Taylor’s First Show

I remember my first air show. It was at NAS South Weymouth, a now BRAC-closed base south of Boston, Massachusetts, sometime in the early 1960’s. The Blue Angels were flying the Grumman F-11 Tigers, the base’s blimp hangar was huge. I don’t remember what was inside that hangar, but I do remember it seemed never-ending as we walked through it. I didn’t like the noise, but liked watching the jets in the air from a prime vantage point – my dad’s shoulders. I built airplane models out of “Tinkertoys” when I got home.

Fast forward some 45 years to 2008 when I had the honor to treat my granddaughter Taylor to her first air show, at Quonset Point, Rhode Island. I know how my first show helped plant the seed of curiosity in my mind; aviation has been a passion of mine ever since. I hope that it will be an interest for her, too. Taylor will be 5 years old in September, and she’s wise beyond her years. The Quonset show seemed to be a natural; a relatively short drive for us and a family-friendly show with lots of diverse events.

I prepared for the trip with lots of help from her parents and grammy. I went out and bought “ear muff” hearing protection for her, those foam ear plugs just don’t seem to work very well in little ears. I gathered some kid’s sun screen (high SPF rating), made sure she’d wear a baseball cap, and found a folding chair for her too. I figured that we could leave early if things didn’t go well. I planned to buy Taylor sunglasses when we got there. Although I’d never lose sight of her, a little note with my name and cell phone number went into her pocket. I told Taylor that if she ever lost sight of me, to find someone in uniform and give them the note to help find me!

The morning of the trip went well. While we drove down to Rhode Island, I told her that there’d be some noise (lots of jets in the air) and some fire (the Shockwave jet truck and pyro exhibition). I didn’t want any shocking surprises. I told her to never lose sight of me, and that I’d never lose sight of her. We parked, and took a leisurely stroll through the entrance gates. The weather was beautiful, sunny and mild but the sea breeze really kept us comfortable. The initial ice cream melted fast, I happily wiped off a grinning chocolate and vanilla mask from her face. We later bought lemonade to help with hydration. Someone at the show mentioned that children are smaller and need more frequent drinks because of their limited fluid capacity. They can’t easily tell you if they’re in trouble, since they (hopefully) lack that experience, too.

The first thing she saw that she wanted to do was go on the big, inflatable “bouncy” slides and air mattress rooms along the way. I stalled her at first, and we met up with some friends of mine to set up a base camp with her chair. Then, we set out wandering the ramp. We talked to some flight crews near their parked planes; sometime we’d walk hand-in-hand, sometime she’d be on my shoulders. I even got cautioned by an F-15 crewmember as I passed around the tail of his jet to watch her head. Thanking him, I continued my vigilance as we walked, remembering a few near catastrophes that I’d witnessed over the years, as unsuspecting parents walked under a wing, not remembering that they were MUCH taller than usual with their children on their shoulders! We went through the FedEx Boeing 727 and she got to sit in the Captain’s seat. It was a big thrill for me, and a great photo opportunity!

Even though there were some big, noisy jets in the air (F-18 Hornet and AV-8 Harrier), she persisted on going on the “bouncys”. OK, at least there was an aviation theme there with a space shuttle slide and an airplane with a big smiley mouth as its entrance, so we got her tickets and Taylor spent about 20 minutes happily bouncing and sliding. Occasionally she looked up at the flying performers, but the “bouncys” were more fun. After a well-spent $20 dollars, it was time to head back to her chair and watch the show. We stopped and Taylor got the requisite air show souvenir, in her case a Thunderbird F-16 model which she put through some wild gyrations, mimicking Sean Tucker and Michael Goulian as they flew.

A bit later, she wanted to go back to the “bouncys”, but I diverted her attention momentarily as more performers took to the skies. Soon the Red Arrows’ finale occurred and show was over. Time to go home! We packed up, said goodbye to my friends, and hello to a few of the Red Arrows as we walked out. We stopped at a convenient portable toilet (luckily, not that much of an adventure there), and about 3 hours after we arrived, we buckled up in the car and drove off. She was asleep 20 minutes after we left, and stayed that way most of the way home!

Later that evening, I asked Taylor some questions: Did you have fun? She was hesitant, and nodded yes, but “it was too long”. What was the best part? “The “bouncys”! What about the airplanes? “I liked the red ones” (red is her favorite color right now). Would you go again? “Maybe”, she said. Later, I found out that she really did like the show (Grammy talked to her the next morning). Although I didn’t get to see it, she put on a gymnastics show with gyrations and tumbles on our living room floor, acting out what the planes had done at the show. Oh, Taylor liked her jet model, too.

In retrospect, I had set some goals for her, and it seems that I accomplished much. Taylor was entertained, and it was a safe event for both of us. Taylor and I shared a bit of aviation for the first time; I hope she’ll remember it years from now, like I did my first South Weymouth show. She got to watch part of the show from that same prime vantage point as I did (wow, were my shoulders sore the next day – thanks dad, for carrying me 45 years ago!). And, just maybe, I’ve planted that aviation seed in her mind that will flourish like the one that did for me years ago.

Story and photo by Ken Kula

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