Ever since I was a little guy, my Dad would take our family to the annual air show. It was an annual adventure of crowds, jets, event food, and the hope that I could come home with at least one super, awesome, new toy plane. Did we go every year? I don't know, it seemed like it.
Fast forward, jeez, 30 years (wow, 30 years!?!?) and here we are, my father and I, rekindling our air show tradition, this time in North Carolina. For us, the air show is part American ingenuity, part American bravado, but it for me it really boils down to a whole lot of nostalgia. For this post we're going to compare the two large air shows in Eastern-ish North Carolina - the Wings Over Wayne air show at Johnson Air Force Base and the MCAS Cherry Point Air Show at Cherry Point.
If you're from Eastern North Carolina chances are you may have been to, heard about, or at least avoided the traffic of the area's two bi-annual air shows (they alternate so there is a show every year). Seymour Johnson AFB is inland, in Goldsboro, NC. The MCAS Cherry Point airshow is in the town of Havelock, NC, closer to the coast.
The experience is what's most similar about these two events. Some specifics:
1. It's probably going to be hot.
2. You'll arrive and be surprised at how efficient the military is in handling the large volume of cars and parking.
3. You'll board a trolley or bus after you park and ride it to the event.
4. You'll go through security, the line will be long, but still efficient.
5. You'll split your time between sitting in a crowd of chairs watching the show and wandering the grounds looking at jets and food.
6. There are kid zones at both venues. Lots of bouncy houses and stuff.
7. The jets and planes on display will be similar.
8. The Blue Angels will fly last.
9. You might scoff at the food/drink prices at first, but the heat will wear you down.
10. Did I mention it's probably going to be hot?
I just attended the MCAS air show yesterday (2018) and the Johnson air show last year (2017), so I'm comparing these years. This short list definitely isn't comprehensive, I'm sure I missed some stuff as I wandered the hot tarmac trying to find shade. They really are very similar events. Did I mention they were both hot?
1. You enter the event spaces at different locations. The thing I noticed at Cherry Point yesterday was that we entered at one side of the event space. If you put in the time to walk all the way across to the other side to put down your chairs, you had a lot more room and could sit closer to the fence. Views were better, it was less crowded. At Johnson we entered more in the center of the event space so folks were more equally spaced.
2. I noticed more 3rd party food vendors at Johnson AFB. At Cherry Point it seemed most of the food vendors (not all) were in house. They were still good, but there was a little less variety.
3. Bud vs Miller. Budweiser sponsored the Johnson AFB last year - that means at least you could get a Goose Island IPA or a Shock Top. At Cherry Point it was Miller this year. Now, you may like a Coors Light, but for $7? I was thankful that Miller owns Blue Moon so, yeah, that was the choice for me. #beersnob
4. Leaving the show. We left both events at the same time (about 3/4 the way through the finale - the Blue Angels). Johnson AFB was way more organized in the departure. Cherry Point just left everyone (uhhh, thousands of people) hanging at the end: unorganized and poorly executed trolly pickups followed by traffic jam central. At Johnson staff got us into a marked line, we got on the bus, got off, got to our car, and drove out easily.
Food & kid stuff
Big kid stuff: Tesla!
Tips for your next air show
All right. I've sat for hours in the hot sun at these events thinking of these things for you. Listen to me. Hear me. Take notes.
1. Get there early. Especially at Cherry Point, this helps you park your car closer to the event. When the event is over it's an easy walk back to your vehicle and you can avoid the shuttle busses if you have to. And you can see a lot of stuff before it gets crowded.
2. Bring chairs. You have to have chairs.
3. Don't bring prohibited stuff. Check the website for these items before you come.
4. Bring a soft cooler. Now, there is no alcohol allowed and coolers are mentioned as a no-no on the air show websites, however, they must be referring to giant coolers filled with ice. We took an over the shoulder soft cooler to both air shows and made it in no problem. Strangely, the signs at the event that list prohibited items did not include coolers.
5. There are water refill stations - bring a reusable water bottle.
6. Plan to spend some money on food and drinks. Food was reasonably priced - you could get lunch for $10 and be happy. Beer, smoothies, etc. were kinda pricey for the area. $7 beers, $9 smoothie, you get the idea.
7. Put on sunblock, wear a giant straw hat, wear sunglasses (and I never wear sunglasses). Johnson AFB last year was the hottest place I've ever been (and I'm a pretty healthy-ish dude).
8. Be prepared to walk a lot. I clocked only 4.5 miles yesterday at Cherry Point, it felt like longer. #heat
9. Crying kids at air shows is the sound of freedom. Bring ear plugs for the little ones. Even better - the big lawn mower ear plug headphone looking things. P.S. The kiddos are still gonna cry about the sound...but really they're crying because the event for them kinda sucks (even after you bought them the headphone-ear plug thingys, the overpriced toy, and food).
10. Come late, leave early? It's not very traditional, but if you've been to a million of these air shows why not show up late to avoid the security rush, walk around and take pictures, hit up the bouncy houses with the little ones, buy a toy, get a smoothie, and roll out before everyone gets mad (see #9).
So there you have it. I endured the heat two years in a row! This year was even better as I was mentally prepared for how the day would flow. Was there anything I missed? Let us know in the comments or on social media!
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