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Doing the honors

The Philadelphia area, for the first time, will be the site of Air Force Week.

For the first time, the U.S. Air Force will use the Philadelphia area as the site for Air Force Week, appropriately surrounding Memorial Day, the holiday that grew from the Union and Confederate sides both remembering their Civil War dead.

Air Force Week will have quiet and raucous celebrations, culminating in next weekend's gala 2008 Air Expo at McGuire Air Force Base, a chance to visit one of America's historic military bases, to see planes both on the ground and in the air. Events also are planned in two other cities, Omaha, Neb., and Los Angeles, later this year.

Here, the festivities start out on a traditional, somber note at 10 a.m. Monday with the Bridesburg Memorial Day Parade, starting at the corner of Richmond and Orthodox Streets. After the parade, about noon, Air Force personnel will show off the latest in ordnance-disposing robots and McGuire's version of animal acts – military-trained canines as well as falcons that warn other birds that flight trials or bombing tests might be coming.

Later in the day, those same folks will be doing their demonstrations at the Air Force Day block party, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at Citizens Bank Park, before the Phillies' game with the Colorado Rockies. The Blue Aces band will play a free concert just outside the park, and the area will feature a number of displays, including the Air Force NASCAR vehicle. Game time is 7:05 p.m. Just after the singing of the national anthem, there will be a flyover of the stadium.

On Tuesday, the celebration will move to Independence Hall, Sixth and Chestnut Streets, where in the courtyard from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. "Prepare for Tomorrow's Challenges" will start with a concert by the U.S. Air Force Heritage of America Band. There will be a parade of historic uniforms, exhibition booths, and another demonstration of military working dogs.

Air Force Day at the Philadelphia Zoo (8 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday) will concentrate on how animals and robotics help the Air Force in the field, particularly the Bird Air Strike Hazard Falconer – that airman/falcon team that spreads the word to possibly threatened animals and birds that a firefight might be coming.

On Wednesday, Air Force Week moves to the University of the Arts, Broad and Spruce Streets, where two-time Oscar-winning director and producer Terry Sanders will present his documentary about military medicine and war, Fighting For Life. Sanders will answer questions after the free 7 p.m. screening.

The National Liberty Museum (321 Chestnut St., 215-925-2500, will put its own spin on Air Force Week from 2 to 6 p.m. Thursday. It will have an exhibition of Air Force historical art on loan from the Pentagon, a speech by Air Mobility Command Vice Commander Lt. Gen. Chris Kelly, and a discussion of the Berlin Airlift, whose 60th anniversary is this year.

The Franklin Institute, 18th and Race Streets, will also have demonstrations of Air Force science and technical machines and vehicles Monday through next Friday.

The big event, though, is the two-day 2008 Air Expo, next Saturday and Sunday, May 31 and June 1, at McGuire AFB. It will start off quietly with a 10:15 a.m. wreath-laying ceremony Saturday near the entrance to the base, honoring war dead.

On-ground displays, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day, will feature two dozen aircraft, from old B-25 bombers to the T-38C Talon supersonic jet trainer to all sorts of helicopters. On the grounds, too, there will be displays and talks about Air Force history - modern warfare, Air Force innovations, and the Tuskegee Airmen among them.

From 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., intermittent flyovers by 16 Air Force performers will include the six-plane Thunderbird formation jet flyers, the T-28 smoke-ring aerobatic plane, and skydiving troupes.