Event Was to be Held This Weekend; Organizers Vow to Bring it Back in 2014

2013-08-24T01:00:00Z Thunder silenced at SMXNiki Cervantes/ Santa Maria Times

The skies over the Santa Maria Airport were set to play host to vintage and modern-day warbirds this weekend, part of the biggest Thunder Over the Valley air show ever.  But with the popular show canceled earlier this summer, the event’s organizers instead are spending the weekend retrenching.

“It’s a downer,” said Dick Mininger, a volunteer who is also the president of the Santa Maria Museum of Flight.

But Mike Geddry Sr., the show’s head organizer, said he is determined to bring Thunder Over the Valley back for 2014.  “We’re doing reconnaissance and evaluating our assets,” said Geddry.

The museum’s board grounded the air show due to financial problems. But Geddry said he is determined that the show take flight again, even if it means splitting from the museum board, its sponsor, and putting together a special nonprofit organization to produce the show.

“I’m taking no prisoners,” said Geddry, who instead of heading up the air show spent the weekend on a trip to Camp Pendleton in San Diego County, a journey meant to thank all the personnel there who participated in Thunder Over the Valley throughout the years.

He also hoped to rally the troops there, he said.  “I just want them to know how much we appreciate them,” said Geddry, who was making the long drive with his wife, Cathy, and service dog Kayla, an Alaskan malamute/wolf hybrid.

Many of the participants from Camp Pendleton and other military bases, as well as the show’s estimated 200 volunteers, were upset over the cancellation of the show, he said.

The air show would have been 26 years old this year.

Geddry announced in late July that the air show had been canceled, a victim of federal budget cuts and, to an extent, its own success.  “The cancellation of the show was like leaving a wounded brother or sister on the home front battlefield,” Geddry said at the time, in a letter explaining the decision.

The show had been increasing in popularity, attracting about 8,000 visitors regionwide last year — up from 5,000 in 2005, Geddry said.

Its future had been up in the air ever since the federal government failed to stop midyear budget cuts, which seriously curtailed operations of the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Armed Forces.  Those cuts have delivered a one-two punch to air shows all over the country.

FAA inspectors are required to approve airports, airplanes and pilots for air shows held throughout the country. At the same time, the military provides equipment and personnel for public outreach at the shows.

Despite the odds, supporters went ahead with planning the event, trying to find enough funding. They aimed to put together an event with at least three or more warbird acts at a cost of more than $40,000.

It had $15,000 provided by the Santa Maria Public Airport, but after going to the show’s 30 sponsors, Geddry said organizers could only raise another $12,000.

Geddry said the economy — still rocky here as elsewhere in the country — made it hard to get the funding it needed from the private corporations that are usually helpful. But he said he was confident that as times improve, so will the chances of getting adequate financing.

The sponsors, he said, truly want to help.  “Our sponsors have spirits as big as Alaska and Texas combined,” he said.

August 24, 2013  •  Niki Cervantes/