Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fort Smith Air Show thrills largest crowd in exhibition's history

Released by 188th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Spectators enjoy the 188th Fighter Wing Weapons Element display at the Fort Smith Air show Oct. 1. The show drew a record 255,000 spectators. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Master Sgt. Dennis Brambl / 188th Fighter Wing Public Affairs) Hi-res

Note: Pictured on static display is A-10C 78-0583 from the 184th Fighter Squadron with a desolated "Arkansas" decal on the left vertical stabilizer. Also on display are a GAU-8/A Avenger 30mm cannon - the business end of the "Hog", a GBU-31 JDAM, and a GBU-38 JDAM. The "flip chart" in the foreground shows an Mk. 82 500lb General Purpose Bomb and also some 30mm munitions.

by Airman 1st Class John Hillier
188th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

10/3/2011 - FORT SMITH, Ark. -- Editor's note: For more photos of this event, check out the slideshow or find the 188th Fighter Wing on Facebook.

From the constant buzzing of propellers to the scream of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, the Air Combat Command F-15 Strike Eagle demo team or the pyrotechnic explosions during a recreation of the attack on Pearl Harbor by Tora! Tora! Tora!, the skies over Fort Smith were filled with the sound of freedom this weekend, and the grounds of the 188th Fighter Wing and Fort Smith Regional Airport were packed with a record 255,000 appreciative fans, who gathered to experience the 2011 Fort Smith Regional Air Show Oct. 1-2.

The highlight of the show was the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Team. The Thunderbirds executed a show of precision aerobatics, then stayed to sign autographs for eager fans.

Making a return trip to Northwest Arkansas with the Thunderbirds was Staff Sgt. Shane Hutchins, crew chief for Thunderbird No. 8. Hutchins is from Alpena, Ark., which is about a 90-minute drive from Fort Smith.

During the Thunderbirds' ground shows they reenlisted 11 members of the 188th and enlisted 50 new recruits into the active-duty Air Force. The Thunderbirds also recognized six individuals in front of a crowd of 130,000 fans before their Sunday aerial demonstration.

Capt. Bridgette Scott, Staff Sgt. Chris Cooper, Master Sgt. Paul Fair, Staff Sgt. Michael Bursey, Tech Sgt. Justin Mankins and Capt. Heath Allen were each introduced to the crowd following the reading of narratives cataloging their accomplishments during recent deployments.

"The Thunderbirds always put on an amazing show," said Col. Tom Anderson, 188th Fighter Wing commander. "But it's the community support and the hard work of our Community Council and unit members that make this such a great show and entices the headline acts to make us one of their repeat stops. That's evidenced by the fact that we shattered our previous attendance record. We can't say thank you enough to the community and the performers who helped make this the best show we've ever had here."

During their stay, the Thunderbirds also gave an orientation ride to Fort Smith police officer, Corporal Chris Boyd, as part of their Hometown Hero program. The Thunderbirds also gave meteorologist Drew Michaels of local ABC affiliate KHBS/KHOG 40/29 the ride of his life in an F-16 Falcon.

The Thunderbirds also took the time following their practice Sept. 30 to meet with groups from Make-A-Wish and Bost. The demonstration squadron also made stops at Sparks Regional Medical center, Fort Smith Northside High and Fort Smith Southside High on Sept. 30.

While the Thunderbirds stole the show, they weren't the only act in town. Another act popular with fans was the Indy Boys and their jet-powered school bus, dubbed "School Time."

From the moment driver Paul Stender fired up the engine at the end of the runway, bellowing clouds of smoke, fans of all ages quickly headed to the fence to get a look at the hand-built vehicle. Stender had initially tried to modify a working school bus into a jet-powered vehicle, but it couldn't withstand the high speeds required for his demonstration, he said.

Another popular display was an AC-130H Spectre Gunship from Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., nicknamed "Wicked Wanda." Spectators had a rare opportunity to get inside the craft and learn about how Airmen support ground operations with the craft's 105mm howitzer, and 40mm cannon.

"We don't usually get out to air shows," said Senior Airman Chris Houlihan, a crewmember on the Spectre. "We happened to be here doing integration with the A-10s, so we were able to stay on for the show."

The last show the Wicked Wanda made it to was in 2008, Houlihan said.

After learning about the different armaments carried by the Spectre from Capt. Stephen Liston, plenty of fans tried to talk Airman Houlihan out of the 105mm shell casing he had on display.

"Every kid wants to take that home with him," Airman Houlihan said.

Popular for another reason was the C-130 Hercules from the 189th Airlift Wing, an Arkansas Air National Guard unit based at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. While letting fans explore the craft from cockpit to tail, crewmembers also had a radio playing the Arkansas Razorbacks' football game against Texas A&M. Razorback scores were met with cheers from both the crew and spectators inside the Hercules.

Maj. Michael Schorer flew in a TC-135S trainer for the RC135 reconnaissance plane. Maj. Schorer's TC-135S, based at Offut Air Force Base, Neb., is the only one in existence, he said.

Rotary-wing aircraft made an appearance at the show as well, thanks to Jimmy Propst and his OH-13 Helicopter. Propst recently acquired the former Iowa National Guard helicopter from the city of Walnut Ridge, Ark., where it was used for pest control. Other than a driveshaft housing and some touchup paint, the entire bird is original from the manufacturer, he said.

Propst and his son were glad to beat the show, and the well-worn grass around his helicopter was testament to fans' appreciation.

Besides being an exposition of aircraft and technology, the event also serves as an opportunity for military recruiting. Recruiters from the U.S. Army Navy, Air Force, Marines, and National Guard Bureau were on hand to talk with visitors interested in serving their country.

The largest recruiting display during the show was the Air Force's "Command Center Alpha." It features an interactive look at a variety of jobs within the Air Force.

"The Air Force is only about 3 percent pilots, and we want to get people excited about other jobs in the Air Force," said Brian Baumer, a CCA staff member.

Visitors complete a leadership survey, and are issued a computer tablet that they can use to view videos about different jobs featured throughout the display, he said. The videos are tailored to each person, based on their answers to the survey questions, said Baumer.

The Command Center Alpha display also featured an F-16A Fighting Falcon in a Thunderbirds paint scheme with an open cockpit for fans to climb up and look inside.

Fans were also treated to a pair of F/A-18 Hornets from the U.S. Marines and also two of the 188th's A-10C Thunderbolt II "Warthogs" were on display as well as a C-17 Globemaster III and a host of other civilian aircraft.

Aircraft weren't the only attraction. Several aircraft simulators were present and the youth as well as the adults were able to have personalized dog tags made all while dining on a variety of tasty treats.


Please note: According to this official news release, two of the 184th Fighter Squadron's A-10Cs were on display. And think a little bit about this important quote: "We don't usually get out to air shows," said Senior Airman Chris Houlihan, a crewmember on the Spectre. "We happened to be here doing integration with the A-10s, so we were able to stay on for the show." Hmm ..., are there any new official tactics to combine "Spectres" and "Spookys" with the "Hog"? Indeed, both types of aircraft were favorized during Operation Odyssey Dawn against the Lybian regime of Muammar Gaddafi.

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