Friday, February 9, 2018

Highway to the Nostalgia Zone

When I was a kid, there was one weekend every summer I looked forward to more than any other.

It wasn't the Fourth of July. It wasn't a birthday. It wasn't even the last day of school.

It was Operation Handshake.

What was Operation Handshake? Glad you asked (and even if you hadn't, I would have explained anyway). It was, at the time, the largest airshow in the United States, attracting about 500,000 visitors over two days. And man, what a show.

I remember seeing one of the first F-15s, back when they were still painted light blue, do a max-performance takeoff into the vertical. I saw an F-117 there for the first time, and a B-2. The airbase where it was held, Richards-Gebaur, was home to a squadron of A-10s, and they never disappointed with an appropriately over-the-top ground attack demo featuring enough pyrotechnics to make Michael Bay blush. My dad was my wingman for most of these, and I have many fond memories of wandering through all the wings and kerosene fumes with him.

I was most definitely in the crowd for this one.

The base closed in the '90s and the airshows stopped around the same time. I haven't been to one since.

Until this week.

I was at the Singapore Airshow, which is more of a trade event than a public relations spectacle, as part of my job. I had a lot of fun and helped with some interesting stories. I even was asked to look directly into the sun and ad-lib an interview about Chinese drones. Yes, I know "Israeli" is not a country. I only got one take, OK?

It was, obviously, a much different experience than the airshows of my childhood. For one, there were weapons being sold everywhere, including this lovely dessert case of 40mm grenades.

Fun for the whole family!

For another, I was working, which meant I didn't get to gawk at the airplanes as much as I'd like. The most common backdrop for my airshow experience was the Media Room, Brought to You By Pratt and Whitney:

There was free food and coffee.

And for a third, Operation Handshake was, even in its later years, an American affair. There were certainly no aircraft from Cold War adversaries. But at the Singapore Airshow, you could watch a Su-30MKM do its thing:

Thrust vectoring makes for great flight demos.

... or a Saab Gripen:

Small, fast, maneuverable and Swedish.

There were also aircraft on display that simply didn't exist when I was younger, like:

The F-22 Raptor.

The F-35 Lightning II.

The RQ-4 Global Hawk.

The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (although its smaller, older brother, the F/A-18 was around back then).

The WL-2 Wing Loong II, a Chinese strike drone.

The entire suite of Russia's United Aircraft Corporation fighter aircraft, in model form or otherwise.

... among many other things. I got to nerd out, I got to be professional, I got to see a lot of interesting hardware and drink some remarkably bad coffee. Most of the time I was in air conditioning, which is also a big change from the airshows of my youth.

My enjoyment of all things flight-related hasn't changed. The brief bits of the Singapore Airshow where I got to just stand and watch planes in the air brought back a lot of great memories. And maybe, just maybe, I can take my dad to the next one... or take my daughter (but I need to be sure to keep her away from the grenades).