Westmoreland County Airshow wraps up at Arnold Palmer Regional

August 2, 2018
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The United States Army Parachute Team, Golden Knights, jumps from 12,500 feet up during the Shop ‘n Save Westmoreland County Airshow at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity on Sunday, July 29, 2018.

Bill Wright has seen big crowds before over the 45 years of airshows he’s attended in Westmoreland County.

But the crowd -- estimated at more than 100,000 -- for the weekend during the 2018 Shop ’n Save Westmoreland County Airshow at the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport near Latrobe might have been the largest.

“When it first started out, we were on the deck and the crowd wasn’t anything like it is today,” Wright said.

Wright, 80, of Greensburg, attended the very first airshow in 1975 and has been to every one since, watching as aerial acrobats flipped and turned in the skies and admiring the precision of the military jets that have been featured in recent years.

Wright, a pilot and flight instructor, served this year as he has for decades as one of more than 300 volunteers who worked to support the show operations. He’s a member of what officials call the Red Shirts brigade, the volunteers who direct crowds and help clean up the tarmac after the last of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds roars over the skies.

Wright marveled at how the airshow has grown over the decades.

“For the first few years, we just had local talent here. But once we started getting military teams, it grew exponentially,” Wright said. “I love aviation, and just being part of it makes me enjoy what I do.”

Gabe Monzo, executive director of the Westmoreland County Airport Authority, said the work done by Wright and the other volunteers is essential for the airshow.

“We couldn’t do it without them. We depend on them. All of the Red Shirts are committed to the airport and the airshow,” Monzo said.

Estimates pegged Saturday’s turnout at about 65,000. About 50,000 attended on a sun-splashed Sunday, Monzo said.

Crowds started arriving early Sunday to get up-close views of the show.

Sam Terzich, 75, of West Mifflin was at the airport by 9:30 a.m. to stake out a spot close to the runway to watch the planes soar overhead. A Navy veteran who flew as part of an aircrew serving in Vietnam in the mid-1960s, Terzich said he returns to Westmoreland County each year for the show.

“I like the atmosphere,” Terzich said.

Dave Spotz and his wife, Terry, of Johnstown, made a return visit to the airshow after a 25-year absence.

“I wanted to see these old jets. I like airplanes,” Spotz said.

Sandy Rudge and her husband drove their recreational vehicle from Johnstown to Latrobe as part of a family reunion that gathered in one of the lower parking lots at the airport.

“We used to come every year, but this is our first time back in 30 years, (since) when our daughter was 12 years old,” Rudge said.

Her daughter, Christi Nogueiri of Florida, is now a parent herself, and she brought her two children, ages 13 and 9, for their first visit to the airshow.

David Lancia came with a group of friends from Pittsburgh’s North Hills.

“I have pride in our Air Force and pride in every branch of the military,” Lancia said. “It’s great what they are doing for our county.”

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