Thursday, August 22, 2013

Erie Aviation Gala features planes, cars this weekend: Erie International Airport/Tom Ridge Field (KERI), Pennsylvania

Who needs Heidi Klum?

Erie International Airport will celebrate the end of its project runway this weekend with a free Aviation Gala Open House. The two-day event, presented by Erie Promotions and Expos Inc., will feature more than 25 planes, an antique car show, a hot-air ballon demonstration, a marketplace pavilion and "Rise Above," a traveling exhibit on the Tuskegee Airmen.

Children can also hang out at a Kid's Hangar with activities and mascots from Erie sports teams.

Don't think of this weekend's event as an air show; planes won't buzz overhead and perform spectacular stunts. But visitors can check out all sorts of vintage planes -- including military ones -- on the ground.

"The airport contacted (us) quite a few months ago and said we want to celebrate the reopening of Erie's runway," said Mark Concilla of Erie Promotions. "(They) wanted a community event that gives families and everyone a chance to come out and experience the airport."

They wanted a free event, too. Numerous sponsors came on board to help the event take off.

The centerpiece attraction: Wings Over Wheels, a combo plane and car show.

"We reached out to regional pilots from around the area to come and spend a day with their planes and have them on display. We got a great response of unique planes," Concilla said.

Three of the event's featured planes are from Michigan's Yankee Air Museum -- a B-17 Fortress, a C-47 Skytrain and a B-25 Mitchell. All three war birds were used extensively in military service.

A C-123, dubbed Thunder Pig for its sheer size, will be on display. It was the only aircraft to serve the U.S. Air Force as a glider, prop and turboprop craft, according to Air Heritage Inc., which saved the plane from scrap and restored it.

A Corsair, which could land on aircraft carriers and fold its wings, is coming, along with several Titans. Visitors can tour the planes, and operators will offer merchandise.

"These aircrafts are all owned by historical organizations and their ultimate goal is to keep these planes flying. And the only way is to offer rides or sell products to support that," Concilla said.

At press time, just three seats remained available to ride in the B-17; the cost is $425.

Visitors can also check out the "Rise Above" exhibit, which tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen -- a squadron of black pilots who fought during World War II. George Lucas' film "Red Tail" told that story in 2012. A Tuskegee P-51C Mustang will also be at the airport.

Concilla expects nearly 70 cars for the "wheels" part of the weekend; they'll compete for plaques and prizes in four categories. The oldest is a 1935 Chevy Street Rod.

Tad Bowen will visit with Muttley Crew -- dogs that catch Frisbee discs in midair, not dogs that listen to Vince Neil. The Kid's Hangar will feature activities organized by the Erie Otters, SeaWolves, BayHawks and Explosion. A National Guard rock wall will also be on site, along with a hot-air balloon and radio-controlled aircraft.

While airline food can be sketchy, Savor the Flavor should be different, with an array of choices that includes roasted almonds, jams, jellies, ice cream, kettle corn and more.

A ribbon-cutting and runway dedication ceremony with assorted dignitaries is Sunday at 2 p.m. The full runway opened July 3; just some repaving on the old runway remains of the $82 million project. Airport officials hope the extended runway, at 8,420 feet long, will attract new airlines and flight destinations.

Cologne, Germany, anyone? That's where Klum is from.


The Erie Airport Gala is scheduled Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Erie International Airport. Free. For parking, enter at West 14th Street and Shenk Avenue. For info, visit


Ongoing activities: Static airplane viewing; car show; Kids Bounce House; Kids' Hangar activities; Tuskegee Experience.

Muttley Crew Frisbee Dog Show: Saturday, 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m., 1 p.m.

Hot-air balloon seminars: Saturday, noon, 2 p.m., 4 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m., noon.

Lowes Kids Build & Grow: Saturday, noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m., 4 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m., 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m.

Thermal G Demonstrations: Saturday, noon, 2 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m.

Helicopter arrivals and departures: Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Ribbon-cutting, runway dedication ceremony: Sunday, 2 p.m.

Car and plane award ceremony: Sunday, 3:30 p.m.