EYES ON THE SKY
WHEN it’s time for the Barksdale Air Force Base Air Show, there’s one question asked more than any other. “Are the Blue Angels coming?” This year, the answer is “Yes.”
The 2017 show, featuring the United States Navy Blue Angels flying team, will take flight May 6 and 7. Gates will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and admission/ parking is free.
Planning for this year’s show began in 2015. Because they are in such demand, the Blue Angels must be invited two years in advance.
“We try to alternate between the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds, not because we like one over the other, but basically because they are hard to get to do back-to-back years, said Maj. Matthew Spinelli, air show director. “They realize there are lots of air shows out there and lots of places to do the recruitment process, which is their primary goal, and that going to the same place year in and year out is probably not the best for their over-arching goal.”
The Blue Angels have flown in front of more than 450 million people worldwide. When it performs at Barksdale, the incredible skills of its pilots are sure to amaze the crowd.
“There are six of them that fly in an act,” Spinelli said. “They’ve got some pretty crazy aerobatic demonstrations that take the pinnacle of precision and ability of a pilot to be able to do that day in and day out.”
“They do everything from high-speed passes to super-close formation aerobatic maneuvers, to crossing paths within 50 feet doing 500 knots each jet, so you’ve got 1,000 knots of closure,” Spinelli continued. “Basically a head-on collision, and then they move at the end.”
But the Blue Angels’ performance isn’t limited to the air. You will want to keep a close eye on the team from the minute they step onto the tarmac.
“Their whole act is pristine,” Spinelli described. “We’re talking from where they walk to the airplane to get into the aircraft and start the aircraft. That whole process … the dance they do with their maintenance personnel as they get the aircraft ready and taxi out, it’s all choreographed much like a dance.”
The Barksdale air show began in 1933.
Despite its long tradition, the event’s purpose has been constant.
“It’s one of the opportunities we have to give back to the community,” Spinelli said. “This is the mission we do, the airframe we fly. It’s our chance to show the community the Base and what we do with the money they pay with their taxes.”
The show is also an opportunity for the Air Force – and Barksdale in particular – to recognize those who have fought for our country’s freedom.
“World War II veterans are starting to die off, sadly,” Spinelli said. “As long as we can reach back, there are people who have sacrificed parts of their lives to their entire life serving the country and serving the people. It’s our ability to give back to them.”
2017 is the United States Air Force’s 70th anniversary. This year, the USAF’s slogan is “Breaking Barriers.” The organization wants to show you what it’s doing that is new, and how it has come from conception to where it is now.
With that in mind, this year’s show will honor the Air Force’s long, proud history, as well as look ahead to hopefully its long, proud future.
“We’ll pay tribute to those who have come before us and paid the ultimate sacrifice, and to those who are coming in the future,” Spinelli said. “There will be a mass enlistment ceremony that we are going to do right at the beginning of the show. New airmen are going to be sworn into the military so there is this whole aspect of past, present, future that we are trying to show.”
Part of honoring “the past” will include showcasing B-17, B-29 and B-52 aircraft which have played – and are playing – a vital role in the Air Force. Barksdale is one of two bases that are home to the majority of B-52s.
“We are focusing mostly on bomber heritage, particularly bringing in vintage aircraft, very rare aircraft to show where we have come from,” Spinelli said.
Spinelli is particularly proud of the B-29 that will be on display.
“There are only two B-29s that are refurbished to where they are flyable,” Spinelli said. “At the time of the air show, it’s going to be the only one that is flying because the other one will be down for maintenance.”
But the B-17, B-29 and B-52 planes are just a sampling of what you will see.
“There will be cargo platforms, fighter platforms and bomber platforms,” Spinelli said. “There’s rotary wing, there’s Army, there’s Navy, there’s Coast Guard. Basically, every facet of the DOD (Department of Defense) that you can think of is going to be here in some way, shape or form.”
Not every air show attracts those types of resources. That, Spinelli said, is reflective of Barksdale’s importance.
“The reach that BAFB has with the DOD is pretty huge. When you think of anything that happens around the world, whether it be nuclear deterrents, that’s going to start here.”
“There’s a lot of clout that comes with Barksdale nowadays, just because it’s the Air Force Global Strike Command base.”
“If there’s something that comes up where President Trump wants to do something that’s Global Strike, so it has to be done now, has to be done fast, maybe has to be done covertly, that’s going to be through Air Force Global Strike and one of our platforms,” Spinelli said. “I would say it’s (Barksdale) a pretty important base, and I can see why other people would want to be here.”
One of the reasons you may wish to attend the air show is the access you will have. For 363 days of the year, you can’t just drive through the Barksdale gates and go where you want to go. However, at this year’s two-day show, you will be able to see areas usually reserved for military personnel only.
“The Mass Parking Area is where the show aircraft are going to be – where we park airplanes every day for combat operations or conventional tasking,” Spinelli said. “On a normal day, you have to have an ID of some sort of permission to get on base, and then on a normal day you have to have flight line access to get out to the flight line. There are two huge hurdles that people would have to go through to see an airplane. We are taking that away.”
Spinelli said that in years past, the air show has attracted crowds between 110,000-120,000 people. With an increase in advertising (mainstream and social media), he expects a bigger crowd this year, noting the base can handle 150,000 people.
There will be some 400 Air Force personnel working the event. The Air Show is organized and hosted by the 2nd Bomb Wing Barksdale Air Force Base, with the support of the Military Affairs Council.
You can find more information on this year’s show by visiting: www.barksdaleafbairshow.com.