ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – Thousands of people crane their necks up toward the sky, squinting and shading the painfully bright sun with one hand. Somewhere, 12,500 feet above, three U.S. Navy SEALs nonchalantly leap out the back of a C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft. By the time most of the onlookers were even able to spot the 41-foot long aircraft through the sun’s rays, the jumpers had already descended to 5,000 feet at speeds nearing 180 mph. Blossoming above each of the men, grew giant canopies of yellow and blue – the official colors of the Navy. The U.S. Navy Parachute Team, popularly known as the Leap Frogs have arrived.
Through the speakers on the flight line of Rosecrans Air National Guard Base, a choir begins singing the Star-Spangled Banner. Hats are removed, hands are placed over the heart and service members render a reverent salute. All eyes are still directed at the blue sky as a sizable America flag is unfurled underneath one of the SEALs while being eclipsed by the other two in aerobatic arrangements.
Thus, the Sound of Speed Air Show in St. Joseph, had official commenced. For the next five hours, the skies would come alive with dozens of aircraft, both civilian and military, all mesmerizing for the skill and control demonstrated by the pilots.
An estimated crowd of 70,000 visited the Sound of Speed Air Show between August 25 and 26, according to Col. Ed Black, commander of the 139th Airlift Wing of the Missouri Air National Guard. It turned out to be the most attended event ever in the history of Rosecrans Air National Guard Base.
Some of the most impressively engineered machines are open for the public to climb in, explore and most importantly, talk to the men and women who command those powerful crafts obedience: A-10 Warthog, F-16 Fighting Falcon, P-40 Warhawk, P-51 Mustang, Blackhawk helicopter, T-33 Shooting Star, and even a jet truck. Stories directly from pages of history books, frames of favorite films, or memories from relatives who fought in twentieth century wars come to life on the tarmac of air shows. At every direction phones were out, selfies being taken, and smiles directed at the experience and freedom being had.
Past the shows perimeter fence, beyond the touch of the public, are the six aircraft thousands of people came to see. Shimmering under the suns energy are six pristine F-18 Hornet jet aircraft, sporting the familiar blue finish with yellow lettering that spells out “Blue Angels” on the side. The legendary U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron are about to perform.
Every movement you see the pilots and crew perform is ceremonious and calculated. Every motion and gesture is deliberate. The precision the Blue Angels are known to have in the air is translated equally to the ground amongst every member of the team. As the crew chiefs give the final checks to the naval aviators, they move in cadence with one another. The demonstration of discipline, skill and pride begins long before an aircraft is in the air. After the aircraft complete their taxi to the runway, the crew chiefs hop expediently into several vans and sped off the flight line; even that is a beautiful dance.
For 45 minutes, everyone’s gaze is at the clouds, slowly shuffling their feet 360 degrees in a circle, again and again. After a diamond formation of Blue Angels blow past overhead amongst gasps, another Angel streaks by as if on a surprise attack. For 45 minutes, there wasn’t a moment of silence from the sky.
During their performance, the Blue Angel pilots are continually combatting up to 7 or 8 times the force of gravity that falls upon their bodies. A 40-pound spring is attached to their flight stick, removing any possible play, to gave them the precision necessary to fly within inches of each other. For 45 minutes those pilots rely on nothing but pure physical intensity.
The Sound of Speed Airshow was an impressive display of aviation. Although the U.S. Navy Blue Angels were the headliner, every aircraft that blurred across the runway commanded attention to the sky and revealed that speed does indeed have a sound.