BRUNSWICK, GA. | It had been a long time since Mike and Elaine Miller sat in the kind of shade they enjoyed Saturday.
The Millers were relaxing in the shadow of an enormous wing of a C-17 cargo jet from the 701st Airlift Squadron in Charleston, S.C. It was on the ground at the Brunswick Golden Isles Airport Saturday for the inaugural Wings Over the Golden Isles air show.
They had been to air shows there before but it had been a long time; the last was 20 years ago when the U.S. Navy Blue Angels flew as they did Saturday and will again Sunday. Five years before that, they watched the Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration team in a show cut short when one of its jets hit a vulture near a county landfill that’s now closed. They had seen the Blue Angels in Jacksonville, and she had even seen the Blue Angels as a youngster when the airport was still the Glynco Naval Air Station.
She said she was hopeful there would be an air show every four or fives years. She’s in luck. Promoter John Cowman, a hometown boy and former airman, said he’s already asked for a jet team for next year.
“We’re planning for next March,” Cowman said. “I’m going to leave it at that. We’re requesting a jet team. There are only two of them: the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds.”
If it is the Blue Angels, they have a routine that never seems to get old. They closed out the show Saturday. Four of the six jets trailed smoke as they did their tight maneuvers overhead. A pair that had split away took their own turns, roaring toward each other seemingly passing within a few feet of each other, once in a “knife edge” pass.
As the crowd looked east and west for the aircraft, they came in low and hard from the south, screaming over the surprised crowd from behind drawing gasps and appreciative shouts.
The crowd of an estimated 38,000 hung in happily all day with a show that began before noon and concluded after 4 p.m. And many arrived early.
It was doubtful anyone enjoyed it more than Cowman, who said he was “big time happy.”
“We’ve got one of the biggest static displays you could ever want,” he said of the big cargo planes, old fighters and a B-25 bomber on the ground.
“I’ve been real blessed on this show. I’ve got the rock stars of the air show industry at this show,” he said. “People will be talking about this for the rest of their lives.”
Robert Burr, executive director of the Glynn County Airport Commission, said everyone was excited about the show and gratified by the crowd.
“We hope to make these yearly, and if we do, we’ll tweak it to make it even better,” he said.
Many in the crowd were seeing their first air shows. A lot of children sat on their fathers’ shoulders holding small versions of what they saw overhead. People used their hands to shade their eyes as they spent hours looking nearly straight up at teams flying overhead, and parachute teams spiraling down and landing on an area the size of home plate.
Parents checked out their children’s ear protection or put their hands over their ears when an F-22 Raptor took to the air for an ear-splitting demonstration. The Air Force pilot dropped a lot of jaws on the ground when he put the astonishingly maneuverable jet into a vertical climb and then let it slip slowly backward before putting it into a rapid climb.
The show brought back a lot of memories and not just for those who remember air shows.
Larry Kaase, who served two tours in Vietnam, said the sound of a Huey helicopter always gives him chills. In 1965 and ‘66, he served with the 1st Infantry Division and went back in 1970 and ‘71 as a Huey pilot with the 121st Combat Aviation Co.
Kaase said he can sit in his house and identify helicopters by their sounds; a Huey, a Cobra or a Chinook.
It was not the first air show for three siblings, Lisa Fuentes, Brian Poythress and Donna Brooks, who went to a lot of them growing up in an Air Force family.
“Dad was a jet engine mechanic,” Poythress said of their late father, and the family always saw the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds when they were close.
They saw them all over the country as their dad changed assignments.
“I was born in Alaska,” Fuentes said. “He [Poythress] was born in New Jersey and she [Brooks] was born in Texas.”
“We came to honor him,” she said of her father, “and enjoy the memories.”
The C-17 was among the more popular planes as people walked up its cargo hatch and saw the enormous interior.
Cowman figured President Donald Trump’s personal jet was running close in popularity. People came to the eastern end of the terminal area and posed for pictures or took selfies with the big plane behind a fence in the background. The plane is at the airport for maintenance.
Maria Brooks of Kingsland said she was happy there was finally another airshow in Brunswick, having seen the Thunderbirds 25 years ago.
“These are few and far between. All the aircraft are so interesting, and the spectacular flying. All the hours they put in,” mastering their demonstrations, Brooks said.
The air show was originally scheduled for October, but was canceled because of Hurricane Matthew.
For more information on the air show and tickets go to the website wingsoverthegoldenisles.com.