Massive logistics effort needed to pull off Robins open house and air show

How do you get ready to host 200,000 of your closest friends?

That’s the question Robins Air Force Base officials are answering as they prepare for the open house and air show Saturday and Sunday.

The gates to the vast military installation will open at 9 a.m. both days, and thousands of Middle Georgians will stream onto acres of concrete flight line, getting close and personal looks at a host of static display aircraft and gazing skyward at the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team and a number of other aerial performers.

Maj. Joseph Speight is the project officer for the massive show. His goal is to generate nothing but grins, laughter, happy times and pleasant memories.

It all sounds simple enough, Speight admits, but it requires massive logistics planning and hundreds of people to execute those plans. The heavy lifting began this week with a step-by-step process to convert a busy airfield into a military-oriented carnival.

“A lot of the bleachers were dropped off today,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “The civil engineering folks have been busy putting up fencing. We’ve already had a few static display aircraft to arrive.”

Today and Friday are the focal points, as concession booths and information displays are erected and additional display aircraft are positioned. The Thunderbirds are scheduled to arrive this afternoon, and Friday will be a heavy day of practice for all performers.

Behind the scenes, hundreds of people will be executing various phases of the overall plan — moving, securing, reviewing, getting ready.

“The last time I checked, my e-mail list had more than 60 people,” said the director of operations for the 560th Aircraft Sustainment Squadron. “But those are only the points of contact. Each has quite a few people working for them.”

A critical element is people movement to and from three off-base parking sites: Anchor Glass south of the base off Ga. 247, McConnell-Talbert Stadium on North Davis Drive in Warner Robins, and the Middle Georgia Regional Airport.

Speight has 100 school buses, each with a driver and Air Force representative, to provide continuous shuttle service between the parking areas and the display site beginning at 9 a.m. both days.

Houston County school officials donated the use of their buses, and Speight said Robins owes a “big thank you” to them.

“The community and the local Chamber of Commerce have been very generous,” he said. “There is no way we could put on a show as good as we plan to have without their support.”

Aiding the transportation process will be a host of people directing traffic and helping in the parking lots. In the display area, more people will work concession booths. Others will staff the static display aircraft and other exhibits. Medical people will be standing by to treat bumps and bruises and more serious conditions. Ambulances will be positioned on the flight line, and a medical evacuation helicopter will be available. Security forces will discreetly do their jobs to make sure the massive crowd remains in the designated areas.

“There will be at least 500 people working the show both days,” Speight said.

A major, uncontrollable concern is the weather. “We hope we have nice, sunny days,” he said. “A lot of people have put in a lot of hard work and planning for the air show, so we’d like for it to go off as planned.”

But base forecasters will be keeping a wary eye on any approaching thunderstorms. “We’re expecting to have 90,000 or so people on Saturday, and we don’t have a building to put them all in,” the project officer pointed out. “So if there are thunderstorms coming through, we’ll let folks know and start moving them out on the buses.”

Once the final Thunderbirds performance ends Sunday, Speight and his work crews still can’t relax. They must reverse this week’s staging process, returning the display area to a functional flight line. They also must make sure that nothing remains that could damage a jet engine.

“We’ll do a quick policing of the area Sunday evening,” he said, “then will come a very thorough walk-through, covering every inch of the air-show site to pick up any trash or debris.”

Then Speight, who has been working the open house project for more than a year, said he might offer a welcome sigh of relief.

To contact Gene Rector, call 923-3109, extension 239.

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