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Thunder on the Rock

The air show is returning to Whidbey Island Naval Air Station with a clap of thunder.

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the Canadian Air Force Snowbirds are scheduled to help usher in the return of the air show to the naval air station this summer, for the first time in four years.

The air show, called “Thunder on the Rock,” is slated for Aug. 17 and 18, with the Thunderbirds performing on Aug. 18, said Kim Martin, public affairs officer for the naval air station.

The last time Whidbey Island Naval Air Station hosted a “dynamic” air show — one with planes actually in the air — was in 1998. The air show in the summer of 1999 was a static display only.

The event, which had been held annually for 10 years before budget restraints and the failure to book a jet demonstration team forced its cancellation, had drawn spectators numbering in the six figures to Whidbey Island for one weekend each summer. The influx of 100,000 people into the city has a great economic impact.

“It’s a major, major tourism draw,” said Priscilla Heidecker, executive director of the Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

In fact, it is the most asked about event in Oak Harbor.

“The air show is probably the number one question we’re asked when people call in from out of town,” Heidecker said. “The airshow is really the cornerstone of any military town.” Now chamber staff can give callers the good news.

Oak Harbor merchants are looking forward to the busy tourist weekend the airshow will provide.

“We look forward to having it back with great anticipation,” said Randy Bradford, general manager of the Coachman Inn. Typically, the airshow would completely book the motel, located on SR 20, for the weekend.

Krista Blackburn, economic development coordinator for the city of Oak Harbor, agreed that the return of the airshow should prove to be a boon for Oak Harbor’s tourism revenue.

Said Blackburn: “Obviously the loss of the airshow (had) been a huge loss, and seeing it come back will be a welcome sight.”

Washington State Ferries’ busiest day on the Clinton-Mukilteo route in recent memory occurred after the 1998 air show when traffic returning to the mainland backed up the ferry line in Clinton for several miles.

You can reach News-Times reporter Christine Smith at csmith@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611

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