Fairbanksans have one more day to view dynamic displays by the nation’s premier pilots.
Today is the final day of the Arctic Lightning Air Show hosted by Eielson Air Force Base. The show, only the second Eielson has hosted in the past decade, is headlined by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels but features several top flight squadrons. Friday was set aside for Department of Defense ID card holders and their families, while the weekend shows are free to attend and open to the public.
Air show director Major Michael Magner explained that, for a base, hosting an airshow is a great way to give back to the community. Holding a community event helps to bridge the gap between civilians and servicemembers. Moreover, excitement surrounding the airshow is heightened after a “tough year for everyone” in 2020, according to Magner.
“We are one of the few bases still hosting a show in 2021 and are proud to still be able to provide this opportunity for our community,” he added.
This weekend is the first time in more than 10 years for the base to host a jet demonstration team, however, Magner hopes to make it a regular occurrence moving forward; the goal is to host a show every other year.
Along with the Blue Angels, the show features performances by the F-35 Demo Team, the Commemorative Air Force Alaska Wing Warbirds, the Pacific Air Forces F-16 Demo Team, the Ace Maker T-33, the U.S. Air Force Parachute Team Wings of Blue and the C-17 Demo Team.
Plane enthusiasts also have the opportunity to view several different types of planes — including the F-35 Lightning II and the Fighting Falcon — in static displays.
Airshow gates open at 9 a.m. with the opening ceremony at 11:55 a.m., followed by the Air Force’s Wings of Blue Parachute Team flag jump. There will be a flyover by F-22 and F-35 planes. Next is the Acemaker T-33 demo team closely followed by a performance by the Commemorative Air Force Alaska and then at 12:55 is a Joint Forces Demonstration. The Air Force Wings of Blue Parachute Team Mass Exit Show and demonstrations by the F-35 Lightning II, C-17A Globemaster III and F-16C Viper, respectively. Closing the show will be two demonstrations by the Blue Angels: the Navy and Marine Corps’s C-130J Super Hercules Demonstration followed by the Blue Angels Demonstration.
Flying with the Blue Angels
The Blue Angels squadron is composed of 11 jets, but only six are used in demonstrations. The Naval pilots fly in Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets, which can fly 25% faster and for 40% longer than the previous planes. The planes conduct synchronous maneuvers, at times flying only 18 inches apart as they quickly ascend and descend.
The squad’s mission, according to the Blue Angels website, is “to showcase the pride and professionalism of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps by inspiring a culture of excellence and service” through both flight demonstrations and community outreach.
One way the Blue Angels connect with communities is by providing rides to key influencers and members of the media.
Although the maneuvers during guest rides are not as advanced as those during the show, the rider still gets a taste of what it is like to fly with the Blues. The flight is an incredible — albeit intense — experience. In the duration of a 45 minute ride, the pilot flew upside down and conducted several horizontal barrel rolls as well as a vertical roll, where the plane twirled somewhat like a spinning top.
Another aspect of the flight was experiencing a wide range of different gravitational (or G) forces. High gravitational forces (the plane reaches six or seven G) are so strong that the pilot and passenger must strain to remain upright. With this amount of force, blood also rushes from the brain, so flyers must practice specific breathing exercises to keep from falling asleep during high G maneuvers. On the other hand, riders can also experience zero gravity; the feeling of weightlessness and floating — like going to space.
The plane also demonstrated extreme speed: the F/A -18 Super Hornet maxes out at just under Mach 2, which is about 1,400 miles per hour and nearly double the speed of sound. Planes don’t move quite this fast in the airshow, but usually do break the sound barrier.
Fairbanksans interested in watching planes travel faster than the speed of sound — as well as a variety of other incredible acrobatic aerial feats — can stop by the airshow for the final day.