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'I'm gobsmocked!' Wings Over Batavia delights spectators, showcases operational efficiency

By Mike Pettinella
Tom and Nancy Lamb
Tom and Nancy Lamb at Wings Over Batavia air show on Saturday. Photos by Mike Pettinella.

Wings Over Batavia made a triumphant return on a cool and breezy Saturday night as more than a dozen highly skilled aerobatic and military pilots thrilled an estimated crowd of 7,000 at the Genesee County Airport.

Spectators were treated to what air show organizers repeatedly said was “the best of the best” on the air show circuit -- looking up in amazement as the performers maneuvered their planes through a series of rolls, loops, spins, twists and turns.

“This is my first show, and I’m gobsmacked!,” said Nancy Lamb, using a word defined as utterly astonished. “I can’t believe how they can do these things. It’s wild.”

Lamb and her husband, Tom, traveled from their Reading, Pa., home for the air show and also for a family wedding in Oakfield. Both retired, they said they’re having a blast and enjoying their 18-month-old twin grandchildren.

From the traffic control getting to the airport on Saile Drive to the hundreds of friendly volunteers at their posts to the layout of the various viewing areas, the four-hour show went off without a hitch (with just a few sprinkles of rain around the 5 p.m. starting time).

Skydiver Luke Aikins made a grand entrance to kick things off, floating safely to earth, American flag in hand, as the national anthem was sung. And it was Nathan Hammond – the Skywriter – who closed out the event by releasing fireworks from his Super Chipmunk as he buzzed through and around a dazzling show-ending pyrotechnics' display.

“We’re looking forward to the fireworks,” said James Turchiarelli of Depew, who was at the show with his fiancée Alexis Jefferds and 6-year-old Willa. “I haven’t been to one of these shows in years, and it’s pretty great.”

Midway through the show, American pride took center stage as the U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II (“Warthog”) piloted by Capt. Lindsay “MAD” Johnson and P-51 Mustang steered by Lee Lauderback linked up for a Heritage tribute with the U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor that flew into Genesee County airspace.

The powerful sound of the supersonic stealth fighter Raptor and the precise formation of the trio of planes had the audience spellbound.

Wings Over Batavia, the first such event in Genesee County in 25 years, concludes tonight with the show starting at 5 p.m. For more information, go to

Some news and notes from the ground:


Mona and Steve Doyon
Mona and Steve Doyon met at the air show in 1996. In the background, is where Steve jumped to as a Navy SEAL.

Wings Over Batavia has a special place in the lives of Batavian Steve and Mona Doyon. It was 27 years ago when Steve, as a member of the Navy SEAL parachute team, performed at the Genesee County Airport and, later that Saturday evening, met Doyon, his future wife.

“Five of us came up and did a static line jump, and another five did a high altitude jump, freefall jump. After that, we packed up and stayed for the day, and then I met Mona over at The Sheraton, where they had a big gathering,” Steve said during yesterday’s show. “We met at the gathering, stayed in touch and did a long-distance relationship thing for a while. Then, she moved down with me to Virginia Beach, we got married, and she stayed with me through my military career.”

In 2004, Steve left the Navy and took a job with the New York State Police. They moved back to Batavia, Mona’s hometown, and have lived here ever since.

Mona, who works for All Babies Cherished in Batavia, recalled that she was at the show in 1996 with her mother and father and her three small children, watching the Navy SEAL skydivers.

“He (Steve) fell from the sky. God knew what I needed, and he fell from the sky,” she said.

Steve has been with the State Police Special Operations team for the past 16 years and also is a chaplain with the Air National Guard.


Williams family
Catherine Williams and Rob Williams, right, with their son, Cole, who's affectionally known as Mr. Chill.

Growing up in California, Catherine “Cat” Williams never imagined being part of the air show circuit. But today, she’s relishing her role as “air show mom.”

“This was definitely strange to me, but I am learning every day,” she said, noting that she and her husband, Rob, have helped out at Batavian Pete Zeliff’s WNY Aviation Adventure Camp for children for the past 10 years. “I’m amazed at what these pilots do. They are just phenomenal.”

She and Rob, who is from Rochester and lived in Barre Center for a while, own four vintage airplanes.

“Rob is teaching me how to fly,” she said. “He is so patient in teaching me the importance of how to get the plane down if needed, so we do a lot of touch-and-go."

Cat said she came to New York about seven years ago after her daughter enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park.

Rob supports the pilots on the ground.

“I’m the ramp rat,” he said. “Whatever needs to be done. Like last night, I was bringing all the heavy planes in. If we need to run and fix the smoke oil, whatever they need.”


Bill Foraker
Bill Foraker is the "go-to guy" when it comes to air operations.

When it comes to cross-training, Bill Foraker of Green Valley, Ariz., is an expert.

“I work air shows around the country. I've worked on air ops and ground ops. I think I've done every job involved in air shows over the years. I used to fly in air shows, I’ve air bossed, I’ve announced, I’ve done all kinds of stuff,” said Foraker, 72, dressed in bright orange with his Air Operations badge.

Foraker’s job for the Batavia show started several weeks ago as he made hotel and rental car arrangements for the performers. His varied duties continued yesterday.

“During the show, I'll be on the radio with the air boss, doing pretty much anything the air boss needs,” he said. “And when the American flag comes down, I'm going to take a group of kids out there that are volunteers, and we’re going to go out and gather up the flag after hits the ground.”

The threat of rain had Foraker monitoring the weather pattern on his phone.

“Right now, I'm watching the weather because we've got rain about 45 minutes west of here headed this way. But it looks like it's coming apart as it hits the ground. But I'm watching that, and I'll keep the air boss and everybody informed if there's any convective activity on rain,” he said.

Foraker said he helps out at five or six shows a year. In two weeks, he’ll be at a show in Sacramento, Calif.

“I'm actually directing ground operations because we have a bunch of static displays --100 airplanes on static for people to walk around and look at. So I get there early. We park all of them and then work with the air boss for the air show. And then after the air show, we get them all out.”

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