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Davis-Monthan air show gives the public a rare chance to go on base
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Davis-Monthan air show gives the public a rare chance to go on base

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Capt. C.J. Anthony got hooked on airplanes went he went to his first air show at age 5. When he was 13, he saw his first A-10 at an air show and he knew he wanted to fly one – a goal that he accomplished.

Anthony’s experience has allowed him to help direct the upcoming Davis-Monthan Air Force Base 2016 Open House Air Show. The U.S. Air Force captain knows the event exposes young people to military careers and reaches out to the surrounding Tucson community.

“It’s a great chance to open up our gates to publicly showcase our mission and show our appreciation for the support of Davis-Monthan,” said Anthony, the show’s air operations director.

Davis-Monthan hosts the open house every other year, giving the public a rare opportunity to peek inside the base, as well as see a dramatic air show overhead. The free event, called “Thunder and Lightning over Arizona — Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future,” is set for March 12 and 13, with gates opening at 9 a.m.

The open house could draw up to 250,000 people.

With 9,934 jobs on base, Davis-Monthan had a total economic impact of $974 million to the surrounding community in 2014, according to an economic impact analysis released last year.

“Not only is it a big event in size, but it’s a big opportunity that we only have every couple of years,” said Lt. Sydney Smith, a spokeswoman for Davis-Monthan.

What to see

The show will include both aerial and ground displays.

One of the highlights will be a demonstration by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, an air combat command unit of pilots who perform entertaining aerial maneuvers. The Thunderbirds usually do 40 maneuvers, according to the Thunderbirds’ fact sheet. The F-16 planes get within about three feet of each other, said Capt. Sara Harper, a spokeswoman for the Thunderbirds.

The Tucson show will last about an hour and be the first in the Thunderbirds’ 2016 season. They last flew in Tucson during the last Davis-Monthan open house in April 2014.

Tucsonans will also get the chance to see a pre-show in local skies: The jets are scheduled to arrive at 1 p.m. March 10 and a practice run will be at 3 p.m. March 11, Harper said.

Other air show highlights include the Wings of Blue, the U.S. Air Force’s skydiving team, and Kent Pietsch, who does a comedy routine in the sky.

On the ground, at least 42 aircraft will be on display, some of which will be brought in for the show specifically. Visitors will be able to walk through some of the planes.

Some highlights:

• C-5 Galaxy: The largest airlifter in the Air Force inventory and one of the largest aircrafts overall in the world.

• E-3 Sentry: An airborne command control center that can provide a real-time picture of a battlefield.

• A-10 Thunderbolt II: The first Air Force aircraft for close air support of ground forces.

• There’s plenty for children to do: Jumping castles, pictures in an aircraft cockpit and flips in a flight simulator. Other agencies including U.S. Customs and Border Protection will be doing demonstrations.

“This is a real-world thing people get to see,” Smith said. “They can see what goes on behind the scenes.”

Planning ahead

While Davis-Monthan provides a lot to see on base, the logistics can be tricky.

Air show planners have been working with local law enforcement to control and direct traffic outside the base, where two gates will be open for the show. Parking will be available.

Also, planners have checked in with organizers of another big event on the same weekend – the Tucson Festival of Books on the University of Arizona campus.

Before arrival, visitors need to check what they are bringing because there are a lot of restricted items. Some are fairly obvious, such as weapons and hoverboards. But others are not: Water and big purses. Free water will be available on base. (See related box.)

Also, visitors need to be ready for a lot of walking. Smith estimates that it’s about a half a mile from the entrance to the end of the airplane displays.

If visitors want a more predictable day, they can pay extra for a reserved seat, the beer garden or a VIP experience.

“There’s nothing like being right there,” Smith said.

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