Saturday, March 15, 2008

Airshow With a Three-Year-Old

I took a three-year-old to an airshow today. If I fall asleep while writing this post, I'm sure you'll understand.

Ok, a little background. Last year I went to the Capital Air Show, at Mather Field near Sacramento, with my father-in-law, my brother-in-law (Uncle Paul), and the Pillowfight Fairy, who was then four years old. Now, she's got a good imagination, so she likes the planes reasonably well--there's plenty to imagine when you see these things, after all. But she has something of a delicate temperament. And airplanes are loud. After the first real aerial demonstration of the day, the Fairy was looking pretty shell-shocked. She got more accustomed to it as the day went on, though; she went from looking traumatized to looking merely annoyed. At any rate, she was well and truly ready for the day to be done well before the Thunderbirds showed up.

I, being an Air Force brat, thought the show was great.

But this year the Fairy didn't want to go to the show. She'd had enough of planes to last her a good long time. So I decided to entice the Adrenaline Junkie (girl, age 3) instead. There will be lots of airplanes there! And they will be really loud! She was sold. So today we went.

Below I give my impressions of the event. Forgive the stream of consciousness that follows. This is one of those nights where I'm Not Actually Coherent. This happens when you carry a wiggly three-year-old around for about half of a six-hour airshow.

First: it wasn't as good a show as last year's, I'm afraid. There were about twice as many aerial performances last year. In order to fit them all in, they had to start well before noon. Today the aerial performances started no earlier than one o'clock. The acts this year were good, no question. But last year's demonstrations included more top-of-the-line military aircraft, like the F-22, F-18, and F-15; it included a big pyrotechnic display, where an F-15 "bombed" the flightline; it had wing-walkers; it had a B-2 flyby; it had a C-17 demo, showing its short-field abilities (like its ability to land in practically no space at all).

This year there was none of that. There was an F-16 demo, which did justice to the aircraft; and there was a Harrier demo, which involved lots of hovering and weird maneuvering (like flying backwards and sideways). But most of the demonstrations were of prop-driven civilian aircraft. Nothing wrong with that, and the pilots were obviously very good; but this Air Force boy likes a little boom in his airshows.

And the ground displays seemed a little thin this year, as well. I suspect that the Air Force and Navy, while they support these airshows, pick a handful each year that they make really good, and give nominal support to the rest. Last year was just Mather's year to be good; this year, it's Travis or some other site. Ah, well.

I'm still glad I went, though. The Adrenaline Junkie didn't have any sense of this show being less than splendiferous, so she got plenty excited at what was there to see.

I haven't written a whole lot of posts about the Adrenaline Junkie on this blog yet. She's been in the shadow of her older sister a lot. After all, the Pillowfight Fairy has pretty well learned to read, and is picking up math, and is good at art; from the point of view of a homeschooling parent, there's a lot to report. The Junkie, on the other hand, is more active and outgoing, but not nearly as academic as her sister was at this age. So with the focus of this blog, she's been more in the shadows. But that's certainly not because we've been ignoring her. On the contrary, she's very hard to ignore. She's always enthusiastic, both when that's a good thing (enthusiastically exploring a new setting) and when it's a bad thing (enthusiastically resisting going to bed). New experiences are always a kick with her around.

Today, she wanted to be in the airplanes. Any airplane that was opened up for the public, she wanted to go in it. So, we climbed in the MC-130, and she got to sit in the pilot's seat and wave at the line below. And she got to climb up to the top hatch and look out from above the spine of the plane. And we climbed all through a KC-135 tanker aircraft, and got to sit down in the back where the boom operator operates the controls to refuel bombers and fighters. (I was explaining to her in my Daddy Voice that it's the "only job in the world where you're paid to lie on your stomach and pass gas." The boom operator, who was there on hand to explain things to people, had never heard that one, and busted out laughing.) We walked end-to-end through a C-5, big enough to hold battle tanks in its hold. And she popped in and out of numerous helicopters of various sizes.

I think she was hoping the planes would take off with her inside. She would have absolutely been in heaven.

Now, during most of the day, we were trying to hook up with Uncle Paul, who was supposed to meet us there. But Uncle Paul and company had gotten their wires crossed, and so he wasn't at the rendezvous point at the appointed time. She got a little agitated: "Where's Uncle Paul?" "Where Is He Now?" etc.

This led to a humorous misconception on her part. We would say, "We're going to try to find Uncle Paul now," followed almost immediately (as an acrobatic aircraft swooped overhead) by, "Well, look at that! He looks like he's having fun." Of course, after a while, our little three-year-old started to put two and two together, concluding that Uncle Paul was the one having fun swooping overhead. Things would get quiet for a while, and she'd say, "Where's Uncle Paul now?" And just then a helicopter would swoop over, and she'd be satisfied. Uncle Paul had a busy day; he must have flown about three or four different planes, pulled multiple G's, rappelled down out of helicopters, parachuted out the back of C-130s... He looked surprisingly serene when we finally ran into him. He must be in better shape than I thought. ;-)

Oh, and something a little coincidental happened today. A few days back I posted about the SR-71, and I linked to a column that had been written by Major Brian Shul about the Libya raids in 1986. Well, I ran into him there, and talked with him a little bit. He was at a booth, selling and autographing big picture books on the SR-71 containing a lot of newly de-classified information. I was sorely tempted to pick up a copy, but it was a bit too expensive. He's one of those old, grizzled pilots you know has many, many stories to tell--some humorous, some harrowing, many embellished, but all true.

