Hill Air Show wows crowds with aerial prowess

by Louise R. SHAW lshaw@davisclipper.com HILL AFB—The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds did their “high” show on Saturday at the Warriors Over the Wasatch Air and Space Show. The air demonstration squadron performs as many as 75 shows a year in 35 locations, according to maintenance officer Maj. Warren Smith, and has three precisely choreographed performances they select from depending on the weather. One is the “flat” show performed when there are clouds, another the “low” show. But with blue skies over the base on Saturday, the team opted to do their “high” show. “Look at this sky,” said Smith. “You can see to the moon.” It was that kind of a day Saturday, with temperatures in the high 80s and a stiff wind that kept things from overheating. Thousands of enthusiastic spectators took advantage of the open gates to the base – a rare opportunity – and waited in in long lines to get through the security checkpoints and access the tarmac. “This is huge,” said Ling Zou, a Sandy resident who is originally from China. “These planes are very powerful and to see the F-35 makes me proud of being American.” Besides a wide range of heart-stopping aerobatic performances, the show was a chance to see Hill’s F-35A Lightning IIs up close and in action. Three were on static display with pilots and maintenance personnel nearby to answer questions and demonstrate how a 500-pound bomb is loaded under the wing. Four F-35A Lighting IIs took to the skies each morning in a mock battle complete with dramatic explosions east of the runway. Kenzie Hatch was at the show with her husband, a pilot, and her brother. “We love planes,” she said. “I love my husband and he got me into it. We love the Air Force.” Kurtis Young is also a pilot and was attending his third air show. He carried his son, Connor, a toddler, giving him a chance to touch a propeller of one of the planes on display. “He can’t talk, but he does love planes,” said his dad. “He got it from me.” Families brought children of all ages to the show, where they could participate in many hands-on activities in addition to watching the aerial demonstrations. One hangar became a center for science, technology, engineering and math experiments, drawing youths to learn more about weather vanes, weather zonal flow, the aerodynamic force known as drag and other flight-related concepts. Across the tarmac, Maj. Kendall Workman stood near Humvees, an Apache helicopter and a Paladin and answered questions about the Utah National Guard. “This is an awareness campaign to allow us to send the message of what we provide to the country,” said Workman. “We have a dual status role, not only to help the federal government in times of war, but to help the state government for emergency response by fire fighting or helping clean up after windstorms or other natural disasters.” Airman First Class Seth Chance is originally from Georgia but calls Utah home now, as he works to maintain the F35As. “Hill is one of the best bases,” he said. “The leadership is good, there is great moral, everyone looks out for each other.” His family has a history of military service that inspired him, he said, from his grandfather, who served in the U.S. Army, to his brother and uncle who serve in the Air Force. Now that he lives in Utah and works at the base, he said, “this is family.” “We have great pilots and we have a great crew,” he said of the Hill team. It was in 1934 that the land between the Wasatch Mountains and the Great Salt Lake was first used as an Air Corps depot, according to information provided by the Air Force. Now, it includes more than 6,698 acres in Davis and Weber counties and employs “more than 25,000 military, civilian and contractor personnel,” according to the event brochure, making it one of the biggest employers in the state. Hill AFB was selected in 2013 as the new home for the F-35A. After watching heart-stopping acrobatics of a range of performers throughout the day including Brad Wursten, from Cache Valley, and Gary Rower, who also flies for a major airline, the audience was treated to a parachute jump by the U.S. Special Operations Command Para-Commandos and the climactic performance of the F-16 Thunderbirds. The first portion of their program showcased the precisely choreographed preparations of their maintenance squad to ensure the safety of the pilots and planes. Then the pilots took to the air, performing a combination of high-speed flyovers in formation and heart-stopping loops, solo passes that barely miss each other and surprising fly-bys that seem to come out of nowhere. The Utah show is challenging, said Lt. Col. Kevin Walsh, a pilot and commander now in his third season with the team, not only because of the proximity of the mountains but because of the high elevation. Walsh was in Utah in 2016 as an operations officer for the Thunderbirds. He has logged more than 2,600 hours of flight time and 500 hours in combat. The Thunderbirds represent the 20,000 airmen serving the country around the world, according to the announcer, making up the “finest US Air Force professionals,” and providing the country “uncontested air dominance.” The show is held every two years and is a major recruitment tool for the Air Force, as well as a way to thank the community for its support, according to organizers. It features “the pride and precision of the U.S. Air Force,” wrote Col. Jon A. Eberlan, commander of the 75th Air Base Wing, in a welcome statement. “You have welcomed our Airmen and their families into your communities,” he said, “and this weekend we are honored to welcome you into our community.” CUTLINE for 408: The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds perform before thousands of spectators at the Warriors Over the Wasatch Air and Space Show at Hill Air Force Base on Saturday. Louise R. Shaw


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