- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 17, 2009

Veterans and soldiers from all branches of the U.S. military became celebrities at the Joint Service Open House air show at Andrews Air Force Base Saturday, even as cloudy conditions prevented many planned aerial demonstrations.

Thousands turned out for the public opening of the annual event, held at the base in Prince George’s County. The three-day air show began Friday with special demonstrations open only to Defense Department employees and school groups.

On Saturday, many spectators brought umbrellas and ponchos, prepared to brave the morning rain, which threatened to go from drizzle to downpour at any moment. But the clouds did little to diminish the excitement of many of the children at the show.

Outside a KC-10A tanker plane, used for mid-air refueling, three small children spotted a man in Air Force coveralls and immediately ran toward him, asking him for his autograph.

Senior Airman Benjamin Burns was clearly delighted by the children’s request, but told them that he wasn’t the pilot of the enormous plane.

“I’m just a maintenance guy,” he said, explaining that he and the tanker plane are stationed at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, but he happily offered the children his autograph anyway.

Similar scenes took place all across the tarmac and in the hangars where the show was held, as eager children posed for pictures with just about anyone in a uniform, from pilots to base police officers.

Nearly three dozen aircraft, including cargo planes, modern fighter jets, World War II-era dogfighters and bombers, and helicopters used by the five branches of the armed forces, were on display.

Guests could sit in the cockpits of several fighters and helicopters and walk through a few of the larger vehicles.

This year’s show commemorated the 65th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy in World War II and the 50th anniversary of the Golden Knights, the Army’s elite parachute demonstration team.

Parachute jumps were scheduled for Saturday morning to mark both anniversaries but were postponed due to low clouds.

The air show’s directors couldn’t authorize the more elaborate demonstrations until there was a ceiling - the distance from the ground to the bottom of the lowest clouds - of at least 1,000 feet.

A low-altitude demonstration of a sleek Black Hawk helicopter was an effective substitute. Two teams of four soldiers descended from the craft on ropes, and the pilot showed off the vehicle’s ability to move in virtually any direction before landing to pick up each team and quickly taking off again.

By early afternoon the clouds thinned enough to allow some aerial-acrobatics demonstrations. Pilot Sean Tucker flew a red custom-built biplane, the Oracle Challenger, in elaborate loops and spins. For a finale, Mr. Tucker pointed the aircraft to the sky and let it seemingly hover in place like a helicopter.

Many veterans attended the show, some just to see the aircraft, others to share their experiences with their families.

“What else does an ex-pilot do but look at airplanes?” said Skip Vaughan, 78, of Camp Springs. “I like to see all of the older aircraft, especially from World War II.”

Mr. Vaughan grew up during the war and said that’s when he became interested in being a pilot. He served in the Air Force for 27 years and flew interdiction and bombing missions during the VietnamWar.

Mr. Vaughan is a regular at the air show. This year, he brought his 12-year-old great-grandson. “I’ve brought my sons and my grandsons, and none of them went into the Air Force. Now I’m trying to get him interested.”

Leo McCoy, 73, who served in the Air Force during the Korean War, has been coming to the air show for 30 years. “It’s always enjoyable to me. It brings back a lot of memories,” he said.

For the Qadan family, this year’s air show was a huge improvement over last year’s event.

“Last year we were turned back,” said Maen Qadan, 33, of Rockville. “We got there late, the weather was nice, the Blue Angels were in town … he was really disappointed,” Mr. Qadan said, referring to his 6-year-old son, Laith.

Next to him, his son wore a large grin as he recognized some of the planes he saw. “Look! I have those jets!”

Mr. Qadan is a native of Jordan, and became a U.S. citizen two years ago. “I’m very proud to come to this show,” he said.

Sunday’s scheduled events include parachute jumps by the Golden Knights and the Liberty Jump Team, a skywriting team, and a 90-minute demonstration by the Thunderbirds, the Air Force’s formation-flying team.

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