HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Swathi Swaminathan and Saathrik Chukkapalli huddled under the belly of the military plane, waiting for the weather to clear.
The Utah State University friends had seen military aircraft before at the Hill Aerospace Museum, but never this close up. The KC-10A was primarily used for transportation, but on the grounds of Hill Air Force Base, it was now their 120-ton metal umbrella from the hail pouring down around them.
Within a few minutes, the inclement weather passed, and they and the dozens of others crowded under the cargo plane were free to enjoy the air show once more.
Despite intermittent rain, hail and chilly temperatures, the “Warriors Over the Wasatch: A Legacy of Valor” air show went on for its second day at the air base for the thousands in attendance.
Among them was Terry Simpson, of Orem, checking out the helicopters, airplanes and other military vehicles on display around the base before the shows started.
“I rode up there,” he said, excited, pointing out the cockpit of a cargo plane to his wife, daughters and grandchildren.
He arrived in Vietnam with the U.S. Army 131st Airborne Division just before Thanksgiving 1969, and after a year and a half, Simpson was ready to leave. All that was left was for someone to volunteer to pull the chocks out from the wheels of the C-130, their ticket out, so it could take off and take his battalion home.
Simpson, who volunteered to be in Vietnam, volunteered once more.
When he finally left Vietnam, he pulled the chocks away and, once on board, the pilots also let him into the cockpit. Not only that, they let him act as co-pilot for a moment.
With his hands on the wheel, the plane took to the air and burst through the clouds, “and all of a sudden it was just stars,” Simpson said. “It was really exciting.”
For a couple of attendees too young to remember the Vietnam War, or even the beginning of the Iraq war, the air show proved a point of excitement.
Brandon Graham, 7, and Breanna Graham, 6, marveled at world champion pilot Kirby Chambliss’s piloting of the Red Bull-sponsored Zivko Edge 540. The siblings said it was their favorite of the show, describing how it tilted and spun through the sky, with Breanna miming the movements with her outstretched arms.
The two took a break with their grandparents in the large fuselage of the C-5, another large cargo plane on display at the show. Grandpa Steve Ovenden, from West Jordan, said they had tried to come out Saturday but went home because of the rain before they had a chance to see the main attraction of the show, the Thunderbirds.
“We heard them flying overhead as we drove home,” he said. They returned to catch them in Sunday’s improved weather.
Ovenden was also happy to see the older planes in the air, part of history people don’t have as much of a chance to see anymore. Among the older planes in the show was the P-51. As the red and white war bird zipped through the sky, the announcer talked about how the Tuskegee Airmen flew the plane during World War II and didn’t let one of the bombers they escorted go down.
That was just one of many mentions over the booming speakers throughout the day of military heroes. The announcer took time before the shows and between them to recount the lives and service of Utah airmen and airwomen and to honor their memory, particularly in light of Memorial Day.
The announcer read off the names in the Utah Aviation Hall of Fame, including Robert Hinckley whose Civilian Pilot Training Program was the reason the Tuskegee Airmen came into being, according to HAFB.
But special for the Memorial Day weekend was his mentioning of men and women not in the hall of fame, who died in service to their country.
Twenty-four were named, including Tech. Sgt. Kristoffer Solesbee, who died last year in Afghanistan when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device, and Maj. Ployer Hill, after whom the base is named, who died in 1935 from his injuries shortly after the experimental aircraft that would become the B-17 “Flying Fortress” crashed in a test flight.