HILL AIR FORCE BASE — While watching a World War II-era P-51 flying at Sunday’s Warriors Over the Wasatch air show at Hill Air Force Base, Doug Compton, of Morgan, affectionately talked about his Boeing PT-17 “Stearman” he was standing next to.
The open-cockpit biplane was used to train young cadets before they progressed to their assigned aircraft during WWII.
“It’s important for us to carry on our history because these planes were such a huge part of the war effort, and we like to keep those stories going,” said Compton, a member of the Commemorative Air Force Utah Wing.
An estimated 500,000 visitors attended the air show over the two days. Normally off-limits to the public, the base was opened for the weekend so the public could access the flight line and see exhibits, static displays and aerial performers.
The public had the rare chance to get up-close and personal with the military, shaking hands and even getting autographs from the show pilots and demonstrators. The performers included the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team — one of only three Department of Defense-sanctioned aerial demonstrations teams — alongside the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.
Before hopping into the plane, the Golden Knights parachute jumpers prepared for their descent at 9,000 feet from a C-31 by giving their performance a dry-run on land, putting on all of their jumping gear and strapping themselves next to the open doors at the back of the plane.
After circling around their landing site and checking wind conditions, the plane became a party-like atmosphere, with jumpers singing, cheering and head bumping. It was then a mass exodus as all of the jumpers exited from the two open doors at the same time, leaving behind a plume of red smoke from their smoke canisters attached to their feet.
Right before jumping, Sgt. 1st Class Teigh Statler said, “What we do gives the American public a chance to interact with the Army and sheds a different light than what people normally see, and lets us get our love for the military and country out to them.”
At the heart of the show were the Thunderbirds, who came thundering across the crowd in all their red, white and blue glory, making sure to put the crowds’ earplugs and ear covers of all shapes and sizes to good use.
There were oohs and aahs from the crowd, but the real emotion came when the team dedicated several of their maneuvers in honor of today’s military members and their families. One of the maneuvers included a smoke trail as the Thunderbirds climbed up in a warrior loop, leaving behind a heart shape, which lit the crowd up with cheers and applause.
The show brought out some emotion for Cherryl Beveridge, of Sandy.
“Watching this makes me proud to be an American and helps me recognize and remember that people give up their lives, even just to join the military to defend us. And this reminds us that this is reality for our men and women who could be called up to war at any time.”
Reaping the benefit of the air show were the host of recruiter tables from all facets of the military.
One of the well-visited stations was the Air National Guard trailer, where people could register for a dog tag and participate in basic training. Participants did as many push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups as they could and learned about career opportunities through interactive videos, which let them experience putting on virtual uniforms, before participating in a reconnaissance challenge.
Skyler Coomer, 16, of West Valley City, finished up the challenges and said it was good experience for his goal to join the U.S. Air Force.
“This has taught me a lot, and especially seeing the airplanes flying in the air makes me even more excited to join the Air Force.”