Military and aircraft legacies honored, as air shows resume in 2021

by Bob Alvis, special to Aerotech News
This past 4th of July weekend, I was thinking back on all the great events I have attended over the years in commemoration of national holidays.

One thing that I will always be grateful for are the hundreds of air shows I have attended and been blessed to work at. As I looked over our Antelope Valley landscape the other night, and as the “rocket’s red glare” got a bit crazy for my taste, I got to thinking back to the time when celebratory explosions were not made for entertainment, but to achieve an objective in a time of war.

The military involvement and displays at air shows are two-fold, as their participation is about recruitment and showcasing modern technology in an entertaining format. But we also realize — especially those of us who understand patriotism and service to country — that at air shows there is an underlying message that pays tribute to those generations that came before, and may in some way connect to a family’s legacy.

Airmen at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base enjoy some ‘down time’ near a U.S. Air Force F-105 Thunderchief. (Air Force photograph)

Some time ago I was getting the feeling that the military branches, especially my beloved Air Force, were doing their best to put the past in the rearview mirror.
Many traditions and remembrances that celebrated the generations that had come before, and commemorated what their military involvement looked like when they put on the uniform of our country, were being removed. As museums and flight lines started to lose the spirit of Airmen who took pride in personalizing their assigned aircraft, we started to lose the individual pride they had that makes them truly American. Symbols and nose art became more generic as the tide changed. Many an old Airman, and some new, felt a kind of a betrayal, as what had been a part of their years of service was deemed undesirable or unacceptable by policy makers. Luckily, the haven and spectacle of an air show can for many be a place where they do not feel the pressures of modern society, but can connect back in a historical context to the times (good or bad) that defined their service to country. 

The explosions of the 4th of July can, in many ways, be a “trigger” of experiences that were lived in combat so many years ago. They can be either a reminder of pain or suffering to those under siege, or evoke a moment of jubilation as an enemy is defeated. Air shows over the years have given military veterans the opportunity to attend, remember, reminisce about and share their wartime experiences. It’s also an opportunity for families to better understand a loved one’s service to country, by experiencing the sights and sounds and, yes, explosions of those warbirds of past and current generations, and getting a feel for their family legacy or a better understanding of a friend or neighbor.

With the air show circuit opening back up, including the upcoming 2021 Los Angeles Air Show at Fox Field in Lancaster, many Americans are looking forward to the chance to once again return to tarmacs across the country to enjoy and be educated with the entertainment that will once again take to the skies. One of the aspects that caught my attention that addresses what my words here are trying to explain: the return to programs that take our frontline military aircraft and use them not just as eye candy in the sky, but to also carry a message to make future generations think about where our history comes from and who those patriots were to whom we owe so much.

A U.S. Air Force F-4 Phantom in flight over Southeast Asia. (Air Force photograph)

The Air Force legacy paint schemes that are finding their way back on to our military aircraft are a welcome return to paying our respects to those who came before and those who lost their lives in defense of our freedoms. When I saw that the Air Force A-10 Warthog Demonstration Team would paint its plane in Southeast Asia Vietnam camouflage to pay tribute to the Airmen who flew the F-4s, F-105s and a slew of other vintage aircraft, I could not have been happier. I was a small part of that generation of Airmen who supported those missions and got to personally know a lot of those guys who sweated out those flights over Vietnam.

On the ground, those A-10s will also serve another mission: to educate the public about the human cost of the war by displaying the names of the missing in action and prisoners of war who served in the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing during Vietnam. These are the predecessors of the current 355th Wing Airmen who now operate out of Davis-Monthan Air Force base in Arizona.

Many people will never understand what all this symbolism is about and will find ways to ignore it, but we as a nation must never forget the good or the bad of the wars in which we have fought. At the end of the day, the men and women that fought those wars and have those memories are not only our friends and neighbors, but also our family. We owe it to them to take a few moments, even at something as celebratory as an air show, and give thanks that they answered the call and did not turn their back on those in need of heroes.

Looking forward to seeing you folks out on the fields, as our air shows return!

Until next time, Bob out …

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