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Jets Over Kentucky soars

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By Zack Penalva

Air traffic at the Springfield-Lebanon airport is at an all-time high, but not in the way you might expect. The annual Jets Over Kentucky event held at the airport is in its 14th year and has seen massive growth from its modest beginnings.

This year, over 150 pilots have set up camp at the airport. Some have come from across the United States and others from around the world.

“Jets Over Kentucky is pretty much the biggest jet rally that we have in the United States and is considered by all the premier event,” said Dominic Cognata a Rochester, New York native who traveled down to Kentucky with a group of model jet enthusiasts from his area.

Cognata flew a bright yellow sport jet, a type of plane designed for high-performance flying.

“It can mean top speed, it can mean slow handling; there are no compromises.”

Cognata’s plane and many others are capable of flying at speeds of 200 miles per hour. They do this while also sharing the airspace with sometimes as many as six other aircraft.

“The first flight of the day is usually a little more nerve-wracking than the others,” said Joshua Clark, a 13-year-old pilot from Montana who attended the event with his family. It was his first time flying at the Kentucky meet. “After you get one flight in, it settles down and gets a lot more relaxing.”

“Usually when we go up, there’s only one airplane,” said Joshua’s father, Addison Clark. “Then you come here to Kentucky, and there are seven or eight turbines up there going 200 miles per hour. It’s like driving a car back home and driving a car in the Daytona 500.”

With each plane representing a significant investment of money and time, that first flight at a meet can be a nervy experience for even the most veteran of pilots.

“I have about 400 hours into assembling this plane,” Cognata said. “It still is [nerve-wracking]…You come to a big event like this and I can’t wait to get that first ‘icebreaker’ flight in…Everything we do is really visual. You want to know what your landmarks are and what obstacles you might have to encounter.”

One man that knows plenty about the commitment it takes to building the perfect jet is Lance Campbell. Campbell, who lives in Missouri, spent over nine years building a 1/8th scale replica of a SR-71 “Blackbird.” Campbell has been a long-time model plane hobbyist and has attended Jets Over Kentucky its inception.

His finished Blackbird is 13-feet long, weighs 86 pounds when filled with fuel and can reach a top speed of around 170 miles per hour. During that time, it burns about two gallons of jet fuel in eight minutes.

“It’s not terribly fuel efficient, but that’s not the point,” he said laughing.

The event’s coordinator, Lewis Patton said that the meet is mostly exhibition-based, but that a panel of judges will present awards in 30 different categories at the end of the week for things such as best flight and best scale-model.

“The words has gotten around that Lebanon, Kentucky is the place to be,” Patton said. “The influence has spread and it’s been of great benefit to us…The German team [from Powerbox Manufacturing] is well renowned and I’ve always hoped that they would come here. It’s going to be a treat to see, those guys do something special.”

Flights are taking place every day through July 15 from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.