Leader Blues

Friday, October 17, 2008

TOP STORY > >Air show today, tomorrow

By JEFFREY SMITH
Leader staff writer

The skies above Little Rock Air Force Base this weekend will be slashed with more blue and filled with gold as the Navy’s Blue Angels jets and the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team headline the entertainment for the thousands expected to attend this year’s air show.

The Golden Knights will perform at 10:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. The Blue Angels will fly in formation at 3:30 p.m. today and Sunday.

Gates will open at 8:30 a.m. and close at 4:30 p.m. Admission and parking are free and open to the public.

The Blue Angels will be featured for the second time in two years. The group of F/A-18 Hornet pilots will demonstrate precision and grace while averaging 400 miles per hour and pulling seven G’s.

The group will perform aerobatic maneuvers, such as a four-plane diamond formation, while at the same time, two solo planes perform movements of their own. Another maneuver the Blue Angels will perform is their famous, tight six-jet delta formation.

Capt. Kevin Mannix, piloting the No. 1 plane, is a native of Lindenhurst, N.Y., and has spent 22 years in the Navy. He was a commanding officer in Japan before being chosen to command the Blue Angels.

“I get a smile in seeing the audience’s faces when they see what the military is capable of. Having traveled the country with the tour has renewed my faith in their patriotism. It’s amazing how supportive Americans are of their military. It is impressive,” said Mannix on Friday.

Mannix, whose tour ends in November, said, “My biggest fear is retiring and having to get a real job for a living.”

Piloting the No. 4 Blue Angels plane is Maj. Clint Harris of the Marine Corps. Harris is originally from Senath, Mo., and went to Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, graduating in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in manufacturing technology.

“I have always had an interest in flying and always wanted to be a pilot. In college I learned of a program that would allow me to be a pilot in the Marine Corps,” said Harris.

“It takes an average of 10 years to gain the experience needed to become a Blue Angels pilot,” Harris continued. “We apply to the Blue Angels and are chosen from our aviation skills and a desire to become a career-oriented officer.

“The best part of being a part of the Blue Angels is having a positive influence to teens and adults across the U.S.,” said Harris.

After his two-year tour ends in November, Harris said he will be stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif., assuming the duties of an infantry officer.

During the air show season, the Blue Angels have seven pilots who are stationed at Forrest Sherman Field, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. During the winter months, the planes are stationed at the Naval Air Facility El Centro, Calif.

The Blue Angels have flown in the F/A-18 Hornets for 21 years. The group has performed since 1946. They serve to represent the Navy and Marine Corps and enhance recruiting.

Another main attraction at the air show is the Army’s Golden Knights skydivers. The skydivers, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., have been jumping out of planes and entertaining audiences at air shows for more than 44 years. The parachute teams will jump out of a plane and free-fall reaching speeds up to 120 mph. The team will be performing aerial movements and formations before landing on a specified target.

The Golden Knights will have 10 people performing this weekend, including Master Sgt. Khalida Hendricks, who is one of five women in the entire Golden Knights program.

Hendricks, originally from Los Alamos, N.M., has been with the Army for 11 years and is trained in military intelligence and has paratrooper experience.

“I was an airborne paratrooper in 1997. The next year I went with my best friend on a free-fall jump from an airplane at a skydiving school in California,” said Hendricks.

In 2006, Hendricks went to the Golden Knights selection-and-assessment program. She became a member of the Golden Knights the following year. She is currently on a three-year tour.

“Jumping out of the plane is the most free experience you will ever have. When you first start out you get nervous. But after a while all you can think about is how fun it is,” Hendricks said.

“I have 1,280 free-fall jumps in my career,” Hendricks added.

Also soaring in the air will be the Trojan Horsemen; the T-28 Warbird formation and acrobatics team; the Viper West F-16 demonstration team; the C-17; Fat Albert Airlines, and the Air Force’s Air Combat Command Heritage Flight. Mike Rinker of Elkins will pilot Pink Floyd, an SU-26 aircraft, and the Disabled American Veterans’ B-52, Special Delivery will also be there.
The air base’s own C-130 aircraft crews will show what the planes do in combat: paratroopers will jump in a display of military power and crews will drop heavy equipment and other cargo.

Five solid hours of flying and military-related entertainment will be available at the open house. There will also be static displays of military aircraft and the crews who fly them.

Souvenir, food and information booths will be available.

All visitors and their vehicles will be subject to search. No coolers, pets or backpacks are allowed at the open house. Due to limited parking, RVs will not be allowed on base.