Maxwell air show draws record crowd

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --

Tens of thousands of people from across the River Region and the country had their eyes to the skies at the Maxwell Open House and Air Show April 8-9, 2017.

Base officials estimate the two-day crowd to have soared above the 135,000 mark, not surprising since the last air show held at the Montgomery base was in 2010 and the headline acts were the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the French Air Force’s Patrouille de France demonstration team. 

It’s estimated that the last air show, a one-day event, drew a crowd of about 100,000 visitors.

The air show lived up to its title, “Heritage to Horizons: A Century of Airpower since WWI.”

On the ground and in the air was a literal display of aircraft flown over the battlefields of Europe in WWI to the latest generation F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

“We wanted to make this year’s air show and open house was the biggest and the best, and I think it was,” said Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, commander and president of Air University. “This year marks several major commemorations in U.S. Air Force history, and with the support of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, the timing was right to host a community event of this magnitude.”

Along with commemorating the 100th anniversary of U.S. involvement in WWI, the event also recognized the 70th anniversary of the Air Force and the 75th anniversary of the activation of the Tuskegee Airmen 100th Pursuit Squadron (later, Fighter Squadron), which was reactivated in 2007 at the Alabama National Guard’s 187th Fighter Wing in Montgomery.

“This event was a way for the base to thank our community for its steadfast support of Maxwell and the U.S. Air Force,” said Col. Doug DeMaio, the air show director and Curtis E. LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education vice commander. “It also offered an opportunity to start conversations on the future of the Air Force in air, space and cyberspace; on science, technology, engineering and math; and offered an opportunity to reflect on Air Force history and heritage.”

Hundreds of Airmen from across Team Maxwell contributed to the air show’s success. Many volunteers, however, came from outside the base gates.

The River Region community contributed more than half of the 4,000 volunteer hours needed to make the event happen. Community volunteers included Boy Scout troops, Reserve Officer Training Corps, Junior ROTC and Civil Air Patrol cadets, American Legion members, church groups and local school students. Montgomery provided 50 busses that ran all day both days, shuttling more than 39,000 visitors safely to and from the airshow from downtown.

“By all accounts, this open house and air show was a huge success,” said Col. Eric Shafa, the 42nd Air Base Wing commander. “The community support was phenomenal, and our combined efforts made this the largest and most well-attended air show in Maxwell history. I expected nothing less from the ‘best hometown in the Air Force.’”

While thousands witnessed the events in person, many more followed the activities digitally. On an average week base social media posts reach roughly 10,900 people. In posts during the air show, about 189,000 people followed the events on the base’s Facebook page.

This event also marked the first use of an air show app, created by a team of Airmen from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. There were an estimated 5,000 downloads of the app, which offered real-time updates of the flying acts and a helpful map of the static display layout.

A week’s worth of events ramped up the excitement leading to the weekend show.

An Airpower Symposium drew former Air Force secretaries and chiefs of staff to Air University to discuss the next century of airpower; the Thunderbirds lifted several prominent media members to the clouds during two media flights; the Montgomery Biscuits baseball team recognized Thunderbirds and Patrouille de France crews at their opening home game; AU’s International Officer School inducted several prominent alumni into the International Honor Roll; more than 1,200 local students attended the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math day; and the base unveiled the Daedalus statue, donated by local business leader Rod Frazer to commemorate WWI pilots.

While no final decision has been made, base officials hope to host another air show in two or three years.