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Gunfighter Skies 2018 reaches new limits

A Yak 110 aircraft flies in the clouds at the Gunfighter Skies Air and Space Celebration at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, June 3, 2018. This was the first time the aircraft was flown in an air show. The plane is a combination of two Yak 55’s with dual cockpits and controls. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Chester Mientkiewicz)

Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds perform an aerial performance over an F-22 Raptor at the Gunfighter Skies Air and Space Celebration at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, June 3, 2018. The 3600th Air Demonstration unit the official Air Force Air Demonstration team, was activated May 25, 1953. The unit adopted the name “Thunderbirds,” influenced in part by the strong Native American culture and folklore from the southwestern United States where Luke Air Force Base is located. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Chester Mientkiewicz)

A U.S. Air Force Thunderbird pilot high fives a young fan at the Gunfighter Skies Air and Space Celebration at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, June 3, 2018. Approximately 60,000 people attended the two day event. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Chester Mientkiewicz)

Two U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds maneuver in the sky at the Gunfighter Skies Air and Space Celebration at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, June 3, 2018. Approximately 60,000 people attended the two day event. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Chester Mientkiewicz)

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- For the first time since 2014, the skies over the Mountain Home Air Force Base roared with the sounds of thunder as the installation opened its gates to the public June 2nd and 3rd during Gunfighter Skies Air and Space Ceremony.

“The flying line up that we had was unprecedented,” said Maj. Christopher Henderson, Gunfighter Skies open house director. “We’ve never had an air show feature all of the flying that we had so it’s second to none for Gunfighter Skies.”

The show featured the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, F-22 Demonstration and Heritage Flight Team, USAF C-17 Globemaster III Demonstration Team and Wings of Blue the U.S. Air Force Parachute Team.

“People seemed to enjoy it and that was the main thing we were looking for,” said Shelley Turner, 366th Force Support Squadron marketing director. “Seeing the kids’ faces as they interacted with the pilots told us that the show was a success.”

During the show, thousands of people stopped to check out the countless military aircrafts and vehicles on display across the base's flight line.

“We made sure there was some ground acts and attractions which included a simulator, Air Force recruiter with the special operations and the Dream Big cock pit giving people more options and things to do,” Turner said. “We tried to get more STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) involved in the air show.”

As people continued to tour the various military displays, the airfield came to life as vintage and current military and civilian aircraft took to the skies to showcase their unique capabilities.

“The expectation was to put on a world-class air show and showcase Mountain Home AFB, its Airmen and the state of Idaho, and we were able to do that,” Henderson said.

Approximately 60,000 people attended Gunfighter Skies.

June 3rd was a day to honor Dan Buchanan who passed away the day before during an air show act. Buchanan was a beloved air show performer for 36 years.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Dan Buchanan’s family and friends,” said Col. Joe Kunkel, Commander of the 366th Fighter Wing. “Dan will be greatly missed.”

Several changes made this Gunfighter skies better than in years past. By utilizing sunshades already provided by the flight line, heat related incidences were almost completely eliminated.

“Keeping the crowd safe was our number one priority,” Henderson said.” I think we did a good job of that.”

Mountain Home AFB doubled the amount of walk through metal detectors, to decrease the wait time to enter. This was also the first time Gunfighter Skies had preferred seating to ensure a prime spot on the flight line for attendees.

“There was a lot of nonverbal reaction that came from this event,” Henderson said. “Most people haven’t seen an air show this close up.”

Planning for the air show started a year ago and preparatory meetings have been held regularly since October.

“We definitely worked to make this one better with all the lessons learned from air shows in the past,” Henderson said. “There is no guide to this so everyone has to adapt to the situation and roll with it.”

During both days, people of all ages had a chance to get an up-close-look at a wide assortment of aircraft demonstrating aerial capabilities.

“There are kids that will see this event and think, ‘maybe one day I can be a pilot or serve side-by-side with the Thunderbirds,’” Turner said. “I saw a lot of kids in awe from what they saw.”

“You could see the instant reaction from people as the show took place,” Henderson said. “There was a lot of smiles and nothing but solid feedback.”

Both Henderson and Turner thought that the help of volunteers made this air show hard to forget.

“I’d like to thank the volunteers and augmentees, Turner said. “It couldn’t have happened without them.”

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