Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sky High

Northwest Passage

About two weeks ago while at work I took a wrong turn and got lost. But following an unfamiliar winding road long enough eventually dumped out onto route 10, in around the Southhampton/ Westfield line. At the time I was just glad to get back to a familiar road, but little did I know how lucky that little meander would prove a couple weeks later.

We got up early on Saturday and headed out on the Pike from Ludlow for a ride to the air show in Westfield. Not having been to an air show in a couple years, The kid in me had been straining at the reigns for this day to come. Whizzing past the Springfield 291 exit happily enough, then coming over a hill and approaching Chicopee, we suddenly came upon a sea of red brake lights.

This was crazy. The traffic for the air show was completely backed up at least from the West Springfield exit, about 5 miles away. And then, probably another 5 miles to the Westfield Exit.

So much for the most direct approach. We stopped and started and crawled and finally made it to the exit in Chicopee which, surprisingly, not many others were taking. The new mission was to find another way in to Barnes. Maybe route 202 through Holyoke, past HCC and Ashley reservoir. We criss-crossed the criss-cross streets of Holyoke and crossed under 91, but were soon awash again in a sea of red light. Ugh. The day was looking like a complete bust, and glum discussion of other options for the morning sprang up. Nothing would substitute satisfactorily, though.

That's when that back road trek of the previous fortnight came to mind. It was worth a try. We climbed up Rte 141 heading to Mt. Tom, and took that same left turn. Mile after mile wound by, and our hopes began to rise as traffic in front of us remained light to non existent. We came closer to route 10 and still nothing. Could it be? Had we found the Northwest Passage? We pulled out onto Rte 10 south, and still nothing. One more mile or so to the intersection of 202, and we knew we were in the clear. Even if there was a traffic jam the last mile to the air base (and there was, a little) we could deal with that.

Turning left into the base, we looked with pity on the poor souls virtually parked on route 10 north, their sallow expression telling the story of hours and hours of staring at bumpers.

We paid the 10 dollar parking donation, were directed to our space far out in a grassy field, and piled out of the car just as an F-16 ROARED overhead.

We had arrived.

The F-16 was half way through it's set, and for the second half slowed down a bit too be joined by that other venerable super-fighter, of a long past generation: the P51 Mustang.

Getting through the gate, security was tight. Really tight. everyone had their bags searched and pockets emptied.

Eyes were everywhere.

But so it must be, in this day and age. We got in without much more ado, as the F-16 and P-51 finished their show and stunt planes now ruled the sky.

Next up, the A-10. A pair of these former full time Barnes residents 'bombed' the field betwixt runways, to an approving crowd.

As show after show took to the skies, we wandered about, checking out the other aircraft lined up on the tarmac. Vietnam-era helicopters and titanic cargo craft.

Old and new is always the big theme at these air shows, with both providing their own interest and fascination.

Our hearing was starting to come back again, just as an F-18 Hornet wound up and catapulted into the sky.

The Navy's number one fighter put on a show as impressive and as deafening as the F-16 earlier. As for myself, I managed to get the shots I was hankering for since getting here:

The hard accelerating afterburner lightup...

...the air-pulverizing nose-up maneuver...

...and the coup de grace, a mixture of both.

This gave me tremendous, though odd, satisfaction. It was like bagging prey. Or more precisely, locking on target. I Am Become Photohunter.

Like the F-16 earlier, the Hornet was soon joined by it's mid 20th century counterpart, the Navy's F-4U Corsair, and they both did a commemorative round together.

Good show, old man. Thrilling stuff.

Things quieted down for a spell after that. Though there was always something going on above, be it engined or not.

Gliders, floaters and turbo-props. They seemed to be alternating the technology with each show.

It was way past noon now and the place was full up.

Having done a lot of walking, as is par on an broad air base, we were getting pretty hungry and decided to break for lunch. We had brought sandwiches but coolers weren't allowed inside, so we had to get back outside the gate to eat. We passed under (mostly) watchful eyes once again.

The long trek back out to the car was rewarded with a cooler full of tasty sandwiches, while WWII vintage aircraft buzz by in the distance.

The air was on the cool side, compared to the past couple months, the sandwiches hit the spot, the old planes' relatively quiet piston engines puttered overhead, and it was all pretty relaxing.

So relaxing in fact, that we decided we had seen plenty this morning and should maybe forgo waiting the couple more hours for the headlining Thunderbirds. Westfield was also having a fair this weekend, and maybe we could go check that out.

But not 15 minutes out of the gate, we (I) began to feel pangs of early-leaver's remorse. We did a drive-by of the fair but just weren't into it today. Lets head back and see the T-Birds. Now to go back might mean another $10 donation...we wanted to see the Birds, but not that much.

Plan B here was to find a good roadside clearing near the base as many a traffic jammed, frustrated populace was doing on every road surrounding the base.

We circled around and found a fine lookout at a golf course on the East side of the base. Many people were already there and we picked our spot and waited. It took a while, but at last we heard the distant panther roar of F-16 jet engines winding up.

A flash of reflected sunlight here, beyond the tree line, a streak of white smoke there, and suddenly...


It turned out to be a prime spot for the show, with several planes buzzing low right above us, the thunder terrifying and delighting the bloggerette at the same time. Too cool.

These guys, and all the pilots, earned their pay today.

The Thunderbirds capped it. Time to head back.


Julianne Krutka said...

This was an amazing recount and your pictures are absolutely Superb! So glad you made it in and were able to do such a fine time documenting it for those who were not so fortunate! I was there, but your post will keep it forever fresh in my mind!
Thank You!
Kind regards,
Julianne Krutka
Westfield MA Resident

Scott said...

Thanks for the great photos. I was working in the parking lot that you were in. The term 'donation' was exactly that, we dealt with people that wanted to pay nothing to a person that had "free passes" and donated $100. Hope you enjoyed the show, and hopefully you'll come back for the next one.

Tony said...

Julianne, glad you liked the post! Between the traffic lockups on Saturday and the rain on Sunday, we were both lucky to be there.

Scott, we were a little skeptical about the donation at first, because I thought these airshows were suppopsed to be a free giveback to taxpayers. And then we asked a couple of lot workers where the donation was going and got either an ambiguous answer like "Family Support" or a flat out "I don't know".

But then we got to the gate where there was a big sign with an extensive list of charities the donations go to. So yeah, the donation request was legit. But if I could offer advice, you guys might have done well to prepare the collectors with some of that info for curious visitors like us.

For my part, I'm going to remove the quotation marks from the word donation. I see how that could look a little sarcastic.

By the way, you guys did a great job, and thank you for reading the blog!

-C said...

Awesome photos, as always!

You should have seen the views of the traffic (and the f-16s) from atop the range behind Barnes. That's where I hiked to watch the Thunderbirds.

Traffic was indeed INTENSE. It took me 45 minutes to get from JPs to the 91N onramp by the mall. Nuts!