Air Force flexes its muscle

Garison Bohler, 2, and his dad Matt Bohler, of Muleshoe, Texas, watch a performance during the 2004 Air Expo at Cannon Air Force Base. An A-10 Warthog is in the background. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

Chilly temperatures and intermittent rain showers at Saturday’s 2004 Air Expo at Cannon Air Force Base sent spectators scurrying for cover under the wings of multimillion dollar jet fighters and seeking warmth in the cargo hold of a C-17.

But the clouds and rain did not stop the aerial demonstrations or the enthusiasm of the thousands who gathered for the show.

The show opened with an F-16 fly over, a glider demonstration and a simulated bombing of the airfield by four F-16s from the 524th Fighter Squadron. Two large plumes of black smoke rose into the air above the field.

“We were simulating an attack that we do all the time, that we practice a lot,” said Capt. Jeff Kennedy, who led the simulated attack on Saturday. “If we’re going in at low altitude, it’s the kind of a attack we do, somewhere around 500 feet, 500 knots.”

Kennedy, who has been flying F-16s for five years, said he saw some combat experience in Iraq, but the simulated attack on Saturday was much different than anything he did there. For one thing, in Iraq there was no question of air superiority, and the F-16s could bomb from higher altitudes.
And of course, no one was firing at him on Saturday.

Although the show seemed to go as planned, the overcast skies may have discouraged some from attending, said Col. John Posner, 27th Fighter Wing Commander.

“People aren’t getting sunburned and we’re not having heat problems, heat stroke, or any heat related injuries that sometimes you have on air shows during the very, very hot months of the summer,” Posner said. “I’m fearful maybe the cloudy weather convinced people downtown that we wouldn’t have an air show.”

Capt. Nick Sweeney, who’s father was an Air Force crew chief, has been around airplanes and air shows for much of his life. Now that he flies F-16s, he said an air show is a good way to repay a supportive community.

“It’s always fun when everyone from the community comes in here to watch the air show and show support for us,” said Sweeney, who also flew in the simulated attack. “And it gives us a chance to put on a show for them as well.”

Retired military personnel were well represented at the show.

“I’m just here to see how things have changed in the last 10 years,” said Chuck Lewis, who maintain equipment like helmets and taught survival techniques for downed pilots while in the service. “I retired in ‘94. Everything’s pretty much stayed the same. A little bit more high-tech stuff, but nothing major.”

Doncella Caywood of Portales said the show is an annual event for her family and an opportunity to show their support of the military.

“We have several things that we do every year (as a family), and this is one of them,” she said as she sat next to her son-in-law and among her several grandchildren. “We definitely support the military.”

Maurice Murphy, a plant manager at the Southwest Cheese plant, attended the show with his wife and four children. A citizen of Ireland, Murphy said it was the first time he had experienced the sheer power of the Air Force.

“We’ve never seen anything like this (kind of air power),” Murphy said.

The air expo showcased Air Force planes from around the nation, including an F-15 that thundered across the air field, leaving a cacophony of car alarms, crying babies and afterburner reverberations in its wake.

“We’ve got jets from everywhere: the C-17 is from Charleston, S.C.,” Posner said. “The helicopter is from right across the street in Albuquerque, the F-117 is from Alamogordo, and we’ve got a lot of trainers from all over Texas.”