TOP STORY >> LRAFB celebrates its 50th birthday
Leader staff writer
Little Rock Air Force Base personnel are calling the 50th Anniversary Air Show this past weekend a success with more than 150,000 people in attendance.
The record attendance for an air show at Little Rock Air Force Base is about 200,000, according to a spokesperson.
Traffic getting on and off the base was the biggest problem for visitors. Despite the best efforts of the Jacksonville Police Department, traffic heading to the air show backed up onto Hwy. 67/167 for eight miles in both the northbound and southbound lanes, according to radio traffic updates.
“I know on Saturday, traffic got backed up on Hwy. 67/167 North to the Redmond Road exit,” said Robert Baker, chief of the Jacksonville Police Department.
“When you try to get 65,000 people in one spot, there’s bound to be traffic congestion,” Baker said, adding no traffic accidents or injuries from the air-show traffic were reported.
“We saw several issues with parking and long lines of people waiting to get through security checkpoints on the first day,” said Lt. Jon Quinlan, deputy chief of Public Affairs for the 314th Airlift Wing.
The base opened the back gate to allow traffic to enter off Hwy. 107 and 100 additional security personnel were helping direct traffic and pedestrians.
“There were still a lot of problems with traffic flow,” Quinlan said.
The air show is normally held in July but this year the air show was moved to October in order to coincide with the base’s 50th anniversary. Quinlan says base officials are considering moving the annual air show from July to October permanently.
“This type of weather seems to work out well for the air show,” Quinlan said.
Once on base and parked, spectators had to pass through a security checkpoint where officials collected more than 150 pocketknives from spectators. Spectators could take the knives back to their vehicles, but many opted to leave the knives with security personnel at the checkpoint.
Long lines were reported on both days of the air show for virtually all the food and refreshments at the show, whether it was a $2 beer or a funnel cake. One food vendor ran out of French fries and a beer vendor ran out of cups.
Many spectators came out to see specific acts such as the Air Force Thunderbirds F-16 aerial demonstration team or the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber’s slow fly by appearance on Sunday.
“We came out to see the whole show,” said Tina Ridge of Benton who attended the Sunday show with her husband and two teen-age children.
Black smoke boiled from the airfield as the Commemorative Air Force Dixie Wing reenacted the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor with a Japanese Nakajima B5N Kate replica and an A6M Zero replica. Doug Jackson and his Japanese A6M Zero replica “Tora 101” participated in the reenactment.
Four of the Red Baron Pizza Squadron’s vintage Boeing Stear-man biplanes performed aerobatic maneuvers such as loops, barrel rolls and a heart drawn in the sky with the planes’ smoke plumes. The smoke plumes allow spectators to follow the plane’s flight path. The smoke is a biodegradable, paraffin-based oil pumped directly into the exhaust of the aircraft where it is vaporized into smoke. The smoke burns efficiently and does not pollute.
Heather Kennedy of Cabot and her son Chandler, 6, attended the air show both days.
“We had to leave early yesterday (Saturday) so we came back today to see the Thunderbirds,” Kennedy said.
“I like all of them,” Chandler said of the planes. “I liked the black pointy plane (the B-2 Stealth Bomber).”
Spectators learned about the combat uses of the C-130 Hercules aircraft during a combat capabilities exercise. Cargo, heavy equipment and more than 300 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, N. C. parachuted from the planes onto the airfield in a demonstration of securing an airfield. Gusty winds on Sunday afternoon sent several of the paratroopers off course, causing them to land in the trees on the other side of the airfield.
With parachutes tangled in the branches, several paratroopers either had to unbuckle their parachute harness to drop to the ground or dangle until helped down by fellow paratroopers.
Afterwards, individual performers kept the crowd’s eyes skyward with the aerobatic maneuvers of Michael Hunter, the world’s only insulin-dependent air show pilot. He flew his red-and-white Laser 230 monoplane as part of his Flight for Diabetes performance.
Hunter’s own dream of becoming a fighter-pilot ended when he was diagnosed with diabetes in 1981 at age 17 and was told he’d never fly again due to a world-wide ban on diabetic pilots. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) lifted the ban in 1997 due to advances in diabetes control. And, after being told for 20 years that he would never fly, he made history as the first diabetic person to receive a FAA low-altitude aerobatic airshow license.
The state-of-the-art equipment in his cockpit includes a compact blood glucose meter and an insulin pump that automatically administers insulin to him every three minutes. Hunter even checks his blood sugar during his performance, while flying 200 mph upside down, in order to demonstrate how easy the latest diabetes management tools are to use.
“I remember how limited I felt when I was diagnosed, and I want to prevent children from feeling that way,” Hunter said.
“It’s important that they see that diabetes can be controlled and does not have to keep them from achieving their dreams.”
A lost-and-found area set up next to the Jay Jay the Jet Plane area helped 30 lost children get safely returned to their parents after becoming separated in the crowd.
A car accident on Hwy. 67/167 about 4 p.m. delayed the Sunday afternoon finale performance of the Thunderbirds as the pilots waited for a hospital helicopter to fly the accident victim to Little Rock.
“Safety of the citizens of Ark-ansas is our number-one concern so we’re waiting until the helicopter clears our air space to begin our show,” explained Cpt. Dave Haw-orth, Thunderbirds pilot and narrator.
When the Thunderbirds took to the skies it was non-stop action to a mix of energetic and patriotic music.
The six planes flew in two groups for most of the 30 or so maneuvers. Two soloists demonstrated the F-16’s agility in daring crossovers and eight-point rolls. Other planes demonstrated the control required for close group formations such as the trail to diamond formation where the Thunderbirds smoothly transition from a straight line into a diamond formation in the blink of an eye. The highlight was a trademark Thunderbirds maneuver, the calypso pass where a pair of Thunderbirds fly in the same direction, mere feet apart while one plane flies upside down.
Following the conclusion of the air show on Sunday there was a traffic jam of spectators trying to leave the parking area on the flight line.
“For security reasons our flight line was configured so there were only two main exits for people to leave, and with the large turnout we had some problems flowing 67,000 people and their cars through our exits,” Quinlan said.