Stepping into the sound and fury of the 2018 Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point Air Show Saturday, a newcomer could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled into a 21st century version of "Ender's Game." Youngsters of all shapes, colors and sizes scurried along the tops of tanks, poked their heads out of helicopter doors, and manned jeep-mounted machine guns as birds of war roared overhead.
A dystopian fever dream brought on by too many funnel cakes and jet fumes? Hardly. In fact, the show of youthful exuberance for all things that go bang, zoom, and pow was simply a regular part of the bi-annual celebration of our military’s technological and training wizardry.
Testing out a howitzer gun mounted on top of a Marine Corps Humvee, Asheville resident Jeremy Hammock, 13, said his air show experience had been “pretty neat,” a description he confirmed a few seconds later as he watched a AV-8B Harrier do a vertical liftoff on the adjacent airfield.
“Oh my God,” he shouted. “I’ll tell you, that’s a lot of noise.”
On the opposite side of the air show, Shannon Gilliam watched as her son, D.J., straddled the canon of an Abrams A1M1 tank.
“This is his first time, so he just wants to touch and feel everything,” said Gilliam.
A few yards away Kameron Waters, 7, and Dawn Reynolds, 10, both from Washington, N.C., peered through the scopes of machine guns as they draped themselves in jungle camouflage.
“She’s kind of a tomboy, so she loves this stuff,” explained Reynold’s mother, Karen. “We come every year.”
The 2018 Cherry Point Air Show mixed favorites from the past, such as the Vertigo Airshow, Shockwave Jet Truck and, of course, the US Navy Blue Angels, with new elements such as the Canadian Forces Air Demonstration Squadron, aka the Snowbirds. This was the first time the air show featured two of the world’s top jet aerobatic teams performing at the same event.
The nine-plane Snowbirds squadron piloted their CT-114 Tutor jets through a series of spectacular maneuvers, including the Voodoo Split, for an appreciative air show crowd of around 200,000.
The day offered plenty of other flights of fancy as well, inspiring the imaginations of young and old alike. Watching the AeroShell Aerobatic Team perform in tight formation high above the crowd, six-year-old Matthew Bryson, Jr. had one very simple question for his father.
“What do the pilots do if they have to pee?”
Matthew Sr. admitted the question was not without merit.
“Hey, when you gotta go, you gotta,” he said, shaking his head and smiling.
The day's more grounded activities also proved popular. Climbing out of a Rapid Strike F-22 jet simulator, 14-year-old Jonathan Westbrook of Morehead City said he was more than satisfied with the ride.
“That was crazy. I never in my life...I thought my head was going to come off,” he commented, as a group of friends gathered around to help steady him.
Having just exited the cockpit of an F/A-18C jet, eight-year-old Gabby Morris of New Bern seemed even more impressed.
“Ummm…,” Morris mumbled, when asked how she liked the experience.
“She’s not shy, believe me,” her mother, Cynthia explained. “I think she’s just overwhelmed.”
As always, the highlight of the Cherry Point Air Show, for young and old, was the Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron, performing seemingly impossible feats of aeronautic acrobatics in their trademark blue and yellow F/A-18 jets.
Having just witnessed the wonders of the Shockwave Jet Truck and the Bill Leff’s AT-6 'Texan' Airshow, both Kevin McKnight,12, and his grandfather, Frank McKnight, had no problem recalling who they had travelled all the way from Greenville to see Saturday.
“Blue Angels, Blue Angels!” they chanted in unison. “Blue Angels!"