The day was gorgeous. It was a bright Saturday morning, with blue skies, no sign of rain and a forecast of temperatures in the moderate seventies. Cathy and I packed up our daughters and headed out. We had been invited to join one of the air show sponsors in their viewing area. We arrived with little effort and even less traffic, were waved through the gate, sent to the parking area, into a school bus and shuttled around the outside of the base to the other side.
We passed a static display of many of the old aircraft as we circled around the base. We were dropped off at a security checkpoint. The crowd was funneled through a security check point under a canvas tent, the smell of hot canvas wafting parts of my memory back to scout trips and military training. A combination of local law enforcement and military personnel checked bags and IDs before waving us on through.
The grass was deep and filled with dandelions. It had been cut to a rather long length, forcing you to pick up your feet high to avoid tripping on the tough stems. The crowd was light, but everyone seemed excited. After obtaining our passes, we checked into the sponsors' area and had a bit of a snack, observing the lay of the land from the observation level of the seating. A wide number of aircraft could be seen stationed around the field. Large transport planes sat on the far side of the field. The Blue Angel jets were lined up in formation off to our right. Some of the ground crew even joined us for breakfast.
We wandered through the displays of military equipment, weapons from every era, vehicles, helicopters, missile batteries, recruiting displays from all of the services, including the reserves and the various guard units, as well as a number of other quasi-military organizations such as the Sea Scouts and Civil Air Patrol. The veterans' hanger even revealed a contingent of Vietnamese Veterans.
While we wandered a bright orange plane arrived in the skies above us, the sponsored plane being flown by Sean D. Tucker. For about twenty minutes he flew over the crowd, a nice series of loops and rolls as he practiced for the main performance later in the day.
We returned to the shade of the viewing stand and watched the many demonstrations. We saw transport planes making supply drops, simulated rescue missions, jets of all types and acrobatic planes. Explosions were timed with various jet runs to simulate live fire. At one time a large triangular aircraft swooped over the base, making a couple of runs, its distinctive delta wing shape recognized by all but barely heard by anyone.
As we prepared to move down below and join the lunch line, Jim joined us and offered a proposition. Would we be interested in helping with the demonstration of their sponsored pilot? I looked at Cathy and, to my surprise, she said yes. At this point, Sean showed up in the area, his big smile the first thing you notice about him. He was friendly and gladly signed autographs on hats, shirts and CD covers.
We walked down the full length of the crowd, the orange safety vests attracting the attention of the people as we went by. The uneven grass covered footing required careful attention to the ground to avoid tripping and getting hurt. On the word from the control tower we moved toward the center of the field, headed to the 500 foot mark away from the crowd. Once there we separated out the poles, carefully spreading out the ribbon with its center marker. A few adjustments and we set them down flat on the ground and watched the plane spinning and turning above us. Then the radio sent the message and we hoisted the poles into place. Fear, excitement, anticipation all crowded for attention in our minds.
Okay, picture a pole, twenty-three feet high. It consists of four sections of aluminum that slide into each other. The pole has a nice advertising banner for the sponsoring organization. There is a cluster of streamers at the top that flutter and flap in the breeze. Stretching from the top to another twenty foot pole is a combination of string and plastic tape spreading out about 70 foot. When both poles are held straight up in the air you have a square that is 70 feet by 23 feet. Now place three of these squares some 750 feet apart, lined up on the center of the demonstration flight line. Now picture a Pitts biplane, piloted by the incredible Sean Tucker, traveling over 200 miles an hour with its 20-foot wing span going through that square.
Someone has to hold those poles upright! The bright orange plane runs through the first square and climbs up high into the clouds spinning and swooping. Falling down, he slips under the second ribbon and climbs skyward once again. For a third time he pulls the plane up, looping around. Having lined things up and having an understanding of where it all the ribbons are, Sean comes down the line again, cutting the first ribbon with the left wing inches from the ground, the second with the right wing down, and the third one is broken when he is upside down! The first pass was a whirl of noise and wind and a flash of orange and he was gone, pulling up high into the sky in a set of smoke marked loops. When he made the second pass, the plane was tilted over and Sean was looking at us as he flew by, focused on staying in line. The third run was almost a non-event, we were used to his fly bys by now!
It was a rather intense experience and one that Cathy and I will never forget! Certainly a different perspective than sitting in the crowd! We moved back over to the crowd, breaking down the poles as we went just as we were shown by the Crew Chief for the plane. After wrapping up the poles and cut ribbons we returned to the staging area. We were awarded our International Pole Holders Union pins and Sean arrived later for more pictures and autographs.
And we got to see the Blue Angels, always top notch! Fat Albert, the Blue and Yellow Marine Corps C-130 took to the sky boosted up by the rockets strapped on the side. With crisp narration, the formation worked its way through the take off, a spectacular array of formations and turns.
We returned to our cars with thousands of others, waiting in line patiently for the buses that took us back, tired but delighted with a wonderful day.