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Sun, Jul 15, 2012

Airshow Promoter Gambles For NASA Fly-By

Hopes Final Shuttle Will Be Star Attraction

A Cocoa Beach, Florida airshow promoter has gambled and gone "all in" hoping NASA will provide his star fly-by attraction, the final space shuttle, Endeavor.

Rather than schedule his annual Cocoa Beach airshow on its usual dates in October, promoter Bryan Lilley decided to take a chance on NASA scheduling and moved his airshow into September. He hoped that by doing so NASA would provide his star attraction - a fly-by of the last space shuttle, the Endeavor, as it departs Kennedy Space Center for its new home in a Los Angeles, CA museum. The Endeavor is the last of the shuttles to be dispersed to museums following the fleet's retirement.

Earlier this year huge crowds were thrilled to the site of first the Discovery and then the Enterprise as they were ferried to Washington D.C. and New York atop NASA 747 shuttle carrier. Lilley felt sure the crowds at his airshow, and people all along the Florida coast would thrill have one final chance to witness such a fly by. By moving his event to mid-September he hoped to get lucky but he didn't. His two day air show opens on September 22 missing NASA's plans to send the Endeavor off by at least two days. An early timeline indicated that Endeavour would leave KSC on Sept. 20 and arrive a few days later in California, although NASA said the schedule still is being finalized.The transfers to Washington and New York, which included flybys of the National Mall and Statue of Liberty, drew huge crowds in the middle of the week.

Lilley isn't giving up. The Orlando Sentinal repots that he's enlisted the support of Florida's two U.S. Senators, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, as well as U.S. Reps. Bill Posey of Rockledge and Sandy Adams of Orlando. The four lawmakers earlier this year asked NASA chief Charlie Bolden to change the Endeavour departure date to accommodate the air show, as well as to honor KSC.

"People will come from all over the country to see something like this," said Lilley, president of the air show. The legislators agreed. "The event would not only provide a larger audience for the flight, it would give the dedicated Space Shuttle workforce a final chance to bid farewell alongside their Space Coast friends and family," the four Florida legislators wrote Bolden.

Regardless, NASA's answer has been a resounding no saying, "In order to maintain delivery schedules and minimize cost, logistical complexity, and liability, NASA does not plan to have the Orbiter … take part in the air show, though the Agency appreciates the invitation and interest."

NASA officials noted that even with the previous mid-week departures of Discovery and Enterprise, residents of the Space Coast were treated to their own dramatic fly-bys as the 747 pilots looped around the area beaches and NASA plans a similar flight path for Endeavor.  

Still Lilley is hopeful saying the appearance of the shuttle could send attendance skyrocketing from last year's 60,000 to perhaps as high as 250,000. Tickets for the show range from $19 to $149 but Lilley says it's not about the money. "95 percent of people," he said — don't buy tickets and just watch from the beach. "It's not about revenue to the air show; it's about economic impact to the community," he said.

Endeavour is the last of four orbiters headed to a museum. A parade and other celebrations are planned for its arrival and eventual rollout through the streets of Los Angeles to the California Science Center. Discovery is at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy complex near Washington, and Enterprise is on the flight deck of the USS Intrepid in New York. Atlantis is being prepped for a place at the KSC visitor center.

FMI: www.cocoabeachairshow.com/

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