- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2005

As a child, Charlie Kulp of Bealeton, Va., would look up at the sky and imagine himself as Charles Lindbergh or Wiley Post, two of aviation’s most famous pioneers.

Flying was still a novelty in the 1930s, and pilots whose feats made headlines were the celebrities and role models of that era.

“All of these people were individual heroes,” he says. “Back then these people were always making headlines. … You learned the names of the pilots and you thought that you knew them.”

Now 79, Mr. Kulp is a stunt pilot whose “Flying Farmer” act — part acrobatics, part comedy — is reminiscent of the barnstorming air shows of the pre-World War II era.

Mr. Kulp and his 1946 Piper Cub will perform this weekend at Andrews Air Force Base’s Joint Services Open House.

• • •

The open house is more than just an air show. It’s a vast expo of military hardware, tactics and troops that draws between 200,000 and 400,000 visitors each year and is one of the armed forces’ most successful recruiting efforts. But the highlight is always the supersonic military jets whooshing overhead and the gravity-defying stunt flyers.

“It’s a chance for all the services to show off their equipment, show off their mission and meet and greet the people,” says Air Force Capt. William Ashford, one of the organizers of this year’s open house.

This year’s show features neck-bending flyovers by some of the latest U.S. warplanes, such as the B-2 Stealth bomber and its fighter cousin, the F-117A Nighthawk. U.S. Army paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division — fresh from wartime service in both Afghanistan and Iraq — will drop from the sky in a mock assault.

Also at the show will be displays of new cutting-edge war machines such as the F/A-22 Raptor and the pilotless Predator, giving visitors a chance to see what their tax dollars pay for.

The headline act is the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds acrobatic team, in their flashy, red-white-and-blue F-16C Fighting Falcons.

• • •

The Thunderbirds and the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels perform on alternate years at the open house, an event that continues a long tradition of military air shows. After World War II, military leaders realized the value of air shows as recruitment tools, and the first aerial demonstration teams were formed — the Blue Angels in 1946 and the Thunderbirds in 1953.

The two groups were created to show off the latest generation of U.S. fighter aircraft and the acrobatic skills of their pilots, and to draw recruits to the military.

The Thunderbirds performed at the first open house held on the sprawling 4,300-acre base in Prince George’s County in 1959. The event was timed to coincide with Armed Forces Day, set aside as the third Saturday in May by President Truman in 1950.

Some 220,000 people attended that first open house. Attendance dipped as low as 5,000 in the 1960s, but rebounded after the 1976 bicentennial of U.S. independence and the 1990-1991 Gulf war.

The increase in patriotism since September 11, 2001, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have only increased the air show’s popularity, says Air Force Maj. Brian Eppler, another organizer.

• • •

But the war on terrorism since September 11 also has brought major changes to the event. Security at Andrews has tightened to the point where visitors are no longer allowed to drive onto the base and must pass through metal detectors at remote parking lots at FedEx Field and on Branch Avenue before boarding shuttle buses with military escorts for the show.

Putting on a show the size of the Andrews open house takes a lot of work, much of it last-minute, for the 20,000 people who live and work at the base.

Capt. Ashford says aircraft and other equipment for display have to be arranged so as not to interfere with the regular operations of the base, which among other things, hosts Air Force One, the presidential jet, and is the gateway to Washington for foreign VIPs.

“That means everything has to come pretty much at the last minute,” he says.

Even the identity of the primary speaker — usually a senior defense official — won’t be known until a couple of days before the event, he says.

In spite of the long hours and weekend work required for the event, there’s no shortage of participants, says Maj. Eppler.

“It’s just a feeling of pride and camaraderie, and we get to show it.”

Adds Capt. Ashford: “We get to do what we’re here to do, what we’re paid to do.”

• • •

Military bases are “where a lot of people get their first taste of air shows,” says Mr. Kulp, whose participation is reminiscent of an earlier era between the two world wars, when individual pilots would “barnstorm” across the country selling airplane rides and performing acrobatics.

