Saturday, June 28, 2008

Huntsville Air Show

Today the Pohick family attended the Huntsville Air Show at the Huntsville International Airport in Huntsville, Alabama. The show was a lot of fun, but despite precautions to the contrary, everyone in the family got a pretty good case of sun burn. We all worn sun screen, hats and sun glasses, but any exposed skin was pretty much burned. The head liners for the show were the US Army's Gold Knights Parachute Team and the US Navy's Blue Angels.

Admission to the air show was "free", but parking was $10 per car and the amount we spent on refreshments was truly frightening. Our estimate is that we consumed 9 bottles of water, 4 sodas, several frozen confections and several other treats during the 4 hour show. So, we spent approximately $60 at the free air show, but we still had a great time. Some of the aero acrobatics were just plain amazing!

The two Golden Knight demonstration teams travel the United States (and occasionally overseas) performing for public audiences at venues ranging from relatively small civic events, to nationally and internationally televised events (such as Monday Night Football games, NASCAR races and large International airshows). The two, 12-member teams travel approximately 240 days per calendar year, and use the team's two C-31 Friendship jump aircraft as their primary means of transportation, and sometimes the De Havilland Canada UV-18A Twin Otter.

There are two demonstration teams, affectionately dubbed the Gold Team and Black Team, in reference to the official Army colors. Team members come from a variety of backgrounds in one of the 150 jobs available in the US Army. Each team has a team leader, who typically has the most time and experience performing demonstration jumps and is typically holds the rank of an Army Sergeant First Class (SFC).

The 24 demonstrator positions on the team are typically held for at least three consecutive years. At the end of their tenure, soldiers will then either rotate back to Army line units or they may request to stay with the team for an additional period in one of several specialty positions. These positions are usually reserved for tandem parachute instructors, videographers, team leaders and competition parachutists.

The demonstration teams perform several types of shows; each is performed to exacting standards of practice but can also be tailored to the specific venue. These shows range from jumpers exiting the aircraft and landing in a major-league stadium, to more involved 20 or 30 minute aerial displays. The 20 minute Mass Exit show consists of multiple jumpers exiting the aircraft and forming a geometric shape, often with smoke canisters employed for additional crowd effect. The 30 minute Full Show consists of several aircraft passes or "jump runs"; with each pass consisting of one or more jumpers exiting and then performing exciting and somewhat unusual parachuting techniques. Once safely on the ground, the jumpers traditionally perform a ground line-up, in which each jumper is introduced and then the team will usually present a team memento to a distinguished selectee from the show audience.

Each maneuver the Knights perform is executed with the enjoyment and safety of the audience being the paramount concerns. As a testament to their professionalism and skill, the Golden Knights enjoy an unparalleled safety record in the professional parachuting arena.

The Blue Angels first flew three aircraft in formation, then four, and currently operate six aircraft per show. A seventh aircraft is for backup, in the event of mechanical problems with one of the other aircraft, and for giving public relations "demonstration flights" to civilians, usually selected from a press pool.

This aerobatic team is split into "the Diamond" (Blue Angels 1 through 4) and the Opposing Solos (Blue Angels 5 and 6). Most of their displays alternate between maneuvers performed by the Diamond and those performed by the Solos. The Diamond, in tight formation and usually at lower speeds, performs maneuvers such as formation loops, barrel rolls, or transitions from one formation to another.

The Opposing Solos usually perform maneuvers just under the speed of sound which showcase the capabilities of their individual F/A-18 Hornets through the execution of high-speed passes, slow passes, fast rolls, slow rolls, and very tight turns. Some of the maneuvers include both solo F/A-18s performing at once, such as opposing passes (toward each other in what appears to be a collision course, narrowly missing one another) and mirror formations (back-to-back. belly-to-belly, or wingtip-to-wingtip, with one jet flying inverted).

At the end of the routine, all six aircraft join in the Delta formation. After a series of flat passes, turns, loops, and rolls performed in this formation, they execute the team's signature "fleur-de-lis" closing maneuver.

The parameters of each show must be tailored to local visibility: In clear weather the "high" show is performed, in overcast conditions it's the "low" show that the spectators see, and in limited visibility (weather permitting) the "flat" show is presented. The "high" show requires an 8,000-foot (2,400 m) ceiling and visibility of 3 nautical miles (6 km) from the show's centerpoint. "Low" and "flat" ceilings are 3,500 and 1,500 feet (460 m) respectively.

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