Kirtland Air Force Base Air & Space Fiesta 2019
Kirtland Air Force Base is situated on the southeast side of Albuquerque New Mexico’s largest airport. The base sits across the runways from the civilian terminal and actually shares the same runways with the Albuquerque International Sunport (KABQ). This busy northern New Mexico airport handled some 5,467,693 passengers in 2018. As this airport is a joint civil-military aerodrome, it made for a most unique air show experience.
The Albuquerque Army Air Base was established on April 1, 1941. In 1942 the base was named after an early Army aviator, Colonel Roy C. Kirtland. A United States Army soldier, officer and aviator, he served in the infantry and Signal Corps before being transferred to the Army Air Corps in 1911. While learning to fly (he was awarded pilot’s certificate number 46 from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale and the Expert Aviation License number 11 from the Aero Club of America. He recommended that a young Lieutenant, none other than Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, follow him through flight training. He headed the U.S. Aviation School in College Park Maryland before becoming the Commander of the First Aero Squadron in 1913. He finished his World War I service back in the infantry.
After that war, he became a flight instructor, graduated from the U. S. Army War College, served on the postwar General Staff, and finally became the Commandant of the Langley Station and acting commander of the Air Corps Tactical School. He retired from military service in 1938, after forty years’ service.
He was reactivated for Army service in 1941 at the age of 65, to help train WWII pilots… becoming the third oldest military pilot in the Air Corps at that time. Shortly after his re-establishment, he died of a heart attack later that year. In early 1942, General “Hap” Arnold requested that the Albuquerque Army Air Base be renamed after Colonel Kirtland.
Kirtland AFB is the largest installation in the Air Force’s Global Strike Command, and sixth largest in the Air Force. The base occupies 51,558 acres and employs over 23,000 people, including more than 4,200 active duty and 1,000 Guard, plus 3,200 part-time Reserve personnel.
Kirtland AFB is the home of the Air Force Material Command’s Nuclear Weapons Center (NWC) along with the 58th Special Operations Wing (58th SOW), the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center and the 150th Special Operations Wing of the New Mexico Air National Guard.
This year’s Air and Space Fiesta was held on May 18th 2019. The show featured a full line up of aviation and space related events. The layout of the runways and the excellent pre-planning by the amazing staff at Kirtland made for a photography-friendly environment. It was a very windy day on the east mesa of Albuquerque, but the show went on as planned.
A very unique aspect of the day was the coordination between the above mentioned Sunport International Airport and the air show operations staff. The day’s air show flying activities played like a well orchestrated concert of military and civilian performers taking the stage. Perfectly timed civilian commercial flights made their way in and out of the busy airspace in between show acts. This was highlighted by the Air Boss announcing the departing commercial aircraft and their final destination that day. This kept the crowd entertained, even as the air show performers awaited their time in “the box”.
The ramp was full of amazing military aircraft, from the two F-35s from Luke AFB, to the mighty B-52. One unique crowd draw was the static display of the DC-10 Fire Bomber #910. The morning events started with the Chili flight – a five ship formation of experimental aircraft fly-bys. The Air Force Academy’s Wings of Blue did a mass aircraft exit and flag parachute jump as the National Anthem was performed. Greg Shelton then took to the sky in his PT-17 performing solo aerobatics. Next up was Bob Carlton’s Vertigo Super Salto Jet powered sail plane, and he pushed the limits of a sail plane, often hitting the jet engine and performing fighter like climb rates in this iconic aircraft.
Not to be outdone with jet noise and smoke, the Hot Streak II jet truck then took to the tarmac…this performance is always a crowd pleaser.
As the field once again became quiet, allowing a few commercial flights to arrive and depart the Sunport. This was quite entertaining, as it’s not often you see a few hands waving at the crowd from a passenger-laden commercial aircraft and the crowd returning those waves as the aircraft taxied past. Those passengers must have felt special seeing thousands of attendees waving at them, you think?
With the air space clear and the box locked once again, a deep rumble was heard to the east. Just then a C-17 literally jumped off the runway after a very short roll and climbed fighter-style to the heavens. This began the C-17 demo, a sight that never grows old. Seeing an almost 300,000 pound (EMPTY) cargo aircraft perform a fighter-like demo is awesome. The crew from Joint Base Charleston really tore up the pattern in an awesome display of the mighty C-17 Globemaster III.
The Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force then took to the air for a flying demonstration. Several banana passes by their B-17 Sentimental Journey and B-25 Made In The Shade were performed. They were joined in the air by the A-26 Night Mission of the Fort Worth Texas Wing of the Commemorative Air Force; the A-26 then proceeded to perform a solo aerobatic display.
The action continued as Jacquie Warda wowed the crowd in her Extra 300 acrobatic aircraft. As she was exiting the air show box, the crowd was still looking skyward as the familiar landing lights of an inbound commercial flight was on final. Sorry, this was a straight in approach by a familiar purple Southwest Airlines B-737 type, so no aerobatics here! After several more arrivals and a few more departures, a unique sound grabbed the attention of the crowd again.
Several CV-22 Osprey (Ospreys?), along with UH-1N, HH-60G, HC-130J, MC-130J, MC-130H aircraft from the 58th SOW took to the sky in an awesome display of the combat and rescue capabilities of the dedicated men and women serving in the 58th SOW. The base’s ground and sky above was literally turned into a combat zone. Complete with enemy fire in the distance, fast roping rescue crews braved that fire to rescue a downed crew member.
This was the highlight of the show for many proud local attendees. But there was so much more action ahead. The afternoon consisted of more acrobatic displays, including Barry Hancock in his immaculate T-6 Texan and its unique radial engine sound fighting the winds above the base. Jerry Conley took to the air in his concourse level restored DH-112 Vampire Jet, perfuming one of the most graceful yet exhilarating acrobatic performances of the day. Jerry wowed them all with his VERY low level runway passes and crisp snap rolls.
Not to be out done by this unique jet, Bob Carlton (who performed his powered sailplane demo earlier in the day) returned in his Sub SONEX Micro jet. The crowd was in awe of this little jet’s performance. As Bob was concluding his demo, the jet car Smoke and Thunder pulled out on the runway for the air and land drag race. With a few loud pops and a lot of smoke, the race was on… the Sonex above the jet car. Both were lost in smoke, and the result of the drag race was never concluded. Besides, it most likely was too close to call.
The last civilian act of the show was a spectacular adrenaline-filled wing walking demo by Greg and Ashley Shelton. Once again the crown was locked on the plane as Ashley made her way up to many poses on the top of the aircraft as Greg pulled and dove the aircraft all over the sky.
Finally the big event of the day was upon us, as the USAF Thunderbirds performance began. This was a long time coming for Kirtland AFB. The Thunderbirds were expected to fly at the 2016 Kirtland open house, but the team was grounded one week before the open house, due to the crash of Thunderbird #6, Major Alex Turner, following a fly by at the Air Force Academy. Maj Turner ejected safely, but the team did not perform at the 2016 show at Kirtland. The people of Albuquerque were ready for the performance this year, and it showed by the record – breaking attendance. The Thunderbirds’ performance was spot-on as always, tight formation work and adrenaline-filled solo passes gave the crowd what they wanted.
We would like to express our thanks and sincere gratitude to the 377th Air Base Wing Public Affairs Office, especially Debra Christman and Eva Blaylock. Your hospitality and assistance was beyond expectations.
We also would like to express a sincere thank you to all the service members at Kirtland Air Force Base. Thank you for your service.