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
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
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.
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
There were also food, beverage, and other vendors available for
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
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
It's a guy thing . . .
COME ON IN
Between the two of us we
went into several bombers, cargo/transport planes, and refueling
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
Do you find this as funny as I
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.
next page . . .
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil