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Blue Angels, Heritage Flight, NASA exhibit on tap for Duluth Airshow

A F-22 Raptor, P-38 Lightning and P-47 Thunderbolt will perform a Heritage Flight at the Duluth Airshow this year. (Duluth Airshow photo)1 / 3
NASA will be at this year’s Duluth Airshow featuring “The Journey to Tomorrow” educational exhibit complete with space shuttle equipment, other space artifacts and hands-on exhibits. (NASA photo)2 / 3
U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan speaks to the media at a Friday afternoon news conference about additions to this year’s Duluth Airshow. Nolan was named the honorary chairman of this year’s Airshow. (Clint Austin / / 3

Northern Minnesota’s premier event for neck-craning got even loftier Friday, when the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo added to an already packed bill. Congressman Rick Nolan was on hand at Airshow headquarters in Duluth to announce the additions of a “Heritage Flight” as well as “The Journey to Tomorrow,” an educational exhibit from NASA.

The biennial event will be Aug. 23-24 at the Duluth International Airport.

“It’s the biggest spectator event in northern Minnesota; it’s the biggest air show in all of Minnesota,” Nolan said. “Most importantly, it highlights Duluth as a mecca for aviation.”

The U.S. Air Force’s Heritage Flight will feature two aircraft from World War II — the P-47 Thunderbolt and a P-38 Lightning. The P-38 Lightning is the same aircraft flown by Poplar, Wis., native Richard Bong in becoming the “Ace of Aces.” Superior’s Richard I. Bong Historical Center features a grounded version of the aircraft. The Airshow will buttress the flight of these two heritage jets against the rarely seen F-22 Raptor, a state-of-the-art stealth fighter that will follow the two heritage aircraft.

“The Heritage Flight is a big deal,” said Ryan Kern, the event’s president. “It gives the USAF a chance to bridge the gap between aircraft of the 1940s to the modern day F-22 Raptor.”

The P-47 Thunderbolt, Kern added, has never been seen at the Duluth Airshow.

In securing NASA’s involvement, Kern said the Airshow was helped by Nolan after first receiving a negative response from the aerospace agency. As a member of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure, which includes the subcommittee on aviation, Nolan was able to convince NASA to support the event by offering up its interactive exhibit that features space shuttle equipment and other space-flight artifacts.

“I saw a chance to make some calls to make things happen,” Nolan said. “When you get a call from Congress that’s supportive, it carries weight.”

The F-22 Raptor and the NASA exhibit will join the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels, who are returning to the event after several years. Kern called the Blue Angels the Airshow’s headliners. The popular flight demonstration squadron is booked two years out, making it the most in-demand attraction on the air show circuit.

Kern tried to make an impromptu addition when he suggested Nolan could parachute from an airplane. Nolan was quick to deflate the possibility. Nolan said he recently took part in an F-16 flight simulator and “the G-forces were too much,” causing his simulated craft to spin out of control.

Kern addressed the possibility of Duluth hosting an annual show, saying the present incarnation is the best way to go.

“It takes a lot to put the Airshow on, to be quite honest,” said Kern, who said organizing the lineup alone takes a year-and-a-half. The Blue Angels, for instance, are booked two years out. “I don’t know that our sponsors could find the funding [every year],” he said.

Instead, since 2001, Duluth every other year seen the event Nolan described as a spectacle befitting a city with a burgeoning aviation reputation. He listed the Airshow, as well as the international airport, Cirrus Aircraft and the 148th Fighter Wing, as feathers in the city’s cap.

While Kern said speculating on spectator numbers was a loaded question, Nolan didn’t shy away, saying the event figures to draw more than 70,000 viewers, including many who crane their necks from their own rooftops.

If you go Tickets for the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo are now on sale at