ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE -- A record-breaking crowd turned out Saturday for the first day of the Robins Air Show.
Lt. Col. Dwayne Gray, the air show director, said the crowd was easily more than 100,000, which was the two-day total of the last air show in 2009. Additionally, he said, the F-22 Raptor pilot said after performing that thousands of people were watching from along highways and parking lots around the base.
“We looked at some photos of the ’09 crowd, this show blows it out of the water,” he said. “The performers were really psyched to see this size of a crowd.”
With temperatures in the 90s, the medical tent stayed busy with people suffering heat-related issues, but Gray said no one had to be taken to the hospital. Most of the issues were related to people not staying hydrated.
Some may have been deterred by long lines at some food and drink vending stations, but if those people had walked around a bit there were other stations selling the same things where there was little waiting. The line to a slushee stand, however, stayed about half a football field long for most of the day.
The headline act was the Navy Blue Angels, making their first appearance at the Robins show since 1998. Their spectacular maneuvers in F-18 Hornets drew several rounds of loud applause.
Also capturing the crowd’s full attention was the F-22 demonstration, which at times seemed to defy the laws of aerodynamics. The performance ended with what may have been the show’s most stirring moment, and it didn’t involve any fancy maneuvers.
In what is known as a heritage flight, a P-51 Mustang, which was a common World War II fighter, flew side-by-side with the F-22.
It was Roger Pearson’s favorite part of the show, and his 9-year-old son Luke agreed.
“I was just thinking about two different times in our history, a World War II plane and plane of today,” he said. “I loved it.”
Luke had been looking forward to seeing the jet-powered school bus perform. Earlier it had raced across the runway at 300 miles per hour, leading children in the audience to squeal with delight. Luke, however, folded his arms and grimaced in grave disappointment when he was informed that he had missed it. It did make a second impromptu performance when a bi-plane pilot challenged the bus driver to a drag race. The plane,swooped down over the runway alongside the bus as it took off. The plane pulled into the lead before being overtaken by the bus at the end.
Sid Brown came from Wrens with his son, Benjamin, to see the show. Sid Brown is an ultralight pilot and his son is going to school to be an aircraft mechanic. They have attended several air shows at Robins and elsewhere.
Sid Brown said he especially liked seeing the F-22 in action.
“It’s an amazing aircraft,” he said. “To see something that maneuverable and yet that fast and stealthy, and to know that’s out there and protecting us is a good thing to see.”
Much of what was in the show was new for Robins, including its display for the 402nd Aircraft Maintenance Wing. For the first time, maintainers displayed an F-15 and a C-130 that are at the base for programmed depot maintenance. Both were significantly disassembled, and mechanics were on hand to talk to the crowd.
“People have come up and said they were glad we had a maintenance airplane on display so that people who work on the base can show their families what they do,” said Tim Sims, flight chief of the 560th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, which does the C-130 work.
“The general public has never seen the planes torn down to the level we tear them down to,” said Chad Cagle, deputy flight chief of the squadron.
The show will repeat itself Sunday. Gates open at 10 a.m. and the show starts at 11:15. It might be a good idea to get there when the gates open, especially if people want to take advantage of the opportunities to walk through planes. Many, including a J-STARS EC-8 jet and a large FedEx jet had long lines to walk through that grew longer as more of the crowd arrived.
Gray encouraged anyone coming Sunday to drink plenty of fluids beforehand and during the show to avoid the problems many people had Saturday.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.