STUART, Fla. — Setup was well underway Thursday for the 31st annual Stuart Airshow this weekend.
It’s a highly-anticipated event in the community that attracts thousands of people to Witham Field.
Organizers say they have also put together a plan to account for COVID-19 social distancing and safety.
They are also hopeful for a smoother year this year compared to last year.
“Last year’s stress is the understatement of the year,” said Stuart Airshow Executive Director, Skylar Gorman.
Poor weather washed out most of last year’s show. But worse, Dr. Joseph Masessa, 59, an experienced pilot, crashed his plane during a practice flight. He didn’t survive the impact.
That crash all but canceled the airshow.
“Dr. Joseph Masessa was more than an accomplished pilot. He was a local that a lot of people knew in Martin County,” Gorman said.
Mesessa will be honored at the airshow in the missing man formations. The new logo for the show features his plane.
Gorman says there will be some new performances this year.
“We have the best lineup that Stuart has ever seen. The pilot’s want to fly,” Gorman said.
That includes the four U.S Air Force jet demo teams, “which is a really rare occurrence, so we have the F22, the F35, the A10, and the F16,” Gorman said.
Gorman says organizers also reconfigured the airshow layout on the 27-acre airfield for maximum social distancing.
There will also be fewer booths, and guests are asked to wear a mask when they are checking in at the ticket booth, and any other time they are in close contact with staff, volunteers, or guests.
“If we’re able to have a safe and productive event, then maybe other events and other businesses can follow suit and continue to reopen and get the economy back to where it should be,” Gorman said.
The airshow is also exciting for the pilots who have experienced other airshow cancelations.
Mark Gannucci flies in the Geico Skytypers formation. He’s also a commercial airline pilot. He has felt the impact of COVID-19 in more than one way.
“For everybody, it’s been upside down. For the airlines, we barely worked march and April, but it’s getting back now,” Gannucci said.
He says he usually performs in at least 15 airshows. Those were almost all impacted.
“Most of the shows were canceled all through the summer. This will be our third show since early October,” Gannucci said.
That makes this year’s airshow all the more exciting for pilots. Gannucci loves showcasing a piece of American history through his performance, “that demonstrates the formations, tactics, and maneuvers that are still used today that started in WWII,” Gannucci said.
He is hopeful people feel safe being a part of his audience.
“It really brings the young folks a smile on their face you’ve never seen, and the older folks, their grandparents served in WWII and it provides them a real sense of gratitude,” Gannucci said.