Thunder on the Rock includes tight security

While the community is anticipating the airborne antics of some of the country’s best trained military and civilian pilots, Whidbey Island Naval Air Station officials are working hard on last minute preparations for a very busy weekend.

“Thunder on the Rock,” NAS Whidbey Airshow 2002, the first dynamic airshow at the military installation in four years, is set for Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 17 and 18. While the Navy is opening the base to the public, event planners and base officials have faced the daunting task of welcoming hordes of civilians while maintaining security.

Kimberly Martin, naval air station public affairs officer, released information early this week that informs airshow attendees of the rules and ways to make the event a positive experience.

The naval air station, as well as all U.S. military installations worldwide, is on a higher “force protection level” since the terrorist attacks on U.S. targets Sept. 11, 2001. This affects how civilians enter the base and what personal items are restricted from entrance.

Security guards will direct and control access to the base. When approaching the base, airshow visitors should first follow the signs that direct toward airshow parking, and then follow the directions of the security guards, Martin said.

Coming from the north, drivers may access the base through Nortz Gate off Highway 20 and Banta Road up until 11 a.m. Federal Aviation Administration regulations require closing of that gate one hour prior to airshow flights. Nortz Gate will not reopen for exiting traffic. Washington State Patrol, the Navy and Island County Sheriff’s Department have concluded that exiting traffic in that area would cause a “bottleneck,” Martin said.

Coming from the south, drivers should proceed to the Saratoga Gate, commonly known as the hospital gate, off of Ault Field Road.

Oak Harbor radio station KWDB 1110 AM will broadcast traffic conditions around the naval air station this weekend.

Attendees should be mindful of the list of personal items that are restricted, such as cell phones and pagers, backpacks and duffel bags, and coolers and glass bottles. Security personnel will not permit entrance to anyone carrying prohibited items, or authorities may confiscate such items.

Thunder on the Rock is slated to include dozens of attractions, including dynamic and static aircraft displays, a consumer faire, a Kids’ Fun Zone, and concessions to include a food court, beer garden and novelty sales.

The U.S. Force Thunderbirds are scheduled to begin their performance at about 3 p.m. on Sunday.

To round out the airshow program, the base will hold a closing ceremony on Sunday to honor former Prisoners of War. Base officials plan to fly an American flag at the ceremony and dedicate that flag to the veterans’ memorial that organizers are planning to build in Coupeville.

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