Mr. Kulp, who normally performs at the Flying Circus Aerodrome in Bealeton, combines the two in his act, pretending to be a local farmer who buys a ride from a barnstormer, then takes off in the aircraft and performs acrobatics.

As a young man, Mr. Kulp picked apples and corn to pay for flying lessons while a student mechanic at the Virginia Tech airfield in Blacksburg. When he turned 18 in 1943, he joined the Navy as an aircraft mechanic.

Mr. Kulp was one of the founders of the Flying Circus Aerodrome in 1971, and is in his 35th year as an aerial performer.

Now nearly 80, he wonders if this show could be his last, hoping it won’t. He wonders how long he can continue passing the Federal Aviation Administration physicals required for a pilot’s license.

“You’ve got a lot of hoops you jump through once you start getting a little age on you,” he says.

He has been telling people this year will be his last in the cockpit.

“I’d like it to be my idea and not someone else’s. We all know that nothing is forever, least of all flying,” he says.

“It’ll be hard to quit, I’ll tell you. It’ll be hard to quit.”

Shuttle runs to Andrews

The Andrews Air Force Base Joint Services Open House takes place tomorrow through Sunday. Admission is free to the public Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but attendance tomorrow is restricted to those with Department of Defense identification cards and school groups.

There is no public access to the base. Parking for the show is at FedEx Field and the Branch Avenue Metro station, where patrons will be asked to pass through metal detectors and board shuttle buses under military escort to the show.

Attendees are allowed to bring purses, fanny packs, small camera bags, lawn chairs and umbrellas. Coolers, backpacks, bikes, pets, weapons (including knives), food and drinks are pro-hibited.

For more information and for directions to the open house, see public.andrews.amc.af.mil/jsoh.

Here is the schedule:

Tomorrow

• 8 a.m.: Gates open. Spitfire demo, S-3 Viking demo

• 10 a.m.: Opening ceremonies. F-16 flyby, U.S. Army Golden Knights, C-17 demo, AH-64 Apache and UH-60 Black Hawk demo, Aerobatic pilot Nancy Lynn and her Extra 300

• Noon: 82nd Airborne Division mass jump, B-1 bomber demo, F-117 Stealth fighter flyby, AV-8A Harrier demo, A-10 demo, F-15 demo, P-51 Mustang demo, F-18 Super Hornet demo, T-6 Texan demo, Heritage Flight, Frank Ryder Oreck XL, AF Reserve Jet Car vs. Frank Ryder

• 3 p.m.: Thunderbirds

Saturday

• 8 a.m.:Gates open, S-3 Viking Demo, Spitfire demo, C-17 demo, U.S. Army Golden Knights, T-6 Texan demo, Nancy Lynn Extra 300, Sky Typers, AF Reserve Jet Car

• Noon: 82nd Airborne Division mass jump, B-2 bomber flyby, B-1 bomber demo, F-117 Stealth fighter flyby, AV-8A Harrier demo, A-10 demo, F-15 demo, P-51 Mustang demo, F-18 Super Hornet demo, T-6 Texan demo, Heritage Flight, Frank Ryder Oreck XL, AF Reserve Jet Car vs. Frank Ryder

• 3 p.m.: Thunderbirds

Sunday

m 8 a.m.: Gates open. S-3 Viking Demo, Spitfire demo, C-17 demo, U.S. Army Golden Knights, T-6 Texan demo, Nancy Lynn Extra 300, Sky Typers, AF Reserve Jet Car

• Noon: 82nd Airborne Division mass jump, F-117 Stealth fighter flyby, AV-8A Harrier demo, A-10 demo, F-15 demo, P-51 Mustang demo, F-18 Super Hornet demo, T-6 Texan demo, Heritage Flight, Frank Ryder Oreck XL, AF Reserve Jet Car vs. Frank Ryder

• 3 p.m.: Thunderbirds

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