NEWS | Jan. 31, 2010

U.S. military draws crowds to El Salvador air show

By 1st Lt. Jennifer Richard Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

Approximately 18,000 people from across Central America came to the 2010 Ilopango Air Show Jan. 30-31, where they saw U.S. military aircraft and got to meet and interact with American servicemembers.

The air show included demonstrations by the Salvadoran air force, performances by civilian pilots, a fly-by of two U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancers, static displays of a Joint Task Force-Bravo CH-47 Chinook and a HH-60 Black Hawk and more.

This year's show held special meaning for the people of El Salvador, who suffered devastation in their country following torrential rains and flooding last November. More than 100 people died in the floods and landslides, thousands of homes were destroyed and much of El Salvador's infrastructure was damaged.

"This is a chance for all our citizens to have a diversion--to come out and enjoy a nice day with their families," said Elizabeth "Nanette" Pelegero, the air show manager. "This weekend, they can have fun and take their minds off their problems."

Joint Task Force-Bravo's participation in the show marked the unit's first visit to El Salvador since November, when JTF-Bravo helicopters and personnel assisted in the disaster relief efforts. Within 48 hours of the rainfalls, JTF-Bravo deployed three helicopters (one CH-47, one UH-60 and one HH-60) and more than 40 people from Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, to El Salvador.

In cooperation with El Salvador's armed forces and other agencies, JTF-Bravo helped deliver 372,912 lbs. of relief supplies, provided medical care to almost 4,400 Salvadoran villagers and distributed more than $44,000 worth of medicine.

"We are happy to be here supporting the Ilopango Air Show," said Army Capt. Elizabeth Eaton-Ferenzi, mission commander and 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment Assistant S-3. "The last time our unit was here was in the midst of the disaster, so it is great to be here now and have the opportunity to meet and talk with the Salvadoran people."

During the air show Saturday, two B-1B Lancers from the 7th Bomb Wing, Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, flew past the crowd three times. Spectators were impressed and thrilled by the high-speed passes by the B-1B Lancers, which are capable of flying at speeds greater than 900 miles per hour.

"It was very fast! I liked it," said Paola Alvarenga, a 12-year-old from El Salvador, who had never before seen U.S. airplanes in flight.

The 2010 Ilopango Air Show exceeded the event organizers' expectations, partly due to support from U.S. Air Force and Army participants.

"The people in our country look forward to having the U.S. military here," said Ms. Pelegero. "The Americans' participation this year drew a crowd much bigger than we were expecting."

The Ilopango Air Show is scheduled to take place once a year, with the next air show here scheduled for January 2011.