NAVAL AVIATION NEWS
AIR SHOW '76 - SOUTH WEYMOUTH
Published in the December 1976 Issueof Naval Aviation News
Photographer & Author Unknown
What would you do if the Blue Angels offered their services for an air show and gave you just three weeks to get ready?
The answer is not simple. But one thing is certain if the offer is accepted. You go to work immediately, and you use the assets at hand.
That's what happened at Naval Air Station, South Weymouth the second week in July when a Blue Angel performance in Suffolk County, N.Y., was cancelled.
The offer included, along with the Blues, stunt pilot Bob Hover with his two-plane aerobatics show for performances on July 30 and August 1. Add to this the operational aircraft at the air station, which could be used in fly-by and operational maneuvers.
Armed with this information, public affairs personnel issued a news release - to every media outlet is the six-state New England area. That first release. General in nature, announced the dates and times of Air Show '76 at NAS South Weymouth.
The advance publicity accomplished, the PAO planning brief started with a brain-storming session in which office personnel outlined ready assets which could be used to get the word out quickly and completely. Public affairs had recently coordinated a change of command ceremony at South Weymouth, so VIP lists and media contact files were up-to-date.
Because of the short lead time, tasks and assignments were outlined on a flip chart on a week-to-week basis. Activities were purposely scheduled in a manner that would build the publicity program to a crescendo the day before the show. If all went well. By the time the Blues took off for their practice show, the New England area would be saturated with word of the event.
It was decided to issue a news release once a week and send it to every newspaper in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Distribution on the final release would be expanded to include all radio stations in New England.
First follow-up action of the initial announcement was direct contact with television and radio stations in the Boston area. Now the alert was out. There would be an air show at South Weymouth in three weeks. The NAS public affairs office, like most, is seriously undermanned for a project on this magnitude, so a call went out to the Selected Air Reserve community for help and two young lieutenants reported for a week of active duty to help with the show.
When the public affairs office received promotional material (24-sheet and counter-top posters, press kits and 16mm film clips) from the Blue Angels, the lieutenants were given the task of hand-carrying it to outlets which could advertise Air Show '76 the most, in the shortest time.
While making these personal contacts, the reserves arranged for three representatives from television, radio and press to fly with a Blue Angel before show time.
The radio representative broadcast his impression of the flight live from a Blue Angel A-4 Skyhawk. This proved to be one of the most successful advertisements of the show. He also broadcast live from a mobile unit at the air station the first day of the show.
Arrangements were made for one of the Blue Angels to appear on a 15-minute segment of a nationally syndicated talk program. Another member of the squadron was featured in a second television talk show, and the 16mm film clip provided by the Blues was used by a third channel in the Boston area.
All was going well. The weather was holding and preparations for the show were developing into an all-hands effort as show time approached. Maintenance personnel were making arrangements for a static display of all types of aircraft brought in from nearby bases. The public works people were building concession booths. Supply was completing negotiations with users of those booths. Public affairs, using more borrowed personnel, was sending invitations to more than 200 VIPs and friends of the Navy.
A highlight of the pre-show activity was to be the Blue Angels practice show on Friday. (The show began on Saturday.) More than 100 representatives of the news media were invited and arrangements were made for them to meet the Blues. A cocktail party at the officers club allowed the VIPs to do the same thing.
Then it rained.
It had not rained for months in the New England area and nightly weather reports held none in prospect. Two days before the highlight of NAS South Weymouth's Bicentennial, however, it rained.
On Friday morning a fine mist swept over everything. In winter, that mist (becoming snow) often slows activities at the air station to a virtual standstill. Would it, in summer, wash away the air show?
Just when the faint-hearted began to mumble and cast their eyes at the lowering clouds, word got around that there would be no talk of cancellation. On that positive note, all hands continued preparations. But rain continued throughout Friday. The practice show was cancelled.
As rain continued to fall, the telephones in PAO rang almost constantly. Everyone wanted to know how bad the weather had to get before the show would be cancelled. The answer: "We are not canceling at this point. There are no plans to cancel unless it is pouring rain at show time Saturday."
Saturday morning looked like a replay of Friday. The bad weather front had not moved out during the night. By 0730, the phones in PAO were at it again and, by 0805, PAO personnel were informing the news media that the show was still go.
The gates opened at 1000. It was still raining. Word was being passed to radio and television outlets that the affair would begin as scheduled. By 1400, the scheduled starting time, 20.000 rain-coated people were on hand.
The show did go on. Visibility continued to fade as the event progressed, however, and the Blue Angels cancelled at the last moment. Station aircraft and Bob Hoover took to the air for abbreviated maneuvers just below the dark and low-hanging clouds.
Sunday morning came and there was still no sign of the sun, but the weather guesses put out the word that all would be well by afternoon.
More calls to television and radio stations with word that Sunday's show would start at 1400 did little to alleviate the strain on the telephone switchboard. Again the gates opened and another rain-coated crowd began to arrive - even more that the day before.
Two hours before the show, the rains came. They swept in from the Atlantic with a vengeance. The biggest rainstorm to hit South Weymouth in months whipped across the runways, washed along the taxiways and parking aprons and completely obliterated the ready and waiting aircraft.
Then the rain faded away. It was gone nearly as fast as it came. The sun came into view along with great patches of sky. It was still 90 minutes to takeoff. That sun and sky saved the day.
When two parachutists from Fort Devens jumped from their small aircraft to officially open the Sunday show, more than 100,000 persons were on hand.
The weather continued to clear. Scattered clouds made in impossible for the Blues to fly a complete demonstration. The pilots did their thing at lower altitude, though. The effect was, as expected, exciting in the best tradition of the Navy's Flight Demonstration Squadron.