The seventh inning stretch at every Padres home game at Petco Park is complete with a Top Gun montage, high fives and thousands of people singing about a danger zone. This is a military city and I’m so thrilled to be a part of it. A few weekends ago, we went to the Navy open house and boarded the Wayne E. Meyer Destroyer for a tour. Sailors and officers lined the deck displaying details of the ship and it’s strategic abilities. It was an incredible experience. Last weekend, it was a visit to the Marine Corps Air Station at Miramar home of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, the place that used to be the home of the Top Gun school. It was our first air show at a military base…impressive doesn’t do it justice.
My favourite part of the event, is that it’s free and open to the public. Everyone is welcome. Of course, if you want a VIP experience or grandstand seat, there are fees; but, anyone can pack a picnic and spend the day with their family sitting on the flight line being entertained by fearless acrobats of the sky. As we entered the area, we passed fighter jets, aerobatic planes and more. Pilots, support teams, mechanics and many other military elements were ever present. Vendors of all types (food, tourism, souvenirs and military) stood parallel to the flight line to add to the grandeur of the event. The air show shared more than the magic of flight. Throughout the area there were static displays of trucks and tanks, helicopters and planes, and equipment and memorabilia of the military’s past. There were military men and women (including Wolfpack pilots and Navy Seals) available to explain everything, speak with, thank and answer questions.
As we wandered past rutters and wheels, propellers and people, the boom of Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit’s planned explosions competed with the roar of jets overhead. One time I looked up and there was a plane carrying a dangling humvee through the air, followed by another that the line dropped from within held ten men. I’m not sure if it matters if you see something like this every day or once in a lifetime…technology, skill and courage continue to amaze me.
This year’s theme for the San Diego Air Show was ‘A Salute to Veterans and Their Families’. Fully acknowledging sacrifice and support of military families and the long time relationship with the city of San Diego, the spectacle of fast flying formations blended with choreographed sky high maneuvers left mouths agape and eyes wide. According to their program, the annual three day event typically draws more than 500,000 attendees each year.
Amidst the sky-filled of Hornets and Harriers, and Ospreys and Cobras, there were civilian flyers and Department of Defense sanctioned aerial demonstration teams. The most extraordinary individual performance we saw looked as if it came straight out of a Disney movie. Painted a sparkly red and engaging in death-defying feats was Sean Tucker and his Oracle Challenger. The effusive pilot has flown more than 1,000 performances in over 425 air shows and was named one of the 25 ‘Living Legends of Flight’ by the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (Air Show program). Displaying what I can only verbally describe as a Cirque du Soleil of the sky, he performed loop after loop, flew to harrowing heights and blew past the waving glee-filled crowd many times. You could feel his excitement in each flip and turn – this is a man who continues to delight spectators of all ages and truly loves his job!
The team performances outdid themselves. The civilian Breitling Jet Team made its first US Tour appearance ever. Dazzling the crowds with seven jets dancing above, they flew upside down, circled each other, engaged their lights and ended their flight time with sparks of glitter shooting into the sky. I’m sure they could hear the ‘oohs and aahs’ of the crowd even at their height! Waving watchers raced to the fences to get a glimpse of the pilots as they parked their planes.
The closing act of the Air Show was none other than the Blue Angels. In their 69 year history, the team continues to electrify the sky and astound audiences at each performance. Made up of Navy and Marine Corps jet pilots and their team, their mission is to ‘showcase the pride and professionalism of the United States Navy and Marine Corps by inspiring a culture of excellence and service to country through flight demonstrations and community outreach’. (Air Show program) Their pride and professionalism fused with the audiences amazement, admiration and awe throughout their entire intricate and roaring act. It’s no wonder they were the closing act – they are hard to beat!
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the air show. It was certainly a significant highlight of our time in San Diego. We knew it would be loud, filled with people and take up considerable space. We knew we’d be thrilled to have access to a military base and interact with those who defend, support and serve daily. I knew the husband would be in his glory to be around planes, helicopters and military equipment. What I didn’t know was how amazed I would be surrounded by the talent, strategy, ability, diligence, pride, courage and energy of all of the men and women there. The spectacle in the sky stole the show, but those on the ground were an equal draw. I’ve never before lived in a military town/city. Each day I see men and women in uniform going about their daily life. Each time I smile, wave or offer thanks in whatever way possible. One of the goals of the air show may have been to show thanks to the city of San Diego for it’s support of the military, but I have a feeling that the crowds drawn are more of a way for the citizens of San Diego to show thanks to the military. It certainly was for us.