Monday, September 15, 2008

Surrender Dorothy, Part II

I didn't realize there would be a part two, but there was. The answer to my last question was "yes". Emma saw the sky-writer from her school and got excited about the airshow too. We decided that I would take the kids and go, though my wife had other commitments. I was a little nervous about handling all three kids in an unfamiliar situation like that, but I needn't have worried. They were terrific.

The airshow was...loud. Very, very loud. When we first arrived there was a flight of six F-15E's repeatedly buzzing the field. It wasn't long before I was wishing they'd stop as much as my older son was. The first couple of times were inspiring. The fourth of fifth time it was merely exhilirating. By the tenth or twelfth time it was just noisy.

On a mildly humorous note, as we were going through the security checkpoint I was explaining what the soldiers were inspecting our bags for to the kids. Walter asked what would happen if they found something in our bag we weren't supposed to have. I told him they'd probably take it away, but we didn't need to worry because I'd checked the air base's website beforehand to see what items were prohibited. Several soldiers overheard that and smiled, and one expressed his shocked gratitude that I'd actually think ahead like that. I suspect there had been more than a few "positives" in their searches (and probably a fair number of "positives with attitude").

Anyway, we did have a great time. It was noisy, yes, but we got used to it--though I was nearly hoarse from trying to talk to the kids by the time we were done. We got to see, touch, and climb through lots of different planes.

The kids seemed most impressed by the cargo planes. I think they were a little nervous about the fighter planes after I'd told them their job was to destroy things. No amount of reassurances on my part could convince them there wasn't an element of danger in getting too close.

The kids' all-time favorite, though, was the C-17 Cargomaster. It was simply huge, and the kids were quite impressed to find out it could hold three schoolbusses or a complete twin-rotor helicopter inside. I probably should have let them go up to the flight deck, but by that time we'd already been there for three hours and none of us felt up for standing in another line.

My favorite moment was the Heritage Flight. They put a P-51 Mustang (WWII-era), F-4 Phantom (Vietnam-era), and a F-15E Strike Eagle up in the air at the same time. After each plane gets their own spotlight for awhile they then bring all three back. They form into a very tight V formation with the P-51 in front, flanked by the two jets.

It's called the Heritage Flight as it's a tribute to the history of the Air Force and all those who have served. It's a moving tribute, and it brought me to tears (and I'm getting choked up again just writing about it). Seeing three eras of history represented in one formation is cool enough, but in stark contrast to everything that's gone before in the day, it's incredibly quiet. The two jets, who just a few minutes earlier were shaking the ground with their high-speed passes, are now throttled down low enough to keep pace with the P-51 (no small feat, I'm sure, let alone while flying practically within touching distance). The unusual quiet and low speed adds an ethereal, slow-motion quality.

For a sentimental, patriotic military-supporter like me, it's full heart-ripping material. I suspect the only thing that could have hit me harder would be the Missing Man formation. One of my pictures turned out well. I'll see if I can add it later.

About that time, unfortunately, a man behind me noticed my "Suomi" cap. He'd been to Finland and recognized the name, so he tapped me on the shoulder to ask about it. So here I am, tears running down my face (my hands were full of tired three-year-old at the time), trying to be polite and explain my Finnish "ancestry" when I'd really rather be left alone until the well ran dry. I'm not sure if it was better or worse that he seemed totally oblivious to my state.

We spent about four hours there before we needed to head home. As we were out in the parking lot trying to find out car the Thunderbirds flew in. I think we had a better vantage point than the audience did, actually. We ate our snack and phoned home to let them know we were on the way while they repeatedly buzzed us. By then we were either half-deaf or used to it, as they didn't seem as loud as some of the other fighters. Perhaps F-16s are quieter.

My thanks goes out to the husband of a lady I work with who climbed up on their car to help us spot ours. I was headed in the wrong direction. We might have still been looking by the time the airshow closed if not for him.

We got home not long before my mother came for her first visit since we bought our new house. None of us had any difficulty falling asleep that night. It was a long day, but a good one.

Funny though, but air traffic at our local airport seems so much quieter now.

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