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"Team Ellsworth is excited to host our Black Hills neighbors.
We have a wonderful lineup of aircraft, aerial demonstrations, and events planned
and look forward to showcasing the poised and professional young Airmen
making a difference in our community and in our Air Force."
~ quote from Ellsworth AFB 28th Bomb Wing commander Col. Mark Weatherington, in
an article written in The Patriot newspaper by Senior Airman Jarad A. Denton May 27, 2011
Our arrival at the Ellsworth Air Force Base family campground two days before this awe-inspiring air show was as serendipitous as last year's arrival at the USAF Academy FamCamp a few days before the cadet graduation -- we were clueless about both big events until right before our arrival.

Talk about good timing. Last year we got the last reservable campsite at the Academy and lucked out getting tickets to the graduation ceremony from a couple we met in the laundry room. This time we weren't able to make reservations at all, but arrived early enough to get one of the few remaining campsites.

Iconic symbol of Ellsworth AFB: the B-1 Bomber
(those birds probably wish they could fly so fast!)

We didn't have to worry about tickets for the air show. Entry to this extravaganza was free to anyone and everyone who wanted to see it. The purpose of the show was to demonstrate our country's superior air power, to build excitement and pride in our military.

I think they accomplished those goals! In fact, the military recruiters who had a presence at the show looked to be quite busy by the afternoon . . .

This entry will focus on the Dakota Thunder Air Show. Because I'm including almost 70 photos I'll split it into three pages so they load faster.

But first, I'll describe how we got to Ellsworth AFB.


We left the campground at Wind Cave National Park late Thursday morning. We had a short drive to the FamCamp at Ellsworth so we weren't in any hurry.

We took US 385 through the northern part of Wind Cave and the towns of Pringle, Custer, and Hill City. Just east of Hill City we turned left on US 16 and followed it northeast to Rapid City. The last 19-20 miles of US 16 are four-lane.

These roads are fine for RV and other vehicle travel -- and they are very scenic through the Black Hills. Because it was a weekday, and before the heaviest summer tourist season, there was very little traffic on either of these highways or through the towns.

Interesting rock formation in the Black Hills

We were able to see a few segments of the Michelson Trail from Pringle to Hill City. Fortunately, most of this 109-mile multiuse trail is farther from traffic but along here it sometimes parallels the road. We hope to ride and/or hike on the trail while we're in the Rapid City area for the next week or more.

Ellsworth AFB is a few miles east of the metro area and just north of I-90. It's in the Box Elder, SD postal district.

Instead of remaining on US 16 through Rapid city we took the four-lane US 16 business (truck) route around the southeast part of town. That worked well for us in 2009, but now about half of this route is two-lane and under construction. It's still faster with an RV than going through downtown, however.

The truck route comes out at exit 61 on I-90, where there is a very nice visitor center, a Flying J, Cabellas, and other business establishments. It's also the location of the new building and campground recently opened by our mailing service.

First night at Ellsworth: our site is close to the Patriot Gate and has nice, thick grass for Cody.

We took exit 63 to Ellsworth AFB and followed local roads to the Patriot Gate and the nearby FamCamp.

I'll talk about the campground, what we did on base, and what we did in Rapid City in subsequent entries near the end of our stay. We'll be here at least a week -- and maybe more -- depending on the snow and flooding conditions in the Bighorn Mountains, our next destination. It's not looking real great for the Bighorn Mountain Wild & Scenic Trail Runs.

Now let's get back to the air show . . .


The campsite to which we were assigned in the FamCamp could not be better situated for watching the daily arrival and departure of Ellsworth's B-1 bombers -- or the arrival this week of the various aircraft on display and in use at the air show. Yesterday we got to watch right from our "front yard" some of the planes practice their maneuvers for today's show, similar to the practice the Thunderbirds did before the USAFA graduation last year in Colorado Springs.

Very cool.

Our site is also a great location above the whole metro valley to see dramatic sunsets and incoming storms, but that's another story for later.

Jim and Cody enjoy a dramatic sunset from our campsite Thursday evening.

Some of our campground neighbors on our loop weren't interested in driving or walking a mile and a half down to the flight line to watch the air show in person this morning. They were able to see quite a bit of the flight routines from their sites.

Jim and I did walk to the show but by lunchtime we'd had enough time on our feet on hard pavement in the warm sun to return to our camper -- and stay there for the remainder of the show. We were still able to see some of the afternoon flight demos right from "home" (and without the crowds).

We heard on the news tonight that an estimated 40,000 people attended the air show! Entry was FREE, which surprised me. The show lasted continuously from 11 AM to 4 PM, with numerous aircraft and related displays open a couple hours before and after that.


Jim and I left our camper about 9 AM and walked down LeMay Blvd. to the flight line/hangar area. Lots of vehicles were pouring into the base from several entrance gates:

Buses ran in a continuous loop among the parking lots and the air show throughout the day for people who didn't want to walk to/from their cars. Buses were also provided for families living in the residential areas on base. (This is a big base.)

We measured 1.6 miles one way from our camper to the entrance gate of the show. Once inside, we walked quite a bit more. That flight line is very long.

We entered through one of the hangars, which was full of exhibits -- and some recruiters! Once outside, there was nearly a mile of aircraft and equipment on display that we could view or tour while we waited for the show to begin.

Fighter pilots learn to fly with these T-38s.

There were also food, beverage, and other vendors available for visitors:

I quickly gave up trying to determine what each aircraft is called and what it was/is used for. The planes ranged from antiques to modern aircraft in use by the military right now. Each aircraft had two or more airmen/women stationed under it to talk about it with visitors. I preferred to read signs but not all the aircraft had explanatory signs.

That's why many of the planes shown here do not have identifying information. And when I'm writing this entry, we don't have easy internet access to look them up. I hope you'll enjoy looking at the photos anyway.

If you know the identity of some of the unidentified aircraft, or find mistakes I've made about them, please let me know.


At one end of the flight line sat this B-2 bomber:



The silhouette of this aircraft is very easy to identify from the ground when it is in flight:


I know this is a B-52H because it had two signs with it:

Jim reads the sign re: "Iraqi Freedom"


It's a guy thing . . .


Between the two of us we went into several bombers, cargo/transport planes, and refueling aircraft.

The lines were too long to get into the cockpits of some of the planes so we skipped them. This large transport plane was one we didn't enter:


Do you find this as funny as I do??

On the next page I'll show you the Mother of All Transport Planes. We did go into that one because there wasn't any wait.


While I wandered down the flight line taking photos, Jim patiently stood for about fifteen minutes so he could get into the cockpit of the bomber for which Ellsworth AFB is renowned, the B-1 bomber:



Jim didn't have a camera so we don't have any photos of the cockpit.



Continued on next page . . .

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil