2014 Air Shows

Cannon AFB Open House and Air Show, May 24-25, 2014

Location: Cannon AFB, NM
Admission: Free
Parking: Free, on-site
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Cannon AFB held its 2014 Open House and Air Show on Memorial Day weekend, May 24-25. Headlining the show were the USAF Thunderbirds and the USAF Academy’s Wings of Blue Parachute Team, but what brought us to “Air Commandos on the High Plains” was the opportunity to see the many Special Operations aircraft both in the air and on static display.

The large weather system which plagued the US over the Memorial Day weekend did not spare the high plains of eastern New Mexico. In fact, the opening of the airshow on Saturday morning was postponed by two hours to allow a storm system to clear. Sunday dawned clear and bright and the gates opened as scheduled at 0800. Parking was as close as you could get, right on the tarmac. Security was conducted expeditiously, leaving plenty of time to visit some of the many informational booths set up on the apron. There was plenty of room along the very long flightline to set up folding chairs, and several free bleachers provided some elevated vantage points. The static ramp contained no less than four C-130 USAF Special Operations variants as well as a C-17 Globemaster III and KC-135R Stratotanker from Altus AFB. Joining the two AC-130 aircraft was the venerable AC-47, the first of the “Spooky” gunships. It was strange not to see the Thunderbirds on the ramp. The overnight weather had been forecast to be severe enough that all six of the F-16s had been towed into a hangar for safekeeping. Unfortunately the skies soon clouded over, a harbinger of worse weather to come. The USAF Academy’s “Wings of Blue” parachute demonstration team took off in an MC-130J but were forced to abort their jump due to high winds. Bill Braack drew the crowd in close as he lit the afterburner on the Smoke-N-Thunder jet car and illuminated his clouds of smoke with tremendous flames. By now it was the only bright point left on base. But his high-speed “flight” down the runway was interrupted when the winds shifted to a crosswind.
The 27th Special Operations Wing started to launch its aircraft just before noon in a steady rain. Inclement weather is no hindrance to these Airmen, but most of the crowd had by now sought shelter under the wings of the larger aircraft or in the open hangars. I was the only one left in the bleachers and I was thankful for the weather sealing on my camera body and lens. I had travelled a long way to be there, including a three and a half hour drive through thunderstorms and hail the day before, and I was not going to miss this! The Capabilities Exercise simulated the rescue of a pilot downed behind enemy lines and being threatened by ground troops. It involved aerial assets from a number of the special operations squadrons based at Cannon as well as members from the recently activated 26th Special Tactics Squadron. An MC-130J Combat Talon II soon appeared, trailing its refueling drogues. A pair of CV-22 Ospreys, probes extended, followed close behind simulating an aerial refueling mission. By now enemy forces had taken notice of the downed pilot and began closing in. Two AC-130 gunships which had been circling above the clouds now descended through the low ceiling and began circling the pilot’s position. Their angle of bank and constant radius of turn meant that their guns could be constantly held on target. These attack aircraft are in constant demand to protect troops on the ground in Afghanistan, so seeing them at an airshow, even on static display, is very rare. Seeing them perform a close air support demonstration is even rarer. Having both the workhorse AC-130H Spectre and the testbed for its replacement, the AC-130W Stinger II, performing together was unique to this airshow. With the enemy ground threat eliminated, Airmen riding dune buggies swiftly moved in to secure the pilot, covering him closely to make sure it was not a trap using a decoy. The two circling Ospreys now swooped in to take the troops on board and departed the area.
By now the weather had deteriorated to such an extent that visitors sheltering in and under the larger aircraft were instructed to move to the hangars. Lightning strikes were recorded within five miles and safety was paramount. The U. S. Air Force Academy Band, Blue Steel, performed in one of the hangars. They provided welcome entertainment to the crowds waiting for the storm to pass.
Most of the people had come to see the Thunderbirds, so it was fortunate that the storm had passed by the time they were scheduled to perform, leaving behind blue skies and puffy white clouds. The Thunderbirds did not disappoint, putting on their usual high-energy show. The moisture in the air provided lots of vapor during their high-g turns. After the show, the members of the team came forward to answer questions, sign autographs and pose for photographs with their many fans. Bill Braack was finally able to return for his high-speed run down the runway, providing entertainment to those who decided to stay behind and not make a run for their cars.
Despite the weather, approximately 25,000 people, mostly from the surrounding area, turned out for the airshow. The rain had forced deviations from the original parking plans and as a result long delays were experienced getting off-base after the show. “Overall, the air show and open house was a resounding success and had a strong impact on both the local surrounding communities as well as the various outer lying communities whose residents travelled to Cannon to enjoy the air show,” concluded Col. Tony Bauernfeind, 27th Special Operations Wing commander. The isolated location and limited list of performers made this an easy show to overlook, but being able to see the unique aerial assets of the USAF Special Operations squadrons in action made it worthwhile for this reviewer.
We would like to express our thanks and sincere appreciation to the 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs Office, in particular Capt Anastasia Wasem, for their hospitality and assistance during the Open House and to all the Air Commandos at Cannon Air Force Base for their service.
Performances included:
  • USAF Thunderbirds
  • Bill Braack, Smoke-N-Thunder Jet Car
  • USAFA Wings of Blue Parachute Demonstration Team
  • Cannon AFB Capability Demonstration
    • AC-130H Spectre, 16th SOS
    • AC-130W Stinger II, 73rd SOS
    • MC-130J Commando II, 522d SOS
    • CV-22 Osprey, 20th SOS
    • 26th Special Tactics Squadron
Aircraft on static display included:
  • AC-47 Spooky
  • AC-130H Spectre, 16th Special Operations Squadron, Cannon AFB
  • AC-130W Stinger II, 73rd Special Operations Squadron, Cannon AFB
  • CV-22 Osprey, 20th Special Operations Squadron, Cannon AFB
  • C-146A Wolfhound, 524th Special Operations Squadron, Cannon AFB
  • C-17 Globemaster III, 58th Airlift Squadron, AETC, Altus AFB
  • HH-60G Pave Hawk, 512th Rescue Squadron, Kirtland AFB
  • KC-135R Stratotanker, 54th Air Refueling Squadron, AETC, Altus AFB
  • MC-130H Combat Talon II, 550th Special Operations Squadron, Kirtland AFB
  • MC-130J Commando II, 522d Special Operations Squadron, Cannon AFB
  • MQ-1 Predator, 3rd Special Operations Squadron, Cannon AFB
  • MQ-9 Reaper, 33rd Special Operations Squadron, Cannon AFB
  • U-28A, 318th Special Operations Squadron, Cannon AFB
  • UH-1N Huey, 512th Rescue Squadron, Kirtland AFB

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Report and photography by Norman A. Graf for ASR Media LLC
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