AirFest 'air boss' Cutshall dies at 62
TAMPA - If you have ever been to AirFest at MacDill Air Force Base, watched fighters zoom over Raymond James Stadium or heard the thumping drone of military helicopters over your house in Brandon, you have witnessed the handiwork of Richard "Dick" Cutshall, a retired Air Force captain and aviation pioneer. Cutshall — who helped launch AirFest in 1987 and since then served as its "air boss," running the show — died on Christmas Day after more than a decade battling breast cancer. He was 62. "From my heart, he will forever be a legend with MacDill," said Chip Diehl, a retired Air Force brigadier general who commanded the base from 1999 to 2001. "He will live on forever. Every time we see an AirFest or a fly-by, we will remember Dick Cutshall." The man who had such a tremendous influence at MacDill actually started his military career in the Navy.He was an electrician's mate in the Navy from 1969 until 1973, said his wife, Carol. The two were high school sweethearts, got married young, had a son, Troy. The two split up in 1974, and he left their home in Cocoa Beach and went to Daytona. He attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and received a commission in the Air Force. He was an honor graduate of air traffic control school and served on Air Force bases in Mississippi, South Carolina, Michigan, Greenland and Germany before arriving at MacDill, where he eventually became a director of operations for the 23rd Wing, responsible for scheduling, maintenance and management of air-ground training. Cutshall retired from the Air Force in 1987 but remained at MacDill working as a civilian. Then Carol's husband died 13 years ago. And Cutshall's second wife died seven years ago. A short while later, Cutshall visited Carol to see the birth of their second grandson. "We just kind of rekindled our relationship, and remarried in 2005," she said. "I felt like it was God's plan for us to get back together." He had three children other than Troy: sons Scott Cutshall and Kyle Moore and a daughter, Krissy Barbour. On top of that, he had an abiding love of the military and wanted to do whatever he could to instill that sense of duty in the young, said Dave Snyder, a retired brigadier general who commanded MacDill from 2003 to 2006. "He was a big part of AirFest and the base and bringing the capability of the military to the general public in the Tampa Bay area," Snyder said. "He left a big mark on the community by showcasing the military, not just at MacDill but around the nation." Cutshall also left a big impression on young Air Force officers, said one of his best friends, Richard Smith. Smith, who served as a Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controller at Tampa International Airport from 1982 until retiring in 2007, got to know Cutshall by working closely with him coordinating AirFests as well as flyovers at football games and public events such as the Gasparilla Parade. Cutshall, said Smith, became a legend to the up-and-coming Air Force officers. "MacDIll is a base where a lot of young officers come to get experience and move on," Smith said. "One thing they looked forward to was AirFest. Cutshall would be the mentor who would plan, coordinate and execute it." Wayne Boggs knows just how tough it is to run AirFest. A professional air boss himself, the retired air traffic controller worked closely with Cutshall for years. "As air boss, you choreograph the show," said Boggs, who performs in air shows in his vintage Fairchild PT-19. "It is entertainment no matter how you look at it, but not only do you choreograph the show, you control the event, with safety being the No. 1 priority. He was very good at it." After 9/11, the military stopped doing air shows because security precautions made them difficult to put on. Under his watch, Snyder decided to revive AirFest in 2004. "Cutshall was instrumental in making that happen," Snyder said. The event was a huge success, Snyder said. "We had a million people over the two days." On Monday, when a Coast Guard C-130 and two H-60 helicopters roar over Raymond James Stadium for the annual Outback Bowl flyover, a large crowd will look up and cheer. But for Richard Smith, who still serves as a liaison between the bowl game and the FAA, the thundering rumble of the aircraft will be bittersweet. "I am going to be thinking this all started 26 years ago or so with Dick and his enthusiasm to bring the military to the people so they could see what was going on," Smith said. "For the first time, he won't be there. But he will be in our hearts." Cutshall's funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. today at Hillsboro Memorial Funeral Home. Memorial contributions may be made to the Wounded Warrior Project, www.woundedwarriorproject.org, or the National Breast Cancer Foundation, www.nationalbreastcancer.org.
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