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Fourth of July activities: 2 p.m. - Up in the air

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A C-17 cargo jet from Charleston Air Force Base will fly the coast from Myrtle Beach to Hilton Head starting at 2 p.m. It should be over Garden City by 2:06 and Pawleys Island by 2:09.

It’s an event first envisioned by friends on Litchfield Beach seven years ago. Now a nonprofit, Salute from the Shore, has Defense Department approval for the flyover, which is tied to the Pawleys Island Fourth of July Parade.

Beachgoers are invited to put on their red, white and blue, grab a flag and wave as the jet passes. It’s planned as a way to show support for the armed forces.

Organizers plan to film the flyover from another plane and send the footage to troops serving overseas.

They wanted jet fighters. They got a cargo plane.

They wanted a flyover of the Pawleys Island parade. They got a flight three hours after the parade starts.

Organizers of the Salute from the Shore are still excited.

What started several years ago with two friends talking on the beach is now poised to take wing: a military flyover of South Carolina’s beaches to celebrate the Fourth of July and honor the country’s armed forces.

“We’re just a small group of patriotic people who wanted to do something great for the state,” said John Michael Otis, one of the event organizers.

They got approval from the Defense Department last month for the flyover after getting the town of Pawleys Island to agree that its parade could be the sponsoring event. That wasn’t hard. Otis is the nephew of Mayor Bill Otis.

Another family connection helped get a C-17 cargo jet from Charleston Air Force Base to make the flight. A former base commander is related to Otis’ wife. With just a month between the approval and the Fourth, “we networked as quickly as possible,” Otis said.

F-16s from Shaw Air Force Base and McEntire Air National Guard Station weren’t available.

The C-17s from Charleston weren’t scheduled to fly on July 4, said Mark Watkins, an air operations specialist with the 437th Airlift Wing. But the commander, Col. John Wood, “decided this would be a good event to support,” he said.

He asked for volunteers, and a captain with the 14th Airlift Squadron offered his unit. Several pilots are scheduled to fly on the sortie, Watkins said, since it will also include practice landings at Myrtle Beach and Savannah. “You can’t just fly for an event,” he said.

The base does about 10 flyovers a year. “Real-world commitments have been so high for so long we don’t get to do very many,” Watkins said.

But they did participate in the Berlin Air Show last month and at an event for the National Air and Space Museum. “The F-16s look cooler when in formation,” Watkins said, but the C-17s “are usually a big hit.”

On Sunday’s flight, the plane will start its run from Myrtle Beach at 2 p.m., flying about 230 mph at about 500 feet over the ocean. It should be off Murrells Inlet about the time boats in its parade reach the mainland.

The plane is due over Pawleys Island at 2:09 p.m.

Otis said they hope people will line the beach wearing red, white and blue and waving flags as the C-17 passes. They are working to get a private plane to carry a photographer to film the event, and plan to send video to troops overseas.

“This is a demonstration of what we’re about as South Carolinians,” Otis said, noting that the state has been the subject of too much “unflattering news” in the last year. “It’s a bit more indicative of the people of South Carolina.”

Organizers hope the flyover will become an annual event. They are working with Myrtle Beach and Charleston to develop tie-in activities for July 4, 2011.

“Remarkably, there aren’t a lot of formal events that occur on the coast on the Fourth of July,” Otis said. “We’re lucky that the Pawleys parade is the type of event the aerial events office is set up to support.”

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