An overcast sky and a slight breeze meant near perfect flying conditions for the military and civilian performers of the 50th Annual Marine Corps Air Station Yuma Airshow and Open House on Saturday.
“The airshow gods are smiling upon us,” said Colonel Robert C. Kuckuk, commanding officer of MCAS Yuma, who noted the conditions were also very pleasant for the spectators.
“We are very lucky. It has been great. We don't have the temperatures that we thought and we've had a little break from the sun with the overcast, so it has been just perfect airshow watching and airplane watching weather.”
Tens of thousands of spectators crammed the flight line at the base to watch in awe and amazement as military and civilian pilots performed aerial stunts and acrobatic displays.
“We expected about 50,000 and I think we are going to bump right up against that or maybe more,” Kuckuk said, noting that the airshow continues to be popular even after 50 years because of the excellent relationship the Marine base has with the civilian population in the area.
“We continue to get support from the city and support from the performers and everyone else, (which shows) that they want to keep coming back year after year to have an airshow.”
For Frank Kingston Smith, who has been the announcer for the MCAS Yuma Airshow for all but one year since 1993, not even cancer could keep him away.
Last summer, doctors found a tumor the size of a chicken egg in Smith's colon during a routine physical.
“It was a pretty good size,” Smith said during a break on Saturday morning.
Smith had the tumor removed and began chemotherapy treatments in September. His treatments have been ongoing, and are expected to be completed in April.
“I hate the chemotherapy because it makes me stupid,” he said. “You are hazy and fatigued all the time.”
Smith didn't want to miss the airshow in Yuma, so his doctor agreed to let him skip his chemotherapy treatments for two weeks. He will resume treatments on Monday.
“This is the first show of the season,” he said. “It is great fun, it's a great place to be, and it has the most appreciative spectators I have ever seen in my life.”
The show began with a skydiving demonstration and the special recognition of Cpl. Karandeep France, an avionics and communication technician for Marine Aviation Logistics squadron 13, who was named the MCAS Yuma Marine of the year in 2011.
Then a flight of American-made World War II era fighter aircraft took to the sky as part of a demonstration by the Commemorative Air Force.
Next up, replicas of the Japanese Zero and Japanese fighter bombers that bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, re-enacted the infamous sneak attack.
The spectators watched as the small squadron of aircraft dive-bombed the “USS Oklahoma” and “USS Arizona,” out on the tarmac as an announcer told the history of that fateful day. The re-enactment included pyrotechnics that exploded as each aircraft flew overhead.
The airshow also included several demonstrations by military personnel who flew an MV-22 Osprey, an F/A-18 fighter jet, and an AV-8B Harrier.
The show concluded with a demonstration by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. The expert pilots flew their F-16s in very tight formation, completed sharp turns in tandem, and pulled off death-defying feats.
One of the most breathtaking maneuvers involved two F-16s who flew head on from opposite directions at breakneck speeds. The two aircraft narrowly avoided a collision as they passed within feet of each other in the air, much to the delight of the thousands of spectators.
Chris McDaniel can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6849.