Up until about the 4th or 5th grade, I was absolutely convinced that I was going to be a fighter pilot when I grew up. I read all I could about the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Falcon, watched documentaries on air combat, and would sit in the living room recliner, imagining myself taking on any number of Russian bogies (this was at the height of the Cold War, after all).
Whether they knew it or not, my parents did little to dissuade my piloting fantasies. For starters, my dad pulled me out of class one day to go see Top Gun — which still ranks as one of the greatest moments of my pre-adolescence. But even more importantly, they took my brother and I to the yearly open house on Offutt Air Force Base.
I haven’t been to an airshow since before junior high but I suppose there are some things you just don’t fully grow out of. In my case, it’s a fascination with all things related to military aircraft, and so it seemed only natural that Renae and I attend this year’s Lincoln Air Show.
I will admit that I was a bit worried that going to an airshow at the age of 30 would feel a little silly once we got there. But I needn’t have worried. As soon as that F-117 Nighthawk came flying in low overhead, I turned back into a giggling twelve-year-old boy. Indeed, I could barely keep my eyes on the road, but kept craning my neck to get a good look at the jet as it passed by a hundred feet or so overhead. (It’s probably a miracle that I didn’t cause any fender-benders.)
We missed a good portion of the show, but we did catch several impressive performances, specifically a technical demonstration of the F-16 and the Navy’s Blue Angels.
While I was always more of Thunderbirds fan as a kid, the Blue Angels certainly did not disappoint. It goes without saying that there’s something irresistibly thrilling about watching four F/A-18 Hornets flying past in a diamond formation, a mere eighteen inches separating each aircraft. Or to see two Angels fly straight at each other at several hundred miles per hour, turning sideways at the very last second to pass within a few feet of each other.
And let’s not forget the “sneak pass”, where one tricky Angel roars over the crowd from behind at about 700mph doing a full burn, subsequently scaring the living hoo-hah out of everyone below.
As impressive as the jets are, there’s something truly great about seeing the old dogs — the B-17s and B-24s, as well as the P-51s — take to the skies. There’s a certain grace in a P-51 Mustang executing a smooth turn, a certain presence and gravity in a B-17 Flying Fortress flying overhead that even the sleekest F-18 lacks. Which is most likely due to the history that these old craft represent. When you see a B-17 or P-51 pass by overhead, it’s possible that this very same aircraft flew (and survived) bombing missions deep within Nazi Germany, or that it engaged Japanese Zeroes during the Pacific War.
At this point, I must say that the good Lord truly did provide me with a patient woman for a wife. Renae, bless her soul, allowed me to drag her from one end of the airfield to the other and back again, all the while listening to me wax, fanboy-ish, about the merits of the F-16, the firepower and ruggedness of the A-10, and so on. She even let me buy some toys.
I’m hoping we’ll make it back next year, though hopefully a little better prepared. We’ll bring some chairs and beverages, pack a better camera (the PowerShot just couldn’t hack it for those high-speed photo ops), and bring along something to do while we wait to leave the parking lot (seriously, it took us 45 minutes just to get to the exit). But no need for earplugs. Experiencing the eardrum-battering roar of an F-18 going full-burn overhead — who wouldn’t want that?
Photos from the airshow can be found in this Flickr set.