Memories of air shows past

The smell of burning JP-8 jet fuel wafting through my nostrils always reminds me of my childhood, and when I hear the roar of a jet engine I can’t help but think about all the times I attended air shows as a young boy. Those days were impressionable on me; they really assisted in discovering my sense of self.

The Shaw Air Expo and open house “Thunder Over the Midlands” is scheduled to soar here May 21-22. The air show presents attendees with the opportunity to get up close and personal with historic and futuristic aircraft as well as seeing firsthand the combat capabilities of the Air Force and America’s Airmen.

The first air show I remember attending was at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, California, during the ‘90s. I would have been 6 years old or so. My father’s unit, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 764, displayed a static CH-46E Sea Knight. I was beyond ecstatic. I was so proud of my father and what he did.

The static aircraft list for the Thunder over the Midlands air show is getting longer by the week. A World War II favorite, the P-51 Mustang is scheduled to grace the flightline here joined by a T-35 Buckaroo, a Stinson L-5 Sentinel, a PT-17 Stearman, and more.

While static aircraft are amazing, there’s nothing quite like watching planes dance in the air. I can still feel the rush of wind as the United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, trumpeted across the sky at what seemed to be inches above my face. The heat off the planes blew across the crowd like a wave of fire.

The Blue Angels won’t be at the Shaw Air Expo and open house, but we’ll have our own thundering presence, the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds.

The Thunderbirds are scheduled to headline the air show. Their finale is sure to rock the Midlands to its foundation as they demonstrate aerial maneuvers like the Diamond formation, where four Thunderbirds fly as close as 18-inches apart from each other at 500 miles per hour.

In addition to the Thunderbirds, the Air Combat Command Viper Demo Team is scheduled to slice through the clouds and demonstrate how the F-16CM Fighting Falcon puts warheads on foreheads across the globe.

Joining the Viper Demo Team will be the Air Force Heritage Flight. The performance features the modern F-16 flying alongside World War II, Korean, and Vietnam-era warbirds to serve as a display of our nation’s air power and act as a living memorial to the men and women who served or are serving in the Air Force.

As a reminder of the importance of the joint force atmosphere that Team Shaw exudes, the U.S. Army and Navy respectively have their own portions of the program. The Black Daggers, the U.S. Army Special Operations Command Parachute Demonstration Team, are scheduled to free fall from 10,000 feet at speeds of more than 120 miles per hour before opening their canopies and gliding back to the surface of the Earth. And the U.S. Navy VFA-122 Super Hornet Demonstration Team is scheduled to bring the noise as their twin GE F-414 engine F/A-18 Super Hornet propels across the sky.

In the global war on terrorism, inter-nation cooperation is tantamount to success. To demonstrate the combat capabilities of our Northern neighbors, the Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 Demonstration Team is scheduled to fly over the Midlands. Their theme this year is Training for Victory, as they celebrate the 75th anniversary of the pan-Canadian effort to train aircrew for World War II.

As we look toward the Air Force’s future and the future of air power, it’s important we remember where we came from. Air shows present a unique opportunity for the American taxpayer to see how their tax dollars contribute to national and global security.

That MCAS El Toro air show is my first memory of military life. Watching my father guide guests through his helicopter, feeling and hearing the Blue Angels dance through the air, doing pull-ups at the Marine Corps recruiting booth, those memories developed my patriotism and began my journey to the Air Force. Maybe, it’ll do the same for someone at the Shaw Air Expo and open house.