Friday, March 27, 2015

Officials putting final touches on Keesler air show

BILOXI -- Keesler Air Force Base's air strip was bustling with activity Friday as officials there worked on final preparation for the weekend's air show and open house.

Staff set up exhibits of aircraft old and new, and one by one, performers took to the sky for rehearsals. After rain Thursday grounded some incoming aircraft, exhibitors were still flying in on Friday as well.

Beginning Saturday, tens of thousands of people will fill the base to watch planes soar and tour exhibitions on the ground.

"This is a way for us to showcase our Air Force and showcase our airmen," Brig. Gen. Patrick Higby said. "It's to tell our community thank you, inspire our airmen to be greater airmen and inspire the community to think of the Air Force as a partner."

There will be 16 aerial demonstrations and 27 exhibits along the runways.

On the air strip Friday, Col. Mark Novak, along with his crew, was preparing his Douglas A-26 for the next day's show.

Novak, a retired air force pilot, said he enjoyed doing the air shows because they kept him active and involved with the Air Force community.

The plane was a model used in the final years of World War II and during the Korean War and in Vietnam, he said.

"It's part of the commemorative Air Force," he said. "We remember the men who flew and the women who built the aircraft and we teach the next generation about them."

There will be performances throughout the day Saturday and Sunday, but the two headliners will be the Army Golden Knights parachute team, which will perform mid-morning both days, and the Air Force Thunderbirds, which will fly mid-afternoon.

The performance at Keesler will be the Thunderbirds' first air base show of the 2015 season.

The Thunderbirds, though a demonstration team, nonetheless are a microcosm of the Air Force, Higby said,

"because we think of just the jet and the pilot.

"But none of these jets will launch without a whole team of airmen that do everything from forecasting the weather to pulling the maintenance on the avionics to pulling maintenance on the engine to fueling and defueling the jet. It is a total team effort."

Watching that team effort, Higby hopes, will inspire both the military men and women stationed at Keesler and potential recruits who attend the open house.

This will be the first air show at Keesler in four years after budget cuts put open houses on pause, and officials said they are excited to have the public back.

Several officers recalled their own experiences as children going air shows and how they were inspired.

"I was excited," Command Chief Harry Hutchinson said. "It was the first time I'd seen an aircraft flying. I was very young but I can tell you, I still remember it."

Doors for the airshow will open at 9 a.m. and performances will start at 9:45 a.m.

There will be no parking on base but shuttles will run most of the day. Officials recommend visitors avoid bringing large bags but small items, small umbrellas and small strollers are allowed. Because it is a secure base, no weapons may be brought on base.

Officials said they just want the surrounding Coast community to see what goes on at Keesler every day.

"It is a display of air power," Hutchinson said. "Air power is what we do and we do it very well."

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