when the show grounds close.