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MCAS Airshow flies through town
Windy conditions Saturday morning couldn't keep an estimated 30,000 or more civilians from attending the 48th Annual Yuma Air Show at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.
The sky above the runways was alive with high performance jets and acrobatic planes that were involved in pulse-stopping action.
"The wind was a big factor for the people on the ground, especially early in the morning when the wind was really, really going," said Lance Cpl. Graham Benson of MCAS Public Affairs.
"I'd say 30 mph at least. I'm glad all our tents stayed down, they were whipping in the wind early on. The weather was wonderful, and I think the wind really keeps it nice and manageably cool. It didn't get too hot. Another beautiful Yuma day with sun shining and sunny skies. That is why pilots love Yuma, and that is why we have an air station here at the end of the day."
Frank Kingston Smith, lead announcer for the air show, said the wind may have even kept the clouds away, allowing the eager throngs of spectators a chance to see every heart-pounding second of action as far as the eye could see.
"I think the nearest cloud is three hundred miles away," he said, adding the wind made it more difficult for the pilots.
"A little bit. It makes it tougher to fly precisely. You would see somebody going straight up and the smoke would be going off to the left so you could see how hard that wind was blowing. A couple of times we were up there (on the edge of the runway) eating sand."
In attendance at the show were General James Terry Conway, current Commandant of the Marine Corps, as well as actor R. Lee Ermey, who was back again for a second year to meet the public, take pictures and sign autographs.
Visiting civilians also got a chance to see and touch 90 jets, helicopters, bombers, tanks and artillery that were sitting on the tarmac. Some of the static displays were brought in by Yuma Proving Ground just for the occasion.
Benson said the free event allows local taxpayers to see their money at work.
"It is a good opportunity for us to open up," Benson said. "We get a lot of support from the community, and they can come and see what it is we do. We are this huge entity and a major factor in the community, but because of security, we are separated at the same time. The air show gives us a chance to offer up our resources, our airfield and some of our aircraft, as well as civilian aircraft, and to show some of the cooler things we do here."
Some of the airplanes that were in the air for demonstrations included F-16s, Harriers, an F-4 and Huey helicopters.
There was even a race between a souped-up school bus with a jet engine in the back and a military aircraft. The aircraft won.
"The jet bus didn't stand a chance against that plane," Benson said. "This guy, a super mechanic, has put a jet engine in the school bus and does three hundred miles an hour. It was interesting to see. That bus certainly held its own for the first quarter of a mile there, with the fire blowing out the back. I understand this is the same guy who put a jet engine on a port-a-potty. He is one of those guys who will put a jet on anything that can take it. It was pretty cool."
Smith said one of the highlights of the day was Kent Peach, who flew a 1939 Interstate Cadet with a Jelly Belly logo and did three separate acts.
"There was a comedy act, which was hilarious. He actually had an aileron fall off the plane intentionally. He also did a dead stick landing from 7 thousand feet. A dead stick landing is when the propeller is standing still and the engine is shut down, so he was basically flying as a glider for the next 8 minutes. The last thing he did was land that Interstate Cadet on a pick-up truck, which is a small target to hit."
The final act of the day was put on by the Patriot Jet Team, which is made up of former military pilots who continue to show off their daredevil stunts as civilians. The four jets did several passes over the airfield, performing barrel rolls and insane vertical climbs and dives within feet of each other.
"Two of them are former Thunderbirds," Smith said. "They are used to high Gs, heart-stopping maneuvers and flying close to each other. It was a pretty show and was fun to watch."
Benson said he hopes civilians came away from the air show with a greater understanding of what it is Marines do.
"To actually see these things that are flying overhead all the time, and maybe sometimes are a little loud ... when you actually get up on them and see their power and what they are capable of... I think it is a great opportunity for people to see those tangible benefits. This puts a face with MCAS Yuma. Not just camouflage, not just big green humvees rolling out of the gates. It puts faces and personalities with Marines in uniform which is a good thing for us and hopefully the community, too."
Chris McDaniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6849.