The 2016 Vance Air Force Base Open House has come and gone, but people are still talking about it. I have a feeling people will be talking about it the first few days of the work week but kids will be talking about it for a long time. In fact, kids will remember the air show far longer than the adults, which is sort of what it’s all about.
The day started off with remarks from Colonel Darrell F. Judy, commander of the 71st Flying Training Wing at Vance Air Force Base. There were words about the tragic loss Thursday of 1st Lt. Dale Shillington and pilot Randy Harris. United States Senator James Lankford also spoke.
Then it was time to let the festivities begin! Air acts commenced one after another right up to the final act of the Thunderbirds. In the past, there have been some lags in time between acts, but not at this show. They had each act ready to go and it seemed like total non-stop action.
The static aircraft was top notch as well. The big draw seemed to be the B-1 bomber as always. Amazingly, they were allowing folks to climb up into the bomber to take a peek at the inside of the cockpit this time. You could see just how cramped it was for the pilots.
While in line to see the inside of the cockpit, I met a gentleman named Dale. He was a friendly guy and was really enthusiastic about the B-1. I could certainly tell he wasn’t local, based on his accent, which I immediately recognized. It was Canadian. It turned out that Dale had driven from Georgetown in Ontario, just to see the B-1. The distance from Georgetown to Enid? About 1,300 miles depending on which route your want to take. As a matter of pride, I had to ask Dale how Enid had treated him since he arrived. He said (and I’m paraphrasing) they had treated him very well and were nice people. Well done Enid! I was able to snag some pictures of Dale climbing up into the B-1 and then offered to send them to him.
Now, I’ve talked about how great the air show was but there was a huge negative. Oh, my Lord. The heat. The thermometer said 105 degrees but it may as well have been 125 degrees out on the concrete. There was a breeze, but I’m not sure how much good it did. When I got home I really felt like I had been sandblasted. Then I read an email from Mike Honigsberg and Garfield County Emergency Management that I missed from earlier in the day. It said, “…I was out there yesterday and if you like 106 on the concrete and the winds giving you that BLOWTORCH FEELING, you’ll be fine.” Sandblasted. Blowtorch. Right-on! He was right.
By the time it got to the Thunderbirds I was spent. I had witnessed several people who had not heeded warnings about the heat or had done everything but still had issues, give in to the heat and need emergency care. They were dropping pretty quickly. I had drank water with regularity during the day, but I was beginning to cramp and I was getting weak. To top it off, a journalist’s nightmare, my camera battery died. The air show gods were sending me a message. Sit down and watch for a bit and then make an exit.
The folks at Vance Air Force Base are to be commended for a fantastic air show. There were great air acts, some fantastic static displays, and just an overall fantastic experience. If I could change one thing, I would tell the people of Enid, that they didn’t need to park outside the base just to avoid the crowds. When I left the base, there were cars parked along the road on Southgate all the way to Cleveland. Then all the way to Cleveland until pretty much the City of Enid Trail Head. It got spotty at Rupe, but it did continue. I could even see people ON the trail watching. Even people at Sunset Plaza. From everything I understand, they had a very efficient method of getting people to their cars and out of the base. There was so much more to see than what you could see from the weeds you were standing in on the side of the road. After the air show concluded, if you were on base, the Vance Fire Department turned on the water of the top of the trucks and let the kids play. How cool is that to end on for the kids?
Personally, I want to thank pilot John Ricciotti, Ssgt. Nancy Falcon, and 2nd Lt Hailey Schroeder. I am sure there are plenty of other folks who I could thank here that have contributed to the show. 1,000’s of hours went into making this airshow happen. It was not easy. Hopefully, more than a few people saw the airshow and think to themselves what a worthy endeavor volunteering for your country and serving in the United States Air Force might be, because nothing would be cooler than writing an article someday about a pilot coming back as a Thunderbird to do an air show in her/his hometown of Enid, OK and Vance Air Force Base.