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Westmoreland County Airshow comes roaring back to Unity airport

July 27, 2018

Gabe Monzo was just a boy when he built his first aircraft as an avid model airplane enthusiast.

Like many kids who shared his hobby, he spent hours assembling, gluing and painting small-scale replicas of military planes, including his favorite, the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, a single-engine, single-seat, all-metal fighter and ground-attack World War II aircraft that first flew in 1938.

Little did he realize that, years later, he would be running the show at the Shop ’n Save Westmoreland County Airshow at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport -- and welcoming one of 28 surviving full-size examples of more than 13,000 aircraft produced during WWII.

Monzo, executive director of the Westmoreland Airport Authority, is celebrating his 20th air show and his 35th year working at the airport located across the street from where he grew up.

Heartfelt effort

This year’s air show July 28-29 is a massive effort for all those involved, he says, including 300 volunteers “who have been putting their hearts into their work for weeks before the show.”

For Monzo, the most special part of the event is to be able to watch the military planes fly and see the reaction of the crowd.

“That’s our payoff - that surge of pride that makes you feel good,” he says.

Featured Aircraft

The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk comes to the air show from its home at the American Airpower Museum at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, N.Y.

Museum trustee Major Scott Clyman of the Air Force Reserve, an F-16 fighter pilot with the 79th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, says the plane’s unique engine sound and its maneuverability in flight make it a favorite of air show crowds.

“The P-40 is displayed as a tribute to all those who served, sacrificed, in the role of pilot, ground crew and, just as importantly, the men and women who supported the war effort during WWII in the factories that produced what were amazing advances in aviation technology in their time,” he says.

Thunderbirds return

The air show’s aerial demonstrations also will be highlighted by the return of the Air Force Thunderbirds and the Army Golden Knights Parachute Team.

The Thunderbirds air demonstration team consists of highly experienced fighter pilots who perform a sharply choreographed demonstration of F-16 Fighting Falcons, the Air Force’s premier multi-role fighter jets.

The team resumed its show schedule in May, performing in honor of Maj. Stephen “Cajun” DelBagno, a slot pilot who was killed during a practice flight at the team’s practice range in Nevada on April 4. Their last visit to the Westmoreland Airshow was in 2001.

The award-winning Golden Knights, formed in 1959 and based in Fort Bragg, N.C., consist of demonstration and competition parachutist teams drawn from all branches of the Army.

High-energy performance

Returning Firebirds X-Treme air show performers include aerobatic pilots Rob Holland and Jack Knutson, who will perform a high-energy, two-plane performance of precision formation aerobatics.

Knutson will fly his familiar bright red “Firebird” Extra 300; Holland will be flying the MXS-RH, an all-carbon fiber, single-seat aerobatic airplane.

Also featured will be the de Havilland Vampire, a twin-tailed British jet fighter developed and manufactured by the de Havilland Aircraft Company, introduced in 1946 and retired in 1955.

The Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star, nicknamed “Ace Maker,” is a subsonic American jet trainer aircraft that made its first flight in 1948, initially used by the U.S. Navy. The last operator of the T-33, the Bolivian Air Force, retired the type in July 2017, after 44 years of service.

Other restored vintage planes will participate in aerial routines or will be displayed on the airport grounds. Vendors and a NASCAR attraction also will be featured.

Monzo says the air show will bring an estimated 100,000 people to the airport during its two-day run.