Air Expo celebration of military might

An F-15E, front, and an F-15C, both from Mountain Home Air Force Base in Mountain Home, Idaho, sit on display during the 2005 Air Expo on Saturday at Cannon Air Force Base. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

The ballet didn’t feature ballerinas. It featured gravity-defying pilots, military mavericks, and their planes. Thousands of onlookers were awed Saturday by the aerial and ground displays at Cannon Air Force Base. The airshow, Air Expo 2005, was a celebration of pure might.

Innovative civilians used newspapers, towels, paper plates and cupped hands to shield their eyes from the day’s blaring rays. The menagerie of planes that soared through the sky were sometimes hard to spot, and even harder to keep in sight. They cut through the sky at daring speeds — the famous F-16 capable of traveling twice the speed of sound, according to one pilot.

Some of F-16s that comprise Cannon’s arsenal were parked for display Saturday; others swept periodically through the sky.

“This is a way for us to bring the community out and show them what we do. They take good care of us on a daily basis, so this is our way of saying thanks,” said Cpt. Kerre Ellis, airshow director.

The airshow was free to the public. Buses manned by fatigue-clad Cannon personnel shuttled civilians through the base, which is generally off limits to the public.
But Saturday’s goal, Ellis said, was synergy — among pilots and planes, among stunt crews, and above all, among civilians and military.

“We like anything to do with the military,” show attendee Lori Ukens said. “My husband is a private pilot. He just loves (the airshow). He understands how difficult this is,” said Ukens, squinting and seated in a lawn chair.

In the sky, trails of pink smoke blazed from the tail pipes of planes. Full-time airshow pilot Tim Weber flew his compact Extra 300 fearlessly. He shot straight into the air and dove to the ground, pausing to roll and spiral in the sky.

“These guys put their hearts into it,” said airshow announcer Mike Stogner.

It doesn’t go unnoticed.

“It’s awesome. I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Lorelei Schram, 19.

Airborne stuntmen and planes had some stationary compatriots.

A variety of giant planes were parked along Cannon’s runway. Pilots stood outside and greeted Cannon tourists who strolled through the interiors of a KC-10A Extender, a Combat Talon II, and an E-3 Sentry AWACS. The Extender is a fuel station; the submarine-style Talon an all-weather, night-mission flier while the Sentry is a self-sustained air traffic control center.

One Portales 12-year-old was pretty psyched about her location — the bed of the Talon, a dark mess of exposed wires and metal. “It’s pretty cool,” Savannah Bonds said.

“I could spend all day in here,” piped another tiny plane tourist, Mahala Neumann, 6, of Amarillo, who later inspected the cockpit of the massive plane.

The pony-tailed 6-year-old was just one in a string endlessly curious tourists; many, for the first time, shaking hands with a sometimes faceless, and usually mysterious, military.