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Duluth Airshow draws its largest crowd yet on Saturday

New to this year's airshow were the wingsuit flyers with the Red Bull Airforce.

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The U.S. Navy Blue Angels perform on Saturday, June 26, 2021, during the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

After last year's cancellation, the Duluth Airshow saw a tightly packed, record-breaking crowd on Saturday at the Duluth International Airport.

Event organizers won't know the total number of attendees for a couple days. The airshow's media director, Jodi Grayson said the crowd size on Saturday was easily over 30,000.

Among the crowd was 6-year-old Lucas Dakovic, poking above the crowd atop his dad's shoulders while dressed in an olive green pilot suit, which he wears "a lot of times."

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"He wouldn't let us leave the house without it," said his father, Ivan Dakovic, of Duluth. "He's constantly talking about what's faster than a fighter jet. And the answer is, 'nothing.'"

Lucas said he's going to be a part of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels when he's older. He takes after his father with his interest in jets. Ivan's been attending the airshow for about 10 years, and before that, he grew up watching it alongside U.S. Highway 53.

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Thousands of people fill the tarmac and surround a a C-130 Hercules transport plane Saturday, June 26, 2021, during the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

New to this year's airshow were the wingsuit flyers with the Red Bull Air Force. The flyers jump out of a helicopter using a winged suit, rather than a parachute. They opened the show before taking flight again later in the day. The team consists of a helicopter, Kirby Chambliss in the race plane and a few skydivers.

Jon DeVore, captain of the Red Bull Air Force, flew in a wingsuit Saturday and likened their performance to "just another day in the office."

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He's been skydiving since 1995 and has over 20,000 jumps under his belt. He describes the feeling of jumping out of an aircraft or off a cliff as pure freedom, or "air therapy."

It's the closest thing we can get to being a bird. We put the wingsuits on, it gives us a lot of power to glide across the sky," DeVore said. "There's airplanes and we can fly up and touch the wings. We can be very pinpoint accurate. It makes you feel kind of superhero-ish."

The view of the crowd from the sky was the most packed airshow DeVore said he's ever seen.

"It's quite a sight," he said.

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All eyes are on the sky as the United States Air Force F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team performs on Saturday, June 26, 2021, during the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

The U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor brings one of the loudest performances to the airshow. Behind all the noise and flips, rolls and twirls, is safety officer Coffin Yalung, on the ground, communicating with the pilot and making sure everything runs smoothly.

"We're talking about every single movement he's going to do," Yalung said.

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Before every maneuver, the pilot reads off various parameters to Yalung, including the altitude. Then Yalung double-checks to make sure the pilot is at a high enough altitude to safely perform the maneuver and gives the green light.

"He knows all these numbers by heart and all the maneuvers by heart," he said. "He's never told me a bad number."

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The U.S. Navy Blue Angels perform on Saturday, June 26, 2021, during the Duluth Air and Aviation Expo at the Duluth International Airport. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

The U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor goes to about 20 shows across the country each year, as well as a handful of international shows. The team consists of 14 members, four of which are at every show, including Staff Sgt. Dan Hudson.

"It's about 200 days on the road every year, and every show has its own issues and little things that we have to kind of work around challenges," Hudson said.

Attendance on Sunday is typically lower than on Saturday, Grayson said. This year was the first time attendees could purchase a ticket and then use it either day. Grayson speculates the crowd will be much smaller on Sunday since it's forecast to rain.

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