The Great State of Maine Air Show returns this weekend to the former Brunswick Naval Air Station after a three-year hiatus.

More than 70,000 people are expected to pack the tarmac over two days to see flight demonstrations from the Navy’s famed Blue Angels team, an Air Force stealth fighter F-22 Raptor, and a slate of vintage and acrobatic aircraft piloted by civilians.

“We’ve had very strong advance ticket sales,” said Herb Gillen, a promoter of the air show.

With weather expected to be sunny and in the upper 70s for both Saturday and Sunday, Gillen said he expects a large turnout at the gate.

This year marks the return of the air show after a three-year break from Brunswick, after the Blue Angels were grounded in 2013 by federal budget cuts.

Traditionally, the show took place every other year in Brunswick, and when the Naval Air Station was active, it was free to the public and run by the military.

Since the base was closed during military restructuring in June 2011, the show had been run by the redevelopment authority charged with turning the base into a privatized business park.

But this year, the show is being run by an outside company, which is charging admission and arranging hospitality and vendors.

Tickets range from $25 for adults and $12.50 for children to $150 per person for a VIP area with seating and a catered lunch.

On Thursday, six of the Blue Angel F/A-18 Hornet aircraft arrived at the airfield, now operated as the private Brunswick Executive Airport, followed by the F-22 Raptor and the hulking four-engine, propeller-driven C-130 transport plane, nicknamed “Fat Albert,” that follows the Angels and carries the myriad equipment and crew members that support the demonstrations.

Parked a few hundred feet from where spectators will stand this weekend, the military jets cut an imposing silhouette on the flight ramp that since 2011 has been home to small civilian planes and private jets.

The Blue Angels pilots spent much of the afternoon practicing fly-bys and barrel rolls, their powerful jet engines sending out a thunderous roar.

Although the show was not yet open to the public, the sights and sounds of the military jets drew scores of spectators Thursday, some carrying long camera lenses and binoculars, parking on the roadside or next to the airfield’s fenceline to catch a glimpse of the impromptu display.

SAFETY MEASURES

During the shows this weekend, stringent safety measures will be in place to minimize the small but ever-present risk involved with heavily attended flight demonstrations.

To give the acrobatic pilots the room they need to maneuver safely, a “no fly” area for non-show related aircraft is enforced around the runway for more than nine miles in every direction and extending up to 15,000 feet, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which controls rules for air shows.

Planes during this weekend’s displays are required to maintain set distances from spectators depending on the aircraft’s power; the Blue Angels, for instance, stay 1,500 feet from the edge of the spectator area. Smaller planes can come within 500 feet, Gillen said.

“Yes, there is an element of risk, but there is an element of risk just driving here,” Gillen said. “Safety is the number one priority.”

AIR RACES HAVE DIFFERENT STANDARDS

Annually, about three pilots die in air show-related incidents, Gillen said, but a spectator has not died in the United States at an air show since 1951. There are hundreds of air shows around the country each year.

Eleven people, including spectators, were killed and dozens more injured at a Reno, Nevada, air race in 2011. Such race events do not follow the same safety standards as air shows, Gillen said.

Three people died during the first half of this year in air show and air race-related accidents in the United States, according to National Transportation Safety Board data published by the Chicago Tribune.

The most recent pilot fatality related to an air show occurred a week ago in New Windsor, New York. The civilian pilot died when a single-engine acrobatic aircraft broke apart during a practice session ahead of the New York Air Show.

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