Emerson Stewart III

Emerson Stewart III waves to air show spectators after a stunning performance.

MCARTHUR — After its cancellation last year due to the pandemic, the Vinton County Air Show returned with style Sunday afternoon to celebrate its 50th anniversary, featuring skydivers, aerobatic pilots, and, of course, the delicious chicken dinner prepared by McArthur Eagles.

By air show coordinator Nick Rupert’s estimate, between “2,500 and 3,000 people” attended the show, which was hosted by Martha Lunken, who Rupert referred to as “the Grand Dame of Aviation.”

Lunken, a lifelong pilot who logged over 14,000 hours of flying before her pilot’s license was revoked after flying under a bridge, provided expert commentary on each performance Sunday afternoon.

The show kicked off with the Vinton County High School band’s performance of “The Star Spangled Banner.” After the band’s performance, a team of skydivers followed by performances by aerobatic pilots Emerson Stewart III, Robert “Tico” Lecerda and Brett Hunter.

Rupert praised Lecerda, who took flight sideways just a few feet off the runway at the Vinton County airport.

“I don’t think there’s another show pilot who is as good as Rob Lecerda is in the Eastern United States that I’ve ever seen,” Rupert said.

“As far as smooth pilots go, you can’t beat Emerson and Brett Hunter,” he continued. “They’re graceful when they perform.”

The local rocket club launched its rockets in between performances by the aerobatic pilots. Additionally, several remote controlled aircraft took flight, including a remote controlled jet that clocked speeds of over 200 mph. And, as is tradition at the Vinton County Air Show, Roger Barnes’ flying lawnmower zoomed through the air.

“It’s not an air show unless the flying lawnmower shows,” Rupert said.

Later, families gathered on the runway in anticipation of Santa Claus’ arrival, who skydived onto the tarmac. As Santa greeted the children, a low-flying plane dispersed candy around the runway. On Rupert’s cue, a swarm of children rushed to collect as much candy as possible.

“We just hope everybody enjoyed the show and that they’ll come back again next year,” Rupert said.

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