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Variety key to Quad City Air Show

Dispatch/Argus Photo By Gary Krambeck

The Quad City Air Show started in 1988 and draws 80,000 to 120,000 spectators a year to watch the Blue Angles, Thunderbirds and other aerial acts perform at the Mount Joy Airport.

DAVENPORT -- Ken Hopper, organizer of the Quad City Air Show, relies on professionalism and variety to draw 80,000 to 120,000 people to the annual event.

``There is no other event in the Quad-Cities that attracts more numbers,'' he said. ``We don't even count the number of people with lawn chairs in their driveways.''

It also would be fairly impossible to count all those folks the planes fly over.

``I like to say we are the largest family event,'' Mr. Hopper said. ``We have people from 1 day old to 100 years old, and we try to cater to them.''

The air show features World War II planes and a kids space to keep all ranges entertained. However, most people come to see the air events, and the Quad City Air Show delivers a high-quality three- to four-hour performance.

To keep professionalism high, Mr. Hopper only looks seriously to the top 12 air performers in the country. Two of those returning favorites were the late Leo Loudenslager and his Bud Light Laser 200 show, and Jimmy Franklin's WACO Mystery Ship.

It is important the performers have 10 to 15 years of experience so they really understand safety, Mr. Hopper said. In the 38 years the Federal Aviation Administration has monitored U.S. air shows, a spectator has never been hurt, he said.

The Quad City Air Show has been lucky enough to host the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds since 1989. In that second year, the Blue Angels made their first appearance, and the number of spectators grew from 34,000 the year before to 100,000.

The two top-notch military performers get up to 900 requests internationally to appear. Each chooses only 30.

Is it luck the Quad-Cities is graced with their presence, or is it Ken Hopper?

Mr. Hopper has worked closely with the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds since the 1970s. In fact, he is a godfather to more than one of the fliers' children.

``When I pick up the phone to talk to them, they talk to me,'' Mr. Hopper said. ``I see them 20 to 30 times a year. My goal is to be in front of their faces.'' He travels to see their practice and season shows and knows he won't be forgotten.

Besides, why not the Quad-Cities, he asks. Having traveled or done air shows all around the world, including Belgium and Korea, Mr. Hopper said, ``I think the Quad-Cities is a fantastic place to live.''

As far as variety goes, Mr. Hopper is careful to choose acts that look different from one another. Most viewers can't pick out slight differences, he said.

That is why Quad City Air Show-goers will see anything from parachute and hot-air balloon teams, F-14s, F-16s, a Air Force Boeing B-52 Bomber, Rockwell B-1, and a Lockhead F-117 Stealth Fighter.

Each year, pure fascination will bring people back.

``Most people will never achieve flight,'' Mr. Hopper said. ``I think that is what makes it fascinating.''

Anymore, in big airports, people don't even see the plane they are flying on, Mr. Hopper said. A person walks down the ramp and could just as easily be getting on a train, he said.

At the Quad City Air Show, people see it all.

-- By Kristen Foht (January 22, 1998)

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