Deke Slayton Airfest premiers Blue Angels and state-of-the-art military jet F-35A Lightning

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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – Final preparations are underway for the Deke Slayton Airfest, which returns this weekend to the coulee region. It includes one of the most-noted flying groups in the world. First News at Nine’s Alex Loroff has a preview.

After seven long years, the Deke Slayton Airfest is back. One of the featured performers will be the United States Navy Blue Angels.

After missing out last year, pilot James Cox says his team is glad to get back out across the country and entertain crowds. “Each individual town that we get to go to really appreciates it and it’s a blessing to be able to reach out to the communities.”

For the Blue Angels, 2021 is a return to form after the pandemic caused changes to their role last year.

“We were kind of re-rolled into inspiring America,” said Cox, “Flying over the cities that were most heavily hit by covid, so we got to fly over the largest cities all over the country, from California all the up and to New York, and really reach out to those people who were on the front lines battling this pandemic that we’re all overcoming.”

Along with the Blue Angels, those coming to the Airfest can see the Air Force’s newest fighter jet in action – the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning.

“We still get jets off the line from Fort Worth every so often, so to fly a brand-new jet that has the most up-to-date avionics and technology is super cool,” said Major Kristin Wolfe.

Major Kristin Wolfe says she’s humbled to be able to show off the F-35A – an experience which will be new for the Deke Slayton Airfest.

“We’re taking two combat-ready jets off the line at Hill Air Force base, so we do nothing to modify these jets at all when we take them from any squadron that we’ve got, so these jets might have been to war, might be going to war, they’re completely combat mission ready jets,” said Wolfe.

All of the performers this weekend hope they can inspire a new generation of aviation enthusiasts, just like a Blue Angels show did for crew chief Jeremy Bluhm. “The first time I ever saw the Blue Angels I was four or five years old,” said Bluhm, “And I’m super proud to be here and hopefully those junior people take my place one day.”

The Deke Slayton Airfest is this Saturday and Sunday, and will be held via a drive-in format at the La Crosse Regional Airport.

In La Crosse, Alex Loroff, First News at Nine.

The Deke Slayton Airfest began in 1998 and ran for 10 consecutive years. The show has been held on and off since 2008, with the last show in 2014.

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