The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly through the skies over Clovis during the 2002 Air Expo at Cannon Air Force Base. (File photo)
By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer
Cannon Air Force Base’s Air Power Expo will open Saturday with a peaceful glider flight across the sky to the tune of the national anthem. Then it will get noisy.
Four F-16s from the 524th fighter wing will scream low over the airfield, simulating an airfield assault.
“The airfield attack is just kind of a good way for the visiting public coming to the air show to get a flavor of what these guys do in a combat situation,” 1st Lt. Jennifer Geeslin said. “And that’s why we are putting the airfield attack in the morning as a way to open up the show.”
Parking for the show will be available at Doc Stewart Park off of U.S. Highway 60/84, just outside of Cannon’s main gate. From there, spectators will be shuttled on base starting at 9 a.m. Demonstrations are set to begin just after 10 a.m.
Three F-16 pilots of the 524th fighter wing, Cpt. Russ Piggott, Cpt. Chris Breffitt and Cpt. Jeff Schwerdt, sat down to talk about the air show and why it is an important event for the base and for the public.
“I think they are probably the biggest recruiting tool that the Air Force has,” Piggott said. “People go to air shows to see the planes and see what we have and look at all the neat stuff.”
Schwerdt said he would be taking his 3-year-old daughter around the show, starting the fighter-pilot-recruitment process early in life.
“The air show gives us the chance to bring someone up close to see what we do on a day to day basis, where you can see a fighter, or a bomber, up close, be able to touch it, see that it’s actually real and that its attainable,” Schwerdt said.
Breffitt said he joined the Air Force because of his amazement at air shows. On Saturday he will be stationed at the F-16 static display, the pilot on hand to explain the different aspects of the plane to visitors.
Other displays at the show will include a B-1, A-10, F-4, a vintage P-51 and an old Soviet Mig 17. The West Coast F-15 Demonstration Team is scheduled to perform at 3:15 p.m.
Piggott was in the Middle East when the war with Iraq started. He was immediately put into a combat role, attacking Republican Guard positions, pre-planned targets and real-time, strategic military targets. He said he flew for the duration of the air war in Iraq, sometimes with as little as 30 minutes notice.
“We pretty much beat the Republican Guard down so our guys could roll right into Baghdad,” he said. “At the same time, we targeted the regime. We did what is called ‘time-sensitive targeting.’”
Geeslin said the simulated airfield attack at Saturday’s show will be a good example of what the pilots do when attacking enemy positions. The air show is a special opportunity for the base to thank the community for its support during the military’s harrowing missions.
“Basically an air show is a way for us to open our gates to the public so they can come in and see what we really do in the Air Force,” Geeslin said. “It’s our way to give a demonstration of air power and truly show the capabilities of the United States Air Force.”
Geeslin said air show management requests attendees not bring backpacks, large bags, coolers, alcohol or pocket knives. Everyone entering the base will be subject to search.
Cameras, blankets and lawn chairs are permitted at the event, Geeslin said.