Dave Ayers, WNZF station manager and cheerleader in chief of all things Flagler, was disappointed when he learned earlier this year that “Wings Over Flagler” wasn’t going to happen for the second year straight. Then he had an idea. The radio station had also recently ended its partnership with Palm Coast for the highly successful annual “Rock n’ Ribfest,” a day-long festival of music and barbecue, because “they wanted to do all their own promotions their way and we want to do ours our way,” says Ayers.
“I heard the Wings Over Flagler wasn’t going to happen this year because they didn’t have the time or the promotional support or budget, so we said”–to Bill Mills of Blue Sky Acrobatics, the progenitor of the original Wings Over Flagler events–“‘Hey, we do marketing, we do concerts, we do vendors—let’s partner.”
Within a day, the county, the airport, Mills all agreed on reviving the old show with variations, “like instantly,” and set out to start the first ever Wings Over Flagler: Rockin’ the Runways. “Within 60 days, we’ve got this all put together,” Ayers says.
The event started Friday at 4 p.m., with a special fly-in, where people could meet the pilots of some 30 planes or more. See, touch, walk around. Sit in the cockpit in some cases. From 7pm to 9pm, A Billy Joel tribute band called Turnstiles takes the stage from 7 to 9 p.m. Tony Monaco “looks just like Billy Joel. He sounds just like Billy Joel. From 20 feet and two beers, it is Billy Joel,” Ayers says.
Saturday, gates open at 10 a.m. Music starts at noon, and every hour from 2 p.m. on, there’ll be different air show demonstrations. The public will also have the opportunity to take a ride in a fighter jet or a helicopter. “It’s all very reasonably priced, and you can just put it on your credit card and you can fulfill one of your bucket list dreams in life,” Ayers says.
A patriotic tribute is scheduled for 7 p.m., with a flyover and a performance by the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps color guard, followed by an Eagles tribute band and a fireworks finale at 9 p.m.
Car dealers will let visitors test-drive cars down runways and obstacle courses, and there’ll be plenty of food.
The event got a $10,000 grant from the Flagler County Commission’s Tourist Development Council, for use mostly towards advertising, an unusual grant for a for-profit company. One reason WNZF was able to secure it, though, is that the event showcases the county airport. “It gives national attention to the airport, naturally, all the pilots—magazines and things are abuzz about it,” Ayers says. “It’s a good economic engine for the county. You never know who’s going to land out there and say, ‘You know what, this is a good place to start a business.’”
County Commissioner, Nate McLaughlin, the Tourist Development Council chairman the last two years, calls “Wings Over Flagler” the largest county festival of the year, and, “To borrow a line from the chamber, it’s a good taste of Flagler,” he says. To actually get that $10,000, the event must prove that it filled so many hotel rooms for the weekend (what tourism and government officials refer to, with morbid consistency, as “heads in beds”). McLaughlin will himself be performing at the event as a guitarist and singer with his band, “Category 5,” though he says that he doesn’t think anyone, “excluding those from my own house,” will be there for him.
The role of Roy Sieger, Flagler County airport director, is to make sure all the Federal Aviation Administration guidelines are in place, ensuring proper distances for the crowd lines, to ensure safety for all those attending. That’s no small responsibility. Three years ago Bill Walker, a pilot, crashed and died during the Wings Over Flagler event–but did so in the zone, well away from crowds, designed for the aerobatic portion of the show.
“There’s tons of different logistics in terms of where everything goes,” he says, “where to put exhibitors, where the airplanes go, all vetted between all of us to ensure we have a nice flow at the event. It’s a lot of work, but I’ve been doing air shows for many, many years—I was doing them when I was in the Marine Corps. It’s an act of love, because you have to love doing it, because it’s a lot of work, and for the next couple of days after the event, you say you never want to do that again, but you find yourself doing it again the next year.”
But there won’t be aerobatics this year: organizers didn’t have enough time to get the necessary permits. So it’ll just be straight and level formation flying.
Bill Mills of Blue Sky Yakrobatics is the wings behind Wings Over Flagler and has been on the air show circuit for 12 years. For the event, he’s what’s called an air boss, which means he coordinates all the aviation events or air operations. Mills says the event was put off last year for a couple of reasons. One was that his wife Kimberly, who’d been a vital player in putting “Wings Over Flagler” together, became a partner at TBD Partners, which relocated to Flagler County from Alabama a couple of years ago. Coordinating the air show on top of that would have been too much. The other was the federal budget sequestration, which applies to all military planes. A couple of years ago National Guard and Coast Guard planes and helicopters were part of the show. They can’t be this year. “The military is still not being made available to the public for these events, which is really a shame,” Mills says.
All of the planes are civilian owned, with some being brought in as part of some kind of charity or foundation. One is the OV-1 Mohawk, a Vietnam era attack plane and a “very, very unique aircraft,” says Mills. A couple of others include Chinese CJ6’s, a vintage Asian war plane, first built in the 50s, and L39 jets, current Eastern Bloc fighting jets.
Of getting other pilots to fly in for the festivities, Mills says, “These are all guys that I fly with on our air show circuit up and down the East Coast. So these are all friends of mine who we ask to come down. From the proceeds we put gas in their airplanes. We do not pay them to come down here. They do this because they want to support our event.”
They’re also here to support ‘Wild Bill,’ the pilot killed during a flight demonstration in 2011, in whose name a memorial scholarship fund was established.
George Hanns, county commission chairman, parachuted down from one of the planes in 2012. There won’t be any parachuting this year, however. Too much going on. “It’s nothing real heroic, but when you do it, I do it on behalf of our veterans so it gives me a little more courage,” Hanns says. He lost family members in World War II, Vietnam, Korea, and Iraq, including a brother to Agent Orange.
“Hopefully this air show is profitable, because when you put on a big venture like that hopefully it’s financially gratifying but if you don’t get a big enough attendance it really hurts doing the event over and over again,” Hanns says.
Wings Over Flagler: Rockin the Runways is $10 for adults; children under 10 get in free. One admission covers both days. It’s $5 for preferred parking at the airport with free parking across the street in the Flagler Palm Coast High School with free shuttle service to take attendees back and forth across the street. For more information, visit the Wings Over Flagler website.