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Enormous crowds gather for 2019 Grissom Air & Space Expo

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Harrison Withrow
  • 434th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

GRISSOM AIR RESERVE BASE, Ind.  — From 12,500 feet, Col. Larry Shaw, 434th Air Refueling Wing commander, had a good glimpse of the Grissom Air & Space Expo he was about to kick off by doing a tandem jump with the Golden Knights,

Grissom Air Reserve Base hosted an estimated crowd of more than 50,000 over the weekend as military and civilian aircraft from around the country put on a show overhead.

Shaw, may have kicked it off with the Army, but it was Grissom’s show as a 434th KC-135R Stratotanker made a roaring flyover as the singing of the National Anthem concluded, marking the official start of the Air & Space Expo.

The tanker escorted in two 122nd Fighter Wing A-10 Warthogs from the Fort Wayne, Indiana National Guard, then demonstrated the maneuvers they use in the field for close air support.

Following the opening ceremony, the crowd was awed by multiple aerial acrobatics acts, displaying the full capabilities of several different civilian stunt aircraft and vintage warbirds.

Mixing it up, the local group American Huey 369 put on a Vietnam-era search and rescue reenactment, complete with three gunships and period-authentic infantry deployed on the ground.

A wide variety of acts performed throughout each day, and attendees were able to tour static aircraft displays, such as the F-35 Lightning II, the C-5 Galaxy, the AC-130J “Spooky” Gunship, Grissom’s own KC-135R Stratotanker, and many more. Vendor tents sold food, drinks, and apparel, and lined the flightline, along with stations for Air Force resource providers.

Daniel and Nancy Vang, attendees from Kokomo, Indiana, were at the airshow bright and early Sunday morning with their children, touring the inside of the 434th ARW’s KC-135 static display.

“You get to see so much here that you’d never see anywhere else, so we have to check out everything we possibly can,” said Nancy. “The show has been just incredible.”

Nancy’s favorite act of Saturday was the Army Golden Knights, she said, and Daniel expressed a fondness for the F-16 Viper demonstration team.

Toward the end of the day, the Golden Knights returned for an even more elaborate parachuting performance. Afterward, a very special ceremony was conducted as 1st Lt. Bob Tobey, a World War II B-17 pilot, read the oath of enlistment before dozens of new Air Force recruits.

“A World War II officer conducting a mass enlistment may never happen again,” Shaw said. “What a special and significant experience.”

For the grand finale, the audience erupted into cheers and applause as the Thunderbirds flight demonstration team took to the sky.

“My son son said ‘I want to do that!’ while we were watching the Thunderbirds,” said Nancy Vang. “When they were flying in that diamond formation and the other one flew through the middle, I hit the dirt, I couldn’t believe that.”

Sunday brought cloudy skies and light rain, but attendee enthusiasm was still strong. The Redline team, Ken Rieder and Billy Werth, flew stunts while other acts were grounded due to weather, periodically checking the cloud-ceiling to update the weather advisory while simultaneously entertaining fans with their aerial antics.

It may have been Grissom’s first attempt at an airshow in over 15 years, but the event was a tremendous success, said Shaw.

“Even though the weather didn’t cooperate on Sunday, our guests throughout the weekend were treated to a first-class experience,” he said. “Our team, led by Lt. Col. Brian Thompson, did an amazing job putting together an event that fostered great community relations, solid recruiting opportunities, bundled up in an awesome entertainment package. I’m so proud of him and the entire team that made Grissom shine.”

Though the weather did not clear in time for a second Golden Knights and Thunderbird performance, attendees used the pause in performances to check out booths and static displays.

The Thunderbirds waited an hour past their scheduled start time, but the clouds did not lift to meet Federal Aviation Administration requirements.

“There was just so much to see,” said Nancy Vang. “We were at the show from 9 in the morning until closing on Saturday and didn’t get to check out everything, so we came back a second day!”

“Once the performances started on Saturday, our eyes were always up in the sky,” added Daniel Vang. “The shows were just back to back all day, so here we are again.”

The 434th ARW is the largest KC-135R Stratotanker unit in the Air Force Reserve Command. The Citizen Airmen from the Hoosier Wing routinely deploy around the world in support of the Air Force mission.

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