By Andrea Howry
A crowd estimated at more than 100,000 visited Naval Base Ventura County Aug. 7 and 8 for the NBVC Air Show at Point Mugu, the first air show held on base since 2007.
“It was a tremendous turnout from the community. We had folks come from as far as Santa Barbara and Los Angeles,” said Capt. Jim McHugh, commanding officer of the base. “NBVC has always had great support from Ventura County and the surrounding area. I’m proud of the great show we presented and that the community was able to witness firsthand our commitment to our mission. I consider this air show as my opportunity to give back to the community.”
The persistent marine layer that has plagued the county this summer and that grounded the air show headliner on Practice Day, Aug. 6, lifted in time for all the acts to perform during the actual two-day event.
The Thunderbirds, the U.S. Air Force Demonstration Team that was the headliner act for the show, was a huge hit Saturday and Sunday, drawing gasps and cheers from the audience with precision flying, aerial maneuvers and sheer speed and power.
An estimated 45,000 people on Saturday and 55,000 on Sunday also watched in awe as an A-10 attack jet synchronized its show of firepower with the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Detachment Point Mugu to simulate a runway strafing, an act nicknamed the Wall of Fire.
Extinguishing Saturday’s blaze proved to be tougher than anticipated and delayed the next act, so on Sunday, organizers juggled the schedule and moved the Air National Guard’s fire suppression demonstration to the act immediately following the Wall of Fire, making the firefighters’ job easier and faster.
Weekend performances also included a wingwalker, skydivers, a mock dogfight and several aerobatic acts.
On the ground were more than two dozen so-called “static displays,” aircraft brought in for the public to see up close and, in some cases, touch and tour. Visitors could walk through the huge C-130 cargo jets and the KC-135 refueling jet, drawing long lines both Saturday and Sunday.
The lines were shorter on Practice Day, which was open to anyone with base access. Even though many of the static displays weren’t set up and the performance schedule had to be juggled due to the low cloud cover, those who went appreciated the chance to avoid the massive crowds of Saturday and Sunday.
“This has been great,” J’lene Casey, whose husband is Builder 2nd Class Anthony Casey of the 31st Seabee Readiness Group, said on Practice Day as she helped her three children emerge from the cockpit of the C-130 Hercules. “They’re getting to do stuff they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do.”
Another person who got a rare treat was Capt. Monica McGrath of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department’s Camarillo Police Substation. Because of the many community outreach programs she has been involved with, she was named this air show’s “Hometown Hero” and got to fly for one hour on Thursday with the Thunderbirds in one of their F-16D Fighting Falcons. The pilot took off from Point Mugu with McGrath on board, then flew over to Kern County where there was no fog for the flips and turns the Thunderbirds are famous for.
The base invited residents of the California Veterans Home in Ventura to visit on Practice Day, and many other retirees joined them on a day when it was easier to negotiate their wheelchairs, walkers and scooters.
“I can see why we have such a big defense budget,” one veteran was overheard saying to another as he gazed up at a massive cargo jet from his scooter.
Carlos Calvo, who retired from the Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department in 2005 after 22 years at Point Mugu, regaled his 10-year-old daughter, Celine, and some friends with tales of air shows past.
“I first came with my dad in 1967,” he said.
Has much changed?
“They don’t go supersonic anymore,” he said. “And they used to drop rockets into the ocean. You could see the splashes.”
For awhile, Calvo’s job was to help set up the air show.
“I worked on the shows in 1987 and 1988,” he said. “I helped set up the displays.”
Organizing the air show today is a challenge not only because of the magnitude of the event, but also because most the work is collateral duty and because there’s little institutional history. Nearly all the people involved in the 2007 show — from the commanding officer on down — are no longer at the base.
“We accomplished the moon shot!” exclaimed the air show director, Cmdr. Charles Huff, who was the air operations director before being named to that position in February. “We did something we’ve never done before!”
Capt. Tony Edmonds, chief staff officer of NBVC, had high praise for the key organizers.
“I want to say thank you for your hard work, collaboration and dealing with the angst that comes with something of this magnitude to make it a success,” he told the group.
Next year, Seabee Days will return to NBVC. This smaller but highly popular event is scheduled for July 23 and 24.