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Spectators watched a safe and flawless performance at the Aviation Nation air show at Nellis Air Force Base on Saturday with little concern of a repeat of the tragedy at the Reno air races.
On Sept. 16, a souped-up World War II-vintage P-51 Mustang nose-dived into the crowd at the Reno-Stead Airport, killing 74-year-old pilot Jimmy Leeward and 10 spectators.
“When it’s your time, it’s your time,” said Joe Languemi, of North Las Vegas, who was sitting in the Nellis stands near the announcer’s platform watching the air show with his wife, Pat.
Like a half dozen other spectators who were interviewed while military aircraft performed daring stunts in a crisp azure sky, Languemi said he had no safety concerns whatsoever.
“This is a controlled environment,” he said, noting the difference between what Air Force officials have described as an “unscripted, dynamic competition” of the Reno air races versus the “choreographed, highly rehearsed aerial demonstrations” performed during Aviation Nation.
The difference in the two events, according to officials at the Nellis base, is that the annual air show and open house at Nellis is akin to a figure-skating performance instead of a short-track speed skating contest as would be the case of the National Championship Air Races in Reno.
At the two-day Aviation Nation event, which drew a total of 142,000 spectators for both days last year, aircraft fly within an “aerial box” cleared as a boundary between performers and spectators. Regulations dictate that aircraft can’t fly directly at the audience during the demonstration.
Air Force regulations also outlaw air races by fixed wing, rotary wing aircraft or hot air balloons.
Languemi’s friend, John Hinsvark, of Anchorage, Alaska, said the deadly crash in Reno didn’t stop him from watching Saturday’s Aviation Nation show at Nellis.
“Accidents happen. That’s why they call them accidents,” said Hinsvark, who was visiting Reno on Sept. 16 and thought about going to the air races that day but didn’t because his sister and her husband had other plans.
“It’s a shame,” said Hinsvark, a retired Army National Guard soldier. “It looks like the Reno air races won’t go on again.”
Not all of the tens of thousands of Aviation Nation spectators at the Nellis show on Saturday were as unconcerned as Hinsvark and Languemi.
“I was worried a little bit when the Patriots flew at each other,” said Becky Gelderloos, of Las Vegas, an Air Force wife who watched the show with her son, Tanner Ballard, and his girlfriend Candice Leigh.
She was referring to the Patriots Jet Team, a group of talented pilots flying L-39 jets. The team was founded by former United Airlines and Reno air race pilot Randy “Howler” Howell.
Nevertheless, Gelderloos said, “I feel safe here because I know these men and women know what they’re doing.”
Similarly, Trina Youngblood, of Ely, said she felt safe standing on the Nellis ramp with her family.
“The one in Reno was more air races. This is all military,” she said. “I think they are more regulated by our government.”
She said going to the Aviation Nation event gives her a sense of safety and pride for the armed forces.
Aviation Nation, which has free admission, continues today.
Parking lots at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will open at 8 a.m. with bus transportation to the base and gates open at 9 a.m. The show, with this year’s theme marking 70 years of air power in Las Vegas, begins at 11 a.m. and runs until after 2 p.m. when the Thunderbirds, led by Lt. Col. Case Cunningham, take off in their red, white and blue F-16 Fighting Falcon jets for the grand finale.
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One of the many ways to promote the U.S. military is by flight demonstration squadrons, namely the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the Air Force Thunderbirds. They help the military recruit more people and give the public more understanding and education about what the military does for them.
Some of you might be interested on joining these elite teams. Well, here’s how you can be an eligible candidate .
Thunderbirds are also known as America’s Ambassadors in Blue. The Thunderbirds Squadron use 12 F-16, while nine are from the C-modification (6 participated in the air and rest are reserve) and three two-seated from the D-modification.
- must have at least 1000 flying hours on a jet fighter
- must be pilots of F-16 at the present
- must have at least 3 years (but no more than 12 years) of military service
The Blue Angels represent the finest from the Navy and Marine Corps. Every year, this select group begins a two or three-year rotation traveling across the country and around the world to perform for millions of spectators.
- Navy and Marine Corps jet pilots with an aircraft carrier qualification and a minimum of 1,250 tactical jet flight-hours are eligible for positions flying jets Number 2 through 7.
- Commanding Officer must have at least 3,000 tactical jet flight-hours and have commanded a tactical jet squadron.
In a nutshell the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels’ mission is primarily to support recruiting, retention programs and public relations. They are a PR machine-and not a bad machine at that! So, do you have what it takes?
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A biplane and the Air Force Thunderbirds fly over Luke Air Force Base
The largest F-16 pilot training base in the world, Luke will welcome around 200,000 civilians Saturday and Sunday during the Luke Days 70 Years of Thunder open house and air show.
“This is a chance for taxpayers to see what they’re paying for,” said Col. Robert McCutchen, the open house director. “And it’s our opportunity to showcase the world’s greatest air force. The public can see the hardware that fought in Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, all the way back to World War II.”
Since the early 1980s, retired C-141 Air Force pilot Jim Flonacher has taken his family and his camera to the base to watch dozens of fighter jets soar, and to see dozens of bombers and cargo aircraft on display.
Flonacher, 62, of Peoria, said it was at a Luke open house that his son, Michael, fell in love with military aircraft while sitting in the cockpit of an F-15. Now, Michael is a third-generation pilot and an instructor at the Air Force Weapons School at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey.
“I love the sounds of the aircraft, and the smells of the fuel,” Flonacher said. “To me, it’s the sound of freedom.”
This weekend, Flonacher will take his young grandchildren to see a C-17, the aircraft their uncle flies. They’ll also be able to see the B-25, a twin-engine bomber similar to the B-26 Marauder that Flonacher’s dad flew during World War II.
In all, more than 80 aircraft representing the last 70 years of Air Force innovation will fly in the shows or be on display.
Both days, flights start at 11 a.m., immediately following the singing of the national anthem. Static displays include a B-52, F-16, C-130 and MIG-17.
Guests will see the evolution of warplanes during the Air Force Heritage Flight Program demonstration, which features aircraft used in the 1940s flying alongside modern-day jets.
“It’s a kind of time warp in space,” McCutchen said.
The Thunderbirds, the Air Force’s tight-flying demonstration team that first launched at Luke in 1953, will perform its signature diamond formation, fast rolls and inverted flight, all synchronized to music. The famous squadron will perform around 2:45 p.m. each day.
Other highlights include the Army’s Golden Knights, an acrobatic parachute team, and the F-22 Raptor Aerial Demonstration Team, which will show the precise maneuvering and acrobatic capabilities of the advanced stealth warplanes.