Sunday, September 7, 2008

Elevation 241

Kelly had to work, so just the kid and I headed out to Chicopee's Westover Air Reserve base, for the Great New England Air Show. The weather was A+ perfect for an airshow. Not a cloud in the sky. Everyone wanted in.


Chicopee was under siege. If you wanted to avoid the traffic mess, you would have to be the get-up-early type. Unfortunately I'm the stay-up-late variety, especially on weekends. So by the time we got rolling it was almost noon. As we sat in traffic about 1 p.m., peering out the windows watching the prized F-18 show going on in the sky in the distance, I decided to cut our losses time-wise. We parked about four miles away, and pedalled in on the bikes. It actually worked out well and we arrived, a little sweaty, at about 1:45 p.m. Plenty of time left to check out the show.

First stop was the mammoth C-5 Galaxy transport plane. The biggest thing in the sky military-wise (except, I think, for some old Soviet era behemoths from the Cold War which are probably in mothballs now).

The front and back of this one was open, allowing people to walk right through the massive tunnel down the middle of this monster.

It wasn't too warm out, but the wide wings and body of the bigger planes provided plenty of shade to those who needed a break from all the walking in the wide open, huge exhibit area.

Pretty much the whole time we were there, there was some kind of aircraft buzzing around in the sky above. At this time it was a biplane, doing all kinds of tricks.

Some of the stunts seemed so out of control, it was probably enough to make the people standing below a little queasy.

Before the C-5 came around, one of the biggest kids on the block was the venerable B-52 Stratofortress. The old eight-engine giant kept the 'commies' at bay for decades, all throughout the Cold War era, and is still used to bring thunder down on our enemies hiding out in mid-east caves. Today the old bird nestles it's citizens under it's wing for some more of that shade.

On to the Tank-Buster. The A-10 Warthog was a familiar sight above our skies in the valley for a long time. A squadron was based at Barnes in Westfield, until very recently being turned into an F-15 fighter squadron. Everyone's seen these guys, usually flying in tight two-plane formations cruising above.

Some say they're ugly, but they're perfect examples of form following function in a ground attack aircraft. The wide straight wings, rarely seen on jets of any kind, provide high lift for economical and long loiter times above battlefields, the engines placed high, with their heat partially blocked by the two vertical tail fins, help avoid ground fire and heat seeking missiles.

The cockpit sits in a bullet proof tub, and the gun. Wellll, the gun.

It's the Dirty Harry, 44 Magnum of the battlefield -actually a 30 millimeter wide Gatling Gun, shooting depleted uranium (for added weight and density) projectiles that can crack open any armored vehicle the enemy chooses to hide in. These kids have no idea what destruction comes out of there...

Love those planes. The F-15 they've been replaced with are amazing too, but I miss seeing these guys flying above.

On to a tamer animal. Way before the C-5's began being based there, Westover was primarily a C-130 base. Long trains of these fast, rugged propeller driven cargo planes would fly by several times daily when I was growing up. I can still easily recognise the growl of the four props on each of them, from years and years of watching as four or more of them would fly by in a line, low overhead.

These guys are incredibly versatile and rugged. They're used for everything from troop transport, to cannon-bristling gunships, to in this case, pest control. This particular plane has been doing duty in the hurricane ravaged regions of Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, keeping mosquito populations in check. They've been running back and forth along the southeast coast spraying for them until these big tanks were empty.

We walked by the now parked F-18 Super Hornet, out on the tarmac. It's number three on my personal 'Coolest American Fighter' list, and I was disappointed we missed it's show.

But number one on that list, is this guy. The Electric Jet. The Viper. The F-16 Falcon.

In my younger days, when I was running low and fast and twisting through tight valleys, narrowly missing the branches of the trees along the steep mountain sides blurring by, on my way to destroy the lead units of the advancing enemy column at the bridgehead and single handedly thwart their advance, this is the plane I was flying.

I wonder where these kids are flying it...

In a fenced off area of the airshow, is a section devoted to some of the classics of our fathers' days.

Rugged and meant for business, these aircraft were designed in the crucible of World War Two. They were quickly designed and built, put out on the front lines as soon as they could be manned with equally quickly trained recruits, and sent out to do or die.

A lot of people in my generation, (myself included) really have no idea what it is like to be in such a major conflict. But the very reason we don't know what it is like is precisely because of their genertion's struggles and victory. These examples of aircraft have outlived most of the souls who were there to see them in battle.

Most of the examples here have been repainted and carefully restored.

The F4U Corsair's folding 'gull-wing' design was a revolutionary idea for an aircraft-carrier borne plane. The war was just about over when these guys took to the skies to clean up.

The P51 Mustang also showed up late in the war, and was a quantum leap in the design and performance of propeller driven fighters. It was the F-15 of it's day, untouchable.

The one parked here was chromed out and polished to a mirror finish. Real nice.

This example of the famous B-17 Flying Fortress was also similarly shined up and glistening in the sun. The crowd had to be held back at a distance while they refueled it.

It was now past 3 o'clock, and the Thunderbirds were getting ready to put on their show and wind out the finale of the airshow. We made it back to center-crowd, and staked out our viewing spots. The pilots ceremoniously mounted up, while the crews waited at attention near each plane.

In a few minutes they were rolling off to the end of the runway...

...And were soon airborne.

The show is better suited to video, so here are a few quick clips of their skills:

The pilots all landed safely to end their 47th show this year, and marched triumphantly up to greet and shake hands with a grateful crowd.

It was the end of another airshow. It'll be a long wait until the next one comes...


Mary E.Carey said...

FANTASTIC coverage.

Tony said...

Thanks Mary. The topic is a personal favorite...

Anonymous said...

We live in Chicopee and had the pleasure of watching the jet acrobatics from our backyard Friday through Sunday. It was awesome having the Thunderbirds fly over our house in formation. I can't wait for the next one. Makes you proud to be an American!

Anonymous said...

The picture of the F-16 with the two kids... That's my daughter and our friend's son. Great picture! I loved all the pictures actually! Thanks!

Tony said...

Please tell them thank you, they really made that picture..!

KBrady said...

Thanks for the photos and video, Tony! I feel as if I were right there last weekend.

Anonymous said...

The video clips are amazing. Very smart idea to ride your bikes in and avoid some of the traffic. Great Stuff! - Theresa