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"Arctic Thunder is Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson's open house. 
Historically, Arctic Thunder has been the largest two-day event in Alaska.  
Every two years, the base hosts Arctic Thunder to demonstrate its appreciation
to the Alaska community for its support of the military, to educate the public about
the Army and Air Force missions, and to recruit people interested in joining the service."
~ from the JBER webpage about the Arctic Thunder Air Show

In the mornings I often spend an hour or more online reading e-mail and news articles. Today there were articles on both the Alaska Dispatch and Anchorage Daily News websites about the huge crowd at the Arctic Thunder air show at JBER yesterday Ė estimates of between 125,000-150,000 people.

I donít know why they donít have a more exact count, since everyone goes through security at the gate to the show.

The bi-annual air show is popular with people of all ages.

Anyway, that was a bigger crowd than expected and they had to turn a lot of other people away at the Boniface Gate, the base entrance closest to the city.

We didnít see a long line in the morning or afternoon at the Richardson Gate, which is closer to our campground, but some folks waited over two hours to get in mid-afternoon for the Thunderbird exhibition Ė if they were lucky enough to even get on base.

Two years ago folks could park at schools and other places off-base and get shuttles in. This time the only shuttles were on-base. The articles said parking spaces filled up and they had to turn people away. Once inside folks seemed to have a good time, though.


Jim rode his bike over to the flight line this morning so he could see the static displays and the drop of about 40 paratroopers during the C-130 demonstration:


Above and below:  C-130 prop cargo plane and skydivers


Air show attendees view static displays on the ground as planes fly overhead.

Above and below:  WWII  U.S. P-51 Mustang fighter plane in pursuit of a Japanese Zero


C-17 cargo plane on the ground and one in the air

Close-up of a C-17 cargo plane

Jim enjoyed the show. He went into a C-17 cargo plane and a Chinook CH-47 helicopter. He looked at the electronics and hydraulics of other static displays.

He also walked inside the hangars that had various military displays and activities. He really enjoyed the entertainment provided by this group of drummers:


Jim was able to ride the shortest route from the campground (some roads were closed to traffic) and locked his bike in a rack near the entrance.

He was amazed how many bikes were there Ė at least 300, he thinks. Here are some of them:

Thatís great! Bikes are very popular in Anchorage, as evidenced by all the bike paths.

Jim stayed about three hours but left before the Thunderbirds flew at the end of the show. When he left at 2 PM vehicles were still three abreast coming in from the Boniface Gate Ė amazing:

Jim took these photos of helicopters and other aircraft as he rode his bike back to the campground:

Above and below:  Black Hawks = attack and troop carriers


Above and below:  CH-47  (Chinook) = troop and supply transport


Another view of a C-17 cargo plane (close-up farther up in this entry)

He also saw this moose along the road:

I donít know if anyone was turned around today and not permitted to enter the base because of the large crowd.

We didnít hear anything about the show on the local news at 5 or 6 PM, which surprised us. I'm sure there were reporters and photographers on the ground at the show and two NBC reporters were filming the Thunderbirds at an overlook on Arctic Valley Rd., where I was watching the show from 3:35-4 PM:



I wasnít as interested as Jim in seeing the static displays or dealing with the crowds today so I hiked for several hours with Cody in the Chugach Mountains east of Anchorage. I wrote about that in the previous entry.

I liked the large air show at Ellsworth AFB in Rapid City, SD last year because it had a lot of interesting planes and demonstration flights, including the Thunderbirds. I've also seen the Thunderbirds fly several times in recent years at the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs:

The most recent time was in May at the USAFA as the
Thunderbirds practiced for the cadet graduation.

I had kind of a ďbeen there, done thatĒ attitude today. I wanted to see the Thunderbirds fly but that was about it.

I accomplished that by observing their show from 1,800 feet in the mountains, about seven or eight air miles from the flight line. It was significantly quieter from that distance and I didnít have to deal with the crowds.

The Thunderbirds were scheduled to begin their part of the show at 3:30 PM. I finished my hike in time to arrive at a large overlook several miles up Arctic Valley Road a few minutes before that. This view of the flight line at JBER shows how quiet it was before the Thunderbird team took off:

Several vehicles were already parked there. Locals know it's a good place to get the "big picture" without all the hassles of being on base:

Here are a few photos I took of the Thunderbird show with some of the smoke plumes they released:




After the Thunderbirds' show I returned to our campground via the Richardson gate and had no problems getting on-base. Some spectators were leaving from that gate but very few were going in that late because the air show was over.


I'm glad I got to see the Thunderbirds (the Air Force F-16 demonstration team) fly last year in Anchorage because they and the Blue Angels (the Navy equivalent) were grounded after April 1 this year, thanks to the government's budget cuts known as "sequestration." All of their shows have been cancelled for the rest of 2013.

The teams will continue to train, however; they have to be combat-ready. The good thing is that more pilots are freed up to fight to defend our country, if necessary. The air shows are mainly a way to say thank you to the public for its support and to recruit more good folks to the military.

Maybe my last view of the Thunderbirds' F-16s for a while . . .

I will make no comments on the politics involved. This is one of many articles about the show cancellations that you can find online.

We plan to return to Alaska in 2014. Hopefully, the Arctic Thunder Air Show will resume then (it occurs at JBER every two years, not annually). If it does, I'll be more likely to go to the open house and just deal with the crowds.

Next entryincreasing our knowledge of Alaska's important salmon industry -- visiting two state fishery locations in Anchorage

Happy trails,

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

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© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil