Thousands flock to Winston-Salem Air Show on Sunday (Photos)

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Instead of sitting in lawn chairs and watching planes do loop-de-loops, teen brothers Blaine and Dakota Mercer spent Sunday learning about the mechanics and technology of airplanes at the Winston-Salem Air Show.

“I’m kind of interested in piloting,” said Blaine, 13. “So it’s kind of nice to learn more about it so I can become one someday.”

The brothers explored the Carolina Air and Auto Center, a hands-on learning center featuring aviation and automotive exhibits at Smith Reynolds Airport. This was the first time that the center, which is still in development, was open during the air show.

The goal of the center, which includes flight simulators and an airplane display, is to encourage students to pursue careers in math, science and technology through after-school programs and summer camps.

The Mercer brothers, who live in Concord, used a machine to bend and shape aluminum used in the construction of some airplanes, and listened as volunteer Lee Baker talked about the structure of an old airplane.

Blaine said he thought the education center was an important feature at the show. Dakota, 15, agreed and said he also enjoyed the activities. “I really thought it was fun to shape the aluminum, it was really cool,” he said. “I really like learning more about it because you can never be too educated. I’m especially enthusiastic about airplanes. I always want to learn more.”

The Mercers were among an estimated 30,000 people at the air show Sunday. Bill Entwistle, media director for the show, said that after a rainy start on Saturday, blue skies and sunshine on Sunday brought the crowds to the show and led to a great turnout.

The show lasted until 5 p.m. and included a wide array of performances, displays and flight experiences. Planes were not the only big attraction: Bill Braack’s Smoke-N-Thunder Jet Car caught the attention of the crowds as he raced to over 300 miles an hour, sending smoke and fire into the air.

The rocket car has the engine of a naval aircraft and produces about 6,500 pounds of thrust, Braack said.

“I drive it, but I operate it like a pilot,” said Braack, who has been driving the car in air shows since 2006. “My controls are similar to that in a fighter aircraft, instead of one brake pedal, I have two, like an aircraft– but I steer it like a car.”

Allen Keith and his daughter, Erin Keith, came to the air show from Stuart, Va., for a family day trip.

They both said they enjoyed watching the rocket car. “It’s the fastest thing you’re going to see on land. It’s pretty incredible,” Allen Keith said.

“It was really cool,” added Erin Keith.

And for younger attendees who preferred a ride a little slower than a rocket car, there was a miniature train that took children on rides around the event space.

Seven-year-old Zaya McFarland smiled widely as he hopped off the kiddie train. “It was great!” he said. “I did it last year and I loved it last year. It’s so fun, you know, when you ring the (train) bell and when it goes backwards and it kind of shocks you when it happens. It’s so fun.”

Zaya, a first-grader at Piney Grove Elementary School, has visited the Winston-Salem Air Show with his dad every year since he was born.

Zaya’s dad, Rick McFarland, explained that the show provides a link to their family history. “My dad flew and he loved it,” McFarland said. “(Zaya) never got to meet his grandfather, and so this kind of introduces him to it a little bit.”

Although he loved the train ride, Zaya said he and his dad were ready to head off to the next exciting event. “My dad and me look forward to the dirt bike part of it, that’s my favorite,” he said.

The two plan to come back to the air show together every year — as long as Zaya is still interested, McFarland said.

Credit: Winston-Salem Journal / Carson Capshaw-Mack/Winston-Salem Journal