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Return of Homestead’s air show brings thrills to lovers of flight

About a mile away from the Homestead Air Reserve Base, planes soared through the sky, making dynamic smoke patterns while throngs of people walked or took a trolley to the entrance, beach chairs and water bottles in hand. Twenty years ago, the area was desolate in the wake of Hurricane Andrew.

But Saturday morning marked the opening of the Wings Over Homestead air show. Back after a one-year hiatus for inspections, planes included the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds’ F-16 and a fighter helicopter in simulated attack sequences, complete with ground explosions set up by a pyrotechnics company.

Away from the airfield, food for sale included arepas and Philly cheesesteaks, and visitors took pictures with a variety of fliers, including a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter. There was even a Delta Boeing 757 with engines that children could pose inside — turbines disabled, of course, in what would normally be a frightfully dangerous place.

For 73-year-old Jim Houchins of Pembroke Pines, the joy was watching the bigger planes. As a retired search-and-rescue pilot of 38 years, Houchins never had the opportunity to fly a large craft.

“I was flying smaller planes,” he said. “It’s fascinating to see what they (the larger planes) can do.”

A member of the Air Force from 1947 to 1951, who declined to be named, said he flew many of the planes that weaved up, down and mere seconds from collision, at the awe of the crowd.

Some went as fast as 600 miles per hour, about 90 percent the speed of sound, which made them difficult to capture for those with cameras.

Then, for a moment, the show became more than just a demonstration. Two F-15 fighters took off from the base at 3:30 p.m. to intercept a Cessna 441 aircraft over Titusville. According to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the plane was out of communication with air-traffic controllers. The show’s announcer on the public-address system emphasized the fact that Homestead’s base is on call 24/7. No one was injured, but it caused a momentary delay.

Four Thunderbirds flew in unison as part of the show’s finale, performing semicircles and other antics as a long line began to form to take the trolley back to the parking lot. The air show runs through 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

On one of the trolleys, before people returned to their cars, a U.S. Air Force member who helped place people on trolleys jokingly asked, “Did you have fun? Was it better than Disney?”

“No,” a few replied.

“But it was cheaper,” he said. (The show is free.)