Up to 150,000 visitors are expected to converge on Mather Airport this weekend for the California Capital Airshow, the show's executive director Darcy Brewer said, over two days of "thrills, chills and jaw-dropping excitement."
The show's lineup includes military aircraft performing "heart-pounding maneuvers" and a civilian jet team executing aerobatics "at speeds over 500 miles per hour," according to the air show's website.
That kind of high-flying entertainment does not come without the possibility of mishap, as performer fatalities at several North American air shows in 2011 have illustrated. But local and national air show officials said steps are in place to mitigate risks to performers, however remote, and to ensure the safety of visitors.
A set of federal safety regulations is applied to air shows nationwide, said John Cudahy, president of the International Council of Air Shows.
Every air show pilot is evaluated yearly by peers, to ensure they are aerobatically competent, Cudahy said. Furthermore, at all shows, distance is placed between spectators and performing aircraft so that if an accident occurs, any plane wreckage will not get into the crowd, he said.
Pilots are not permitted to direct the energy of aircraft toward the air show crowd when performing aerobatically, so that if a mishap occurs, the trajectory of the plane will not take it toward the crowd, Cudahy said.
And, he said, all maneuvers are performed within an invisible "aerobatic box," which can be up to 12,000 feet long and 3,000 feet wide and vary in altitude up to about 12,000 feet, where no people or other airplanes are allowed when single or multiple air show aircraft are flying.
There has not been a spectator fatality involving aircraft at a North American air show in decades, Cudahy said.
Four performers two pilots and two wing walkers have died in separate incidents at North American air shows in 2011, according to media reports and the International Council of Air Shows. However, that follows three years that saw a combined total of one performer fatality, Cudahy said.
Realistically, the California Capital Airshow public safety team will likely face relatively minor issues when the show opens Saturday morning.
Common calls in past years included overheated visitors and kids who wandered from their parents to check out the show's interactive aviation displays, said Marc Fontes, the show's public safety director and an assistant commander for the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department.
The show's multi-agency public safety team includes local law enforcement and fire departments, an Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting team, military personnel and citizen volunteers, Fontes said.
Its operations are coordinated through a unified command center, where staff have "eyes on almost every square inch of the air show, including traffic routes and freeway routes," Fontes said.
Fire personnel will be positioned along the airport runway, and officers on foot, horseback, bicycle and motorcycle will patrol the grounds and perimeter.
"In an event there's an issue that needs resolution, officers or volunteers can call into the command post, and the command post would coordinate with them" to determine a response, Fontes said.
"We've developed emergency response plans to address any potential incident that could occur," he said.
Traffic backups, a problem when the air show launched in 2006, have been addressed neatly through a traffic management plan that included increasing the number of inbound and outbound routes to the air show grounds.
There will also be cool-down areas for visitors who become overheated, officials said. And if a child goes missing, volunteer staff on computers placed strategically around the grounds can monitor radio traffic and generate a missing-person flier in minutes, Fontes said.
In addition to F-15 Strike Eagle and F/A-18 Hornet Demonstration teams, along with other performers and vintage aircraft, this year's show features the multi-sensory, live 3-D museum "Tora! Tora! Tora!" which recalls the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.
Gates open at 9 a.m. for the air show, and close at 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. More information is at www. californiacapitalairshow. com.
KCRA: California Capital Airshow - Sept. 5, 2011