One of the highlights of the day for the Junkie was the trip to the Bounce Houses. Yup, they'd set up over half a dozen bounce houses and inflatable slides. During the time we were digesting lunch, waiting for Spaceman Paul to show up, and killing time before the Blue Angels flew, we went over to the Bounce Houses and let the Junkie do her thing. She was so excited, she would only spend a minute or so in each one, before bouncing out, happily declaring, "I wanna do another one." So, we did. She got to go on nearly all of them, including the Big One: a twenty-five-foot-high effigy of the Space Shuttle on the pad. On this attraction, the kids are supposed to climb up a spiraling "ladder" to the top, about twenty feet above the ground, then slide down in a spiral back to the ground. The Junkie had never climbed anything quite this big before, but she did it just fine, with no help, with no tears--with a big, mischievous grin the whole way up and the whole way down. I never would have gotten my five-year-old to do it; I never would have been able to stop my three-year-old.

The Junkie did very well today, all things considering. She did get a bit spooked during the Blue Angels' routine, when they did those surprise passes (where everyone's looking to the left, and someone blows by you on the right in full afterburner, for example). From that point on she thought it was too loud, and was ready to go back home. But by that point she was already two hours past her normal naptime, so I didn't blame her. And they were very loud (although it didn't seem to me, or to Uncle Paul, that the Angels were as loud as the Thunderbirds were last year. It could be that the F-16 is just louder than the F-18. Or it could have been different weather. Or it could just be that Uncle Paul and I are going deaf in our old age). But unlike the Fairy, who went away from the show last year with no desire to think about airplanes ever again, the Adrenaline Junkie was playing with her new toy Blue Angel on the way home, making jet noises the whole way.

And when we got home, she insisted that I pick her up and "fly" her around the room (doing loops and rolls as appropriate) until Daddy got pooped and decided to give her a rough head-first landing on Uncle Paul's lap.

"Again! Again!"

That's a girl to make a daddy proud.


Jarrod J. Williamson, Ph.D. said...

You likely want to go to the Lemoore Naval Air Station's Air Show day if you are into planes.

Here's a link for the 2004 show.

I have been on the base a few times as a kid while living with my grandmother. Once, while hauling hay out in the field, 16 planes flew in diamond formation directly over our home. If I recall correctly, they were returning from sinking Iran's Navy back in 1988.

Wendy Power said...

The Blue Angels buzzed our house, burning kerosene, at perhaps 1000 feet. If that. It was loud. I could hardly hear Rick's and my whooping over them.

Then #5 buzzed us like he meant to do that. Perhaps he saw me on the patio table, ready to start jumping up and down.

We love living in the Mather Field flightpath!

Timothy Power said...

Yeah, I hear there are actually people in the world who get annoyed by that sort of thing. I'm not sure I've ever met any of them, though. :-)

I remember falling asleep in our home on Minot Air Force Base, ND in the wee hours of the morning, as the B-52s were running engine tests. Imagine having the sweet sound of liberty as your lullaby! I wouldn't have traded that for the world.

silvermine said...

Oh, I'm so jealous! We live near Moffet in Sunnyvale, and until a few years ago they had a great airshow here, too. We could take the son to the park and watch them there (and practice all week!) without being overwhelmed by the whole airshow.

It made naptime rough, but like Wendy said, it's fun having someone like the Blue Angels buzz your house!

But no airshow anymore. A few years back some locals complained. :(

Jarrod J. Williamson, Ph.D. said...

...Imagine having the sweet sound of liberty as your lullaby! I wouldn't have traded that for the world. ...

During my first year at Fresno State, I had a botany class with a excellent professor who looked as though God made her, then He made dirt. She was from Cuba, escaping fresh after Castro took over.

Once, during lecture, some military jets flew overhead making a lot of noise. One young woman in class spoke up and said, "Professor, would you repeat that. I could not hear you over those jets." The contempt expressed by this woman was patently obvious.

So obvious, in fact, that the professor responded with, "Show respect for them. They are protecting us. I am from Cuba, I know what they are protecting us from." Not a word from the young woman after that.

However, living next to the Lemoore NAS during the Regean cold war era was sometimes unnerving for me. On occasion, I would be startled awake by the sound of several jets roaring out of the base. There was always a part of me that worried, "I wonder if there are inbound ICBMs and the base is scrambling its jets so they don't get nuked with us?"

Sebastian said...

When your kids get a little older, don't miss the chance to walk them by the military recruiter tables. I spent all three days of an airshow last fall running a booth for the Naval Academy. I had parents and grandparents bringing their kids by. I would be giving my spiel about the need to do well in school and do really well on math and science and writing. The parents would be jabbing them in the back saying, "See, I'm not the only one telling you to pay attention in school."