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Wings Over Batavia in good shape so far, volunteers and sponsorships sought

By Joanne Beck
Pete Zeiliff
Pete Zeliff. 
Photo by Howard Owens

Daredevil pilots and acrobatic performers up in the air, fireworks, a love for community, beef on weck, kids and even bumpers in a bowling alley.

Committee members for the Wings Over Batavia Air Show had no problems connecting all of those things as symbols and reasons for bringing an air show back to Genesee County Airport during a presentation to potential sponsors Thursday at Pete Zeliff’s hangar on Saile Drive.

“So Pete used the word community a couple of times in there, and that’s what really these air shows are all about, community; it really is a community event,” air show veteran and consultant Dennis Dunbar said to a group of about 50 people. “When I go bowling I ask for those bumpers to go in the gutters, and I’m kinda like those bumpers because I’m just trying to help the local community keep the ball going down the alley straight. And it really is a community event put on by all the work of the volunteers and everybody here is local that’s doing it. so I’ve never really compared myself to bumpers in a bowling alley. That’s actually pretty good.”

With Dunbar’s guidance and a committee led by 14 chairpersons overseeing the various components of this event, from traffic control and concessions to security, marketing, sponsorships and performance acts, Zeliff feels good about the progress being made, he said.

He and a handful of committee members went to a series of related trainings in Las Vegas, and brought back useful details about orchestrating the event that's set for Labor Day weekend, they said.

County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens said that his primary goal was to “protect the county.” He sought out information related to security and liability issues to ensure that Genesee County would be on safe legal ground throughout the show.

He also mentioned the “three Ts,” though the committee added a fourth one, that have become a crucial and practical focus. Committee member Eve Hens, Tim’s wife, also attended the training, and spoke in more detail about the four “Ts” to make the airshow a “safe, enjoyable event.”

Traffic — it’s important to control traffic and keep it moving so that visitors are not stuck in a line waiting to park.

Trash — nobody wants it flying around mucking up the grounds.

Toilets — have plenty of them and easy to locate, but not disrupting a nice visual.

Tickets —they should be accessible and easy to purchase.

Mundane, perhaps, but all part of a successful event, per those training seminars. 

Eve Hens emphasized these details to potential sponsors being asked to consider donation levels of $1,000 to $50,000. There were brochures with perks listed for certain levels, such as free tickets, sponsor promotions, plane rides with an air show performer, and an exclusive chalet for guests.

And everyone will look up and what will they see? Matt Younkin Beech 18, P-51 Demo Team Mad Max and Little Witch, Jim Peitz One-of-a-Kind Bonanza, USAF A-10 Thunderbolt II Demo Team, to name a few. 

Dunbar described it, beginning in the daytime and going through twilight hours and into the night, the action culminating with a big pyromusical, he said. That’s a fireworks display choreographed to music.

“You're gonna see things in the show that most of you haven't seen before. We have, like Pete mentioned, some of the best performers in the business as far as entertainment goes. These are the folks that practice and make a living out of this. They're as safe as we can get in this business. And that's important to us, too. We have this show, we want to inspire folks,” Dunbar said. When I went to my first air show, I was 10 years old. I had an uncle who flew in World War Two, but he never talked about it. So I had no aviation in my family. And I went to my first air show, and I was so inspired by what I saw, that I knew right then I wanted to be a pilot and I wanted to put on air shows.”

One truth he has discovered is that, while it’s hard to find true heroes nowadays, because celebrities and sports stars “have a tendency to let us down,” the air show people are different, he said.

“The folks you are going to meet at the air show, and your kids are going to meet, the kids in the community you're going to meet here, they are true heroes that are great role models and folks that aren't going to let those kids down and they're going to set those kinds of lasting memories and maybe spark that passion in them, and that's going to take them places in the future. So maybe one day they can compare themselves to bowling alley bumpers,” he said. “I think you're gonna find yourself being more than just sponsors, you're going to take ownership in this event and you're going to feel part of something special. You're part of a team that's really bringing something back to the community. And that's something to be proud of.”

For Zeliff, his inspiration — or, rather, aspiration — to bring back the air show is “the kids,” he said. He enjoys seeing the expression on kids’ faces when they see and get to go inside of a plane, and how planes have impacted many of their lives later on after attending his youth airplane camp.

Founded several years ago, the camp takes only 10 kids a year and fills up nearly as fast as it takes to open up enrollment. This year he has added an essay portion to the application, Zeliff said. Participants have come from all over the country, and the camp has produced several military pilots.

Those lessons have proven to kids that something so seemingly out of their grasp was attainable: they can learn to fly, he said.

Zeliff wasn’t one of those kids. Although his personal experience hasn’t been one of nostalgia from his own childhood, Zeliff said that’s his primary inspiration.

He was only prompted to fly once he found himself traveling so much for work, he said. That was in the early 2000s, and he has been airborne ever since. Zeliff attended various air show-related training sessions in Las Vegas and his focus was on the big picture. He knew about air shows, but had never put one on from start to finish.

He had to learn all the ins and outs of obtaining performers, and especially — what spectators want.

“They come for one reason and one reason only,” he said. “They want to be entertained.”

In those humble beginnings when he thought,”what’s the big deal, we’ll just put on an air show,” he had much to learn, he admitted. There are several components to it, from traffic control and security to seating, restrooms, concession stands, sponsorship amenities and every possible detail in between.

There will be some varieties of typical carnival foods, such as hotdogs and hamburgers, plus local fare, perhaps beef on weck, and other concessions, plus beverages and some of them on tap.

The projected budget goal for Wings Over Batavia Air Show is $600,000, with $100,000 raised to date, Zeliff said. He believes this is going to be a huge event in the entertainment sense, and also in its impact for the community.

There are some 200 volunteers signed up to help, and the committee could use 200 more, he said. 

The two-day air extravaganza is expected to draw 10,000 to 20,000 people to Genesee County.

For more information, go to Wings Over Batavia.  


Wings over Batavia
Photo by Howard Owens
wingsover batavia
                      Dennis Dunbar                         Photo by Howard Owens


Eve Hens Wings Over Batavia
Eve Hens 
Photo by Howard Owens
wings over batavia
Photo by Howard Owens
wings over batavia
          Doreen Hillard and Pete Zeliff  
 Photo By Howard Owens

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