Steve Kutalek, 68, and his son Harrison, 14, a Civil Air Patrol cadet, descended from southern New Jersey in Kutalek’s Mooney single-engine plane, which they landed at a nearby airfield to watch the exhibition.
“There’s nothing quite like being at a show and hearing the roar of planes flying by,” Kutalek said.
Moments later, an F-35 flew overhead, approaching in near-silent silence and passing with a hoarse boom. At an air show, the sound is thrilling. In times of war, one could only imagine the fear this would induce.
The plane put on a spectacular display, flying close to the ground, then shooting up like a rocket, looping upside down and screaming at the ground.
Held every two years, the exhibition was supposed to take place last year but was canceled due to the pandemic. Having it this year meant it coincided with the Air Force’s 75th anniversary, almost to the day. The Air Force was created as a separate branch of the military on September 18, 1947, through the National Security Act of 1947.
There were plenty of top brass on hand to celebrate, but mostly in the VIP tent closest to the track. Generals, colonels and majors attended guests, including a number of their counterparts from other nations.
In the spacious concrete parking lot behind them, spectators of the free event were able to board or approach an alphabet soup and figures of planes and helicopters, including the UH-1N helicopter Huey, F-22 Raptor, KC-46A Pegasus and HC-130J Combat King II.
Major Kory Cookson greeted visitors as they boarded the C-5M Super Galaxy at Andrews flight line. The cargo and troop transport aircraft is the Air Force’s largest aircraft and, with its seven floors, the tallest aircraft in the world.
Cookson, 32, the plane’s commander, said flying the monster plane is similar to flying other planes. “You lose sight of his size in the air.” But on the ground, he says, “it feels like moving a building.”
For all their awe-inspiring feats and thrilling aerobatics, they are, of course, weapons of war. And those who are expensive. The Biden administration’s proposed budget for 2023 for the US Air Force and Space Force is $194 billion, up $12 billion from 2022, according to Defense News Weekly.
The event is a showcase for what much of that money has bought – like the B-2 stealth bomber – and is also a publicity tool for the military. In addition to the dozens of hot dog, hamburger, and ice cream stands at the exposition, there were also recruiting stations for each branch of the military.
It’s also a way for the Air Force to pay homage to its history with flyovers of vintage aircraft, including a WWII-era B-17 and B-25.
Narongrit Dulsaeng, 19, a University of Maryland student enrolled in the Air Force ROTC program, brought classmates Dinh Huynh, Veerapetch Petchger and Jeff Tran to the show with him.
“I wanted to bring my friends and share what I know with them,” Dulsaeng said. “Obviously it’s cool to see the planes, but it’s also very powerful to see how far we’ve come with these technological advances.”
Tran noted that with the war in Ukraine and tensions in Eastern Europe, this year’s event will have a huge effect.
“When we put up a display like this, for sure other countries notice,” he said.
If there was a star at the air show – and every show needs a star – it was the Thunderbirds, the US Air Force’s F-16 demonstration squadron, which creates stunning air shows that demand a combination of exquisite precision and ice in the veins.
The planes fly at speeds of up to 600 mph, generating close rates of 1,200 mph as they circle towards each other before turning into engineered passes.
In some formations, F-16s roar through the air in close proximity to each other. About 18 inches at points.
“It’s extremely tight,” observed team commander Lt. Col. Justin J. Elliott, 40, with the calm and composure that pilots master when talking about situations that others would find. scary. “A lot of wingtip overlap, which means if they miss – up, down – we’ll hit. So the challenge is not just how close the formation is, but how stable it is.
“I wouldn’t call it terrified, but I would say it’s 100% focused,” Elliott said in an interview last week, laughing. “You can’t take your eyes off the ball.”
The team, based at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, flies twice daily during the training season to prepare for events such as Saturday’s exhibition.
Elliott said his team hopes to leave the crowd watching the maneuvers with a sense of pride and belonging.
“This demo is meant to show you that we are your Air Force, no matter where you’re from or how many generations you’ve been in this country,” he said. “If we are successful, we come together in times divided and encourage and inspire people to give their best version of themselves to something bigger than themselves. That’s what it’s all about. acts.
Organizers said they expect around 75,000 visitors over the weekend for the free event, which continues at 9 a.m. Sunday.