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Crowds to be treated to intimate Thunder

/ Source: Santa Maria Times

An F/A-18 Super Hornet landed at Santa Maria Public Airport on Friday afternoon, but the premier dogfighting aircraft won't be taking to the skies this weekend to strut its stuff at Thunder Over The Valley.

"It's a shame they don't get to see the plane fly," Navy Lt. Cmdr. Rob "Lick" Kihm said.

In a change from previous years, the Santa Maria Museum of Flight will celebrate its 25th anniversary without the aerial demonstrations of classic and modern-day warbirds they have become know for. Organizers said they were unable to secure the required waivers in time.

Instead, a static display of more than two dozen aircraft is planned along with live music, a first-ever beer garden and attractions including an interactive Air Force display with an IMAX theater trailer and an F-16 Fighting Falcon painted in the colors of the Thunderbirds, the Air Force's aerial demonstration team.

Those who attend can also get a close up look at the Navy's top fighter plane and meet its pilot.

Kihm, 35, is an instructor at the Strike Fighter Weapons School Pacific at Lemoore Naval Air Station, near Fresno. It is his duty to teach fighter pilots air-to-air and air-to-ground tactics. The two-seat F/A-18-F he flew into Santa Maria is the latest version of the Super Hornet.

To burn off fuel before flying to Santa Maria, Kihm engaged in a dogfighting practice with

another F/A-18 pilot, he said. The flight from Lemoore to Santa Maria, 90 miles as the crow flies, took 10 minutes.

A native of Ventura County, Kihm joined the Navy in 1997 and has been flying F/A-18s during his career. He has been deployed on carriers twice - USS Abraham Lincoln and USS John C. Stennis - in support of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

During a seven-month deployment in 2007 on the Stennis, a film crew shot parts of "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" on the carrier, he said.

Naval aviation will be well represented as an E-2C Hawkeye, an early warning and control aircraft; and an SH-60 Seahawk helicopter also landed at the airport Friday.

Mike Geddry Sr., museum president and event director, anticipates a weekend crowd to exceed last year's 8,500 attendees.

Santa Maria's event is unique as it is dedicated in honor of the men and women of the Armed Forces, Geddry said.

"You can't knock that," he said.

August 29, 2009