CHERRY POINT — The 2018 Cherry Point Air Show and Open House is a month away, having drawn more than 200,000 visitors in 2016.
This year’s event is May 4 to 6 and has even more attractions free for the public, including the Canadian Snow Bird Jet Team, along with the Blue Angels.
It begins with a May 4 night show and day shows on May 5 and 6. The schedule is full of aerial performances ranging from high-speed jet demonstrations to the smaller aerobatic daredevils to vintage warbirds. Visitors will also see America's best military equipment in action in the air and on the ground, including a combat demonstration by the Marine Air-Ground Task Force and plenty of static displays of aircraft. Information on the show is available online at www.cherrypointairshow.com.
We recently talked about the behind-the-scenes preparation and work on the show with Mike Barton, the Communication Strategy and Operations Officer at Cherry Point.
Question: How much preparation goes into putting on an air show?
Michael Barton: “The Cherry Point Air Show is the air station's largest single community event. Since our first open house in 1950, every Cherry Point Air Show has built on all of the shows that have gone before it, incorporating the many lessons learned over years of practice and preparation.
“Actual preparation for this particular show began almost immediately after the last one in May 2016, through consolidation and review of after-action reports and past lessons discussions. Later that same month, we proposed dates for the next air show to determine availability of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, who serve as the primary act for our biennial event, and who schedule their appearances two years in advance.
“In December 2016, once we got a confirmed date from the Blue Angels, we started locking in other known performers that we wanted to perform in our 2018 show, and began scouting for the best additional performers on the ground and in the air to round out the show.
“In late 2017, we attended the International Council of Airshows annual convention to complete negotiations and coordination with the many professionals who make up the international air show industry. Before the end of 2017, we began coordination with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force to schedule the many elements of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force demonstration, another key event in our show, and all of the Marine aviation and ground combat displays. We also immediately began working with our sister services to solicit their participation. Our marketing campaign kicked off concurrently with the planning/scheduling efforts.
“In early January 2018, we conducted our air show kickoff meeting and dusted off the air station order that serves as the guiding document for the entire event, updated it where necessary, and combed through it for the finer details.
“From there, it is a steady progression of meetings to build the staff, design the schedule, build a flight line layout, submit required paperwork, create traffic and parking plans, coordinate with external authorities and organizations, locate and schedule support personnel and equipment, get the word out, and much more. There are a million moving parts to an event of this scale, and hundreds of Marines, sailors, civilian personnel, and external agencies come together to make sure it runs safely and smoothly.”
Question: What is the priority list?
Michael Barton: “It looks something like this: Safety. The only way to successfully pull off an air show this large and complex is to make sure we focus on safety first and last. That is accomplished through multiple exercises and checklists that focus on providing safety for the public, the performers and air show workers. We consider a wide range of scenarios and study other public events to ensure we are managing every element of the event in safest possible way.”
Question: How much is left to do?
Michael Barton: “The schedule is being fine-tuned, the flight line layout is solidifying, and we are closely examining every detail for the thousandth time. This is the busiest period until the show itself starts on May 4. Personnel are working full-blast to get all of the pieces together, while juggling their normal daily missions of running a Marine Corps air station and a combat aircraft wing, which don't stop operating just because we have an air show coming up.”
Question: As for manpower, how much volunteer and enlisted personnel are involved?
Michael Barton: “It takes hundreds of people to put together an event of this magnitude. Inside the fence line, it begins with a relatively small staff of personnel from nearly every department in the air station and parts of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing who come together to look at the big picture and determine who we need to get involved to get the rest of the machine running. From there it grows into a virtual battalion of men and women dedicated to making this the best show ever. Add to that the many other outside organizations and agencies that provide police, medical, fire, and other logistical support. The impact of an air show of this size is not confined to the inside of our fence line. It affects many businesses, traffic, and private plans over a three-day period, and we need the assistance, patience and understanding of people in a much wider area to make it work.”
Question: Give us a few thoughts on the overall effort involved.
Michael Barton: “The Cherry Point Air Show is the result of a gigantic team effort, made possible by the combined efforts of many dedicated professionals. Some of the team here has done this before — in some cases, many times — and some of the team are working their first air show. But show after show has proven that regardless of how many times someone has been involved, every individual plays an important role leading up to and during the event. The ultimate goal, of course, is to make the event seem effortless to the public once the gates open on May 4, 5 and 6. We want them to experience the absolute best air show possible.”
Question: Finally, what is the goal of the show?
Michael Barton: “Our goal is always to give the American public a close-up view of their Marines in action through demonstrations by the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, individual aircraft demos, equipment and weapon displays on the flight line, and through opportunities to meet the Marines on the Cherry Point flight line. Of course, wrapping all of that up in a fantastic collage of exciting professional showmanship, good food and a highly charged atmosphere in a safe environment makes it all that much better.”