There was the twin-winged propeller plane from the 1930s, spiraling out of the sky, smoke tracing its dizzying dive.

There was a supersonic fighter, dancing low and slow above the airfield like a duck landing on a pond, the jet's nose held high, seeming to sit on its tail as it skipped along.

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Wonders to behold.

The two-day Air Expo and Open House opened yesterday at McGuire Air Force Base near Wrightstown, N.J., expecting a total weekend audience of a half-million.

It was only the second such McGuire show since 9/11, said a spokeswoman, Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Patricia Barry.

Security was heightened, Barry said, after the Monday-night arrests of six terrorism suspects accused of plotting an attack on neighboring Fort Dix.

No one was available to compare security measures with those at the last air show at McGuire in 2005, Barry said.

But this weekend, she said, visitors are being screened, and they were not permitted to carry coolers or backpacks. Other prohibited items included glass containers, in-line skates and pets.

There were more than enough vendors, Barry said, to feed the cooler-less multitudes.

Nancy Harney, 54, a golf course bookkeeper, and her husband, Rich, 54, a civil engineer, had last traveled from their Bethlehem home to an air show "in Wilkes-Barre, a number of years ago," he said.

The attraction this time, they said, was the Thunderbirds, a group of six F-16 jets that race and roar and twist and tumble, seemingly within spitting distance of one another.

But an early sensation yesterday morning were some daring flyboys without flying machines.

They were L'Equipe de Parachutistes des Forces Canadiennes, known to south-of-the-border brethren as the Canadian Forces Parachute Team.

But before half a dozen of these Canadian Army folks parachuted in formations that an eagle might envy, one made his mark.

From a plane 3,000 feet above the McGuire field, a U.S. parachutist and a Canadian each walked into the sky. Though the American immediately opened his parachute, Canadian Sgt. Don Buchan dropped 1,000 feet, free-falling.

And when Buchan did open his chute, not only did it resemble the red-and-white Canadian flag, but Buchan unfurled an identical 15-by-30-foot flag that stood straight out from the right side of his uniform. An entrance that a Hollywood star might envy, if she had on a 30-foot-long dress.

"It always does add a huge amount of drag," Buchan said later of the flag, which made the maneuvering tricky, especially on a breezy day like yesterday.

The U.S. chutist had the easier job, waving a smaller, hand-held Stars and Stripes as he followed Buchan at a distance. Buchan, 37, veteran of a six-month occupation tour of Bosnia in 2001, has had a little practice walking out of high-flying planes - 740 jumps in his 17 years in the military.

The airfield might easily have been mistaken for a military recruiting effort, with so many aircraft open to the curious.

Connecticut Air National Guard pilots had flown their unit's small, converted Lear corporate jet down from outside Hartford so visitors could see how well some military types travel.

The Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation had flown from Toms River in a C-54 cargo plane used in that 1948-49 confrontation with the Soviet Union.

If You Go

2007 Air Expo and Open House continues today.

Where: McGuire Air Force Base in Wrightstown, Burlington County.

When: Gates open 9 a.m. Ground displays, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Opening ceremony, 11 a.m. Air performances, 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Cost: Admission and parking are free.

Tips: Banned: coolers, bicycles, skates and pets. Recommended: lots of fluids, walking shoes, hat and sunscreen. Expected: security searches.

View a video of the 2007 Air Expo at McGuire Air Force Base at http://go.philly.com/airexpo.EndText

Contact staff writer Walter F. Naedele at 610-701-7614 or at wnaedele@phillynews.com.