KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE – The plane engines revved hot and the asphalt baked in the New Mexico sun on Day One of the 2016 Kirtland Air Show, the first show at the base in five years and part of the base’s 75th anniversary celebration.
Locals and visitors on Saturday mingled with airmen and peeked at their aircraft, sights that ranged from helicopters and bombers to massive cargo planes. Then a huge crowd settled in to watch pilots showcase their talents in a series of shows that ran all afternoon. Kirtland estimated that 42,000 people turned out for the event.
“The taxpayers spent a lot of money on this,” Jason Hock, an Air Force pilot, said of the planes. “This is the chance for them to put their hands on it.”
Aircrews for the various types of aircraft stood by their planes or helicopters and answered questions about the equipment. Hock, who specializes in helicopters, shared a video of himself flying back from Afghanistan while refueling the helicopter mid-flight, in a storm, over the Atlantic on the way to Bermuda. A hose latched onto a refueling plane flying above his helicopter.
“They asked for volunteers for this (meeting with the air show attendees), but it’s not like people don’t want to be here and talk about what they do, and what they love to do,” he said. “We take a lot of pride in our mission.”
The air show, which is free to the public, continues today. Gates open at 9 a.m., and the shows start at 10:30 a.m. with a parachute act during the national anthem.
That’s followed by the comedy act of Kyle Franklin, who plays the role of a drunken guy who sneaks onto the runway and steals a plane. He then flies so the plane swerves up and down and side to side just off the runway while the announcer acts as if everyone’s about to witness a catastrophe.
The show is being held this year to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Kirtland Air Force Base, the premier training site for Air Force special operations, and combat search and rescue aircrews.
Annie Kornegay of Albuquerque said it was “majestic” to take her 1- and 3-year-old grandchildren through a C-5 cargo plane. The children’s father is in the military and stationed in Saudi Arabia.
“You do get a visual of who sits in these planes and for what purpose they’re in there for,” she said.
Jonathan Hernandez, a software engineer from Albuquerque, toured planes in the morning with his 2-year-old son.
“He likes airplanes, and I’m hoping to give him a lot of exposure,” he said. “What I like about it is the technology.”
The aerial performances over the runway drew a large audience. People crowded around one another, some wise enough to bring umbrellas for shade.
Some of the demonstrations included a DC-10 air tanker flyby that dropped water on the runway, and a stunt performance by brothers Dave and Billy Werth.
Dave drove a motorcycle down the runway, and Billy, the pilot, flew a plane upside down over him and got so close that Dave reached up and touched the plane.
Their aunt, Sandy Nebl, of Pueblo, Colo., made the trip to Albuquerque to see her nephews perform for the first time.
“I’m excited and so proud of them. They bring a lot of joy,” she said. “I’m thrilled to be down here. It’s a great event for Albuquerque and a great military community.”
The Thunderbirds, an Air Force air demonstration squadron, had to cancel their 75-minute performance after one of the planes crashed on Thursday during a U.S. Air Force Academy commencement ceremony attended by President Barack Obama. The pilot ejected safely.
“We’re very disappointed the Thunderbirds aren’t here, but we came anyway,” said Consuelo Garcia of Phoenix, who took in the show while visiting her friend who works on the base. “It’s awesome to look at them and see how huge (the planes) are.”
Along with the planes and performances, several vendors are selling food and drinks. Everything’s cash-only, and ATMs are available.
If you plan on heading to the show today, brace for another hot one. The National Weather Service is forecasting a high in the mid-90s. There are portable water tanks throughout the show area.
Saturday’s high temps didn’t bother Geraldine Guerrero of Albuquerque and her three boys, who are 6, 8 and 11. The family sat down on the concrete to watch the performances.
“I’m glad they brought it back because the kids are interested about the military,” she said. “They play video games and see (planes) in the movies. To see the real ones is great for them.”