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Thunderbirds - Nellis AFB

Thunderbirds – Nellis AFB

I live near Nellis AFB, home of the Thunderbirds. It seems I’ve always lived near an air force base of one kind or another my whole life, and I’ve always found that exciting.  Sometimes my work takes me close enough that I can get a good view of the jets practicing in the morning.  I always enjoy watching them fly in formation and seeing the patterns the contrails leave in the sky.  No matter how many years I’ve been witness to these 19,700 pound birds dancing in the sky, I still look up in awe.

But this week was different.  Due to impending budget cuts, the Thunderbirds were going all out.  I’m not going to get into the politics of it here.  I’m a Libertarian myself, so I guarantee we can find something we can “agree to disagree” about in 2 minutes or less.  The Thunderbirds were getting in all the practice they could, and it was amazing.  Climbing straight up and dropping straight down, pulling out at the last possible moment.  Barrel rolls and spins.  Flying in formation, so close together (sometimes less than 3 feet apart) that it seemed impossible, an optical illusion.

As much as I was having trouble keeping my eyes out of the sky and on my work, I couldn’t get any customers on my route to look.  “They do that all the time.”  No, not like this.  If you would just look up in the sky you’d see.  “I’ve seen them.  They’re a pain in the ass.”  I know they’re loud, especially when they’re flying so low that you can see the pilot and sometimes wonder if you might make out his eye color if he flew just a little closer.  But this practice was different, and no one bothered to look.  No one wanted to stop working for a minute or two and be a kid again.  Only for a minute, I promise, and then you can get back to being worried about bottom lines and quotas and ROI again.  But no one would look.

I don’t get it.  Maybe I’m naïve, and I guess I like it that way, if the alternative is to be so wrapped up in the day-to-day of the work grind that I can’t look up in the sky for a minute or two and be filled with wonder and awe at a flock of 1.500 mph F-16s flying wing to wing so fast and low that it makes the ground tremble.  I don’t ever want to be that jaded and lifeless .

As I was finishing my route, one of my coworkers pulled up behind me and jumped out of her truck.  “Are you seeing this?  Isn’t this awesome?!”  We talked for a moment about jets and people, about keeping the sense of amazement, about how politics and childish politicians of all kinds will never keep us from being childlike and staring at the sky.  We sheepishly talked of holding back the tears when the veterans’ float passed in a parade and crying without fail when the national anthem is sung. And I was glad that I wasn’t the only one.

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3 thoughts on “Keeping Your Awe Alive

  1. I know what you mean, I grew up living between two AFBs and their bombing range as well as Boeing, Beach, Cessna and lLear plants so there were always planes in the air. I remember seeing four flights of four fighter jets swooping over our farm or school. They would use them as navigation points. It was so strange to see an empty sky after 911. Not to see contrails in the blue sky was just so strange. I grew up loving to watch them fly, it helped that my dad worked on almost all of the B-52’s.

  2. The trailer I lived in on N. Las Vegas Blvd. was directly under the path of their high speed runs during shows. They would be 100′ up, max, when they flew over. I could tell when pilots were landing at Nellis for the first time and could see when they didn’t have enough sirspeed to make the curve and land. Sometimes pilots would have to gas it right above my house to avoid stalling and it was extremely loud. I used to hear them fire up a B-2’s engines, which has a sound unlike any other aircraft, in the dead of night. It would wake up from a dead sleep and I would jump out of bed and run to my front door just in time for it to be directly over my house. The B-2’s look so huge and alien when they’re only a couple hundred feet up. Sometimes the jets would be so loud that my house would shake and you couldn’t hear someone screaming at the top of their lungs right in front of you. So many people considered the noise excessive and a nuisance. I always told people that the noise from those jet engines was the closest sound to what freedom, and cheap rent lol, sounded like. I miss it badly.

  3. I can’t wait until the Thunderbirds start flying F-22’s and the Blue Hornets start flying the F-35’s. The stunts they do now will seem like child’s play. If, for some reason our politicians in this country, democrat or republican, decide that it’s not worth it. That it is an unnecessary expense, I will be sending out thousands of emails, and encouraging everyone I know to do the same. Whether someone is for or against the conflicts we’re in, or against war in general. These displays are an awesome reminder to the people that our troops are the most important barrier to enimies, foreign or domestic, and that kind of tribute is a recognition of the honorable people who serve, and should be an inspiration to our young people, especially our children. It’s a form of propaganda, I know, and I agree with the ideas put forth in Emma Goldman’s essay, “Patriotism is a Menace to Liberty”, but I will use those displays of power by our government as they intend, to keep fear of death or harm from interfering with my children’s reality, of life without fear, that I have worked so hard to instill in them.

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