Yesterday, as the first man to walk unearthly soil returned dust to dust, a small fleet of his country’s finest flying machines climbed sunward to “touch the face of God” in the skies above Brunswick.
The 2012 Great State of Maine Air Show, which took place this Saturday and Sunday, featured the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, a Navy F/A-18 Demo Team, stunt performers, parachuters, pyrotechnics, walk-in active-duty Stratotanker and B-1B supersonic bomber (“the Bone”), and a lot of recruiters.
It also featured concession stands (with $7 beer) as far as the eye could see, with each corner of each concession tent topped with its own American flag. The BMI of attendees Saturday was radically bimodally distributed, with most of the low mode currently employed by the Department of Defense and most of the high mode never far from their folding lawn chairs.
The Bone, flown in from its station in Qatar, had a strikingly slim and exotic figure sitting at the far end of the show area. I complimented the pilot on its profile. “Yeah, she has nice curves,” he said.
The pilot regaled vets and clueless gawkers alike with flight statistics, aerodynamics lessons, and descriptions of how it could just totally level this whole area. (Its maximum payload is 125,000 pounds of munitions, sometimes nuclear.)
He described how he’d burned off excess fuel (and just how much she burns) coming into Brunswick by doing doughnuts over fishermen off the coast. He recounted shaking off a heat-seeking missile in combat, and rolled up his sleeve to show us the genuine goosebumps the retelling produced.
“We have the best training in the world, and the best equipment in the world,” he said. “And that comes from you, the taxpayers. And that adds up to the best country in the world.”
Like all the military personnel at the show, he was an impeccably gracious and charming representative of his employer — and great with the kids. (He had a 6-year-old daughter; “I’ve been gone half her life.”)
The announcer at the show enthusiastically hawked avionics, Bill Dodge Auto, and other goods that were seemingly invariably made entirely in the United States, and don’t you forget it.
But — “Sony is [stunt pilot] Michael’s first choice for audio and video production,” he roared at one point. “I’ve been using Sony Vegas Pro since version two and let me tell you, it is unmatched!”
I was almost surprised they even allowed Sony to sponsor the show, coming just minutes after they had staged a mock dogfight with a dastardly World War II-era Japanese Mitsubishi Zero. (Lest you think old grudges don’t spill over into consumer electronics, fun fact: the original Xbox, going head-to-head as it was with Sony and Nintendo, was codenamed “Project Midway”, after the battle that turned the tide in the Pacific Theater.)
The Air Force Thunderbirds anchored the show in place of the Navy Blue Angels, who’ve more often appeared in recent years. Named for a creature in Native American mythology that conjures thunder as it flies, they did so in spades. Their performance soundtrack included: “Why So Serious (The Crystal Method Remix)”; music from “Transformers”; “DIY” by Savoy; “Remember The Name” by Fort Minor; “Vertigo” by U2; “Paradise” by Coldplay; “Airplanes” by BoB; “Rocketeer” by Far East Movement; “Firework” by Katy Perry; multiple renditions of “America the Beautiful”; “Feel So Close” by Calvin Harris; and the theme from “Band of Brothers”.
At one point, a fifth shape separated from the Thunderbirds diamond formation, moving erratically. As my eyes refocused, I realized it was a butterfly three feet off my nose. For the rest of the day I confused peripheral passing crows with F-16 Fighting Falcons.
The Thunderbirds signed autographs afterward. I asked a few of them what they thought of Brunswick.
“Stupendous,” said Thunderbird #1, Lt. Col. Greg Moseley.
“Great lobster,” said Thunderbird #2, Capt. Ryan Riley.
“Great food, perfect weather,” said Thunderbird #5, Maj. J.R. Williams. He should come back in a few months. The ‘5’ was sewn into his flight jacket upside down so that it would appear right-side up in inverted flight, in which he spends much of the show.
Bath Road was lined with anti-war protesters and free-riding spectators. An air show is, after all, a largely non-excludable good, depending on terrain, sightlines, and just how low you can get your planes to fly.
Saturday was also the first day of first-year orientation, and the streets around Bowdoin were strewn with students moving into the bubble for the first time. Necks craned out driver-side windows at the boom of jets close overhead. Once, the fall air show would have presaged four years of enduring frequent military air traffic in and out of Naval Air Station Brunswick. But the station was deemed unnecessary in the post-Cold War era; its runways closed in January 2010.
An AP story reported that the first Brunswick air show took place in 1962 and was attended by then-President John F. Kennedy. If it took place around the same time of year as it does now, it would have come about two weeks before he said, at Rice University on September 12, “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
The 2008 air show was thought to be the last, and it was the last under military operation. When it returned in 2011, it was on the grounds of the new public use general aviation Brunswick Executive Airport.
There in the ruins of a military base decommissioned for lack of sufficient foes, I could not help but get an overwhelming vibe of panem et circenses. (The panem was fried and sprinkled liberally with powdered sugar.) And our biggest bird is grounded. The American taxpayer may now be weary of putting money into un-American soil, be it Middle Eastern, lunar, or Martian. If the next Neil Armstrongs were among the young giddy faces there, it’s unclear under whose flag they’ll fly.
Toph Tucker previously wrote about the naval air station closure in January 2010. He recommends Emily Guerin’s much better-reported story on the 2008 show.