Thousands of West Valley families and war veterans gathered this weekend at Luke Air Force Base to catch a glimpse of fighter jets and other large military aircraft in an up-close and personal manner.
This year’s Luke Days marked the military installation’s 70th anniversary — the air shows have been taking place since the 1950s — celebrating the world’s largest training base for F-16 pilots that soon could be home to the F-35.
An environmental impact study is under way and must conclude the fighter jet has no adverse impact on the West Valley and its residents before the F-35 could be used at Luke Air Force Base.
In addition to catching the sights and sounds of Luke Air Force Base the public typically experiences from afar, many attendees said the event provided a sense of patriotism and a chance to say thank you, knowing the personnel are protecting them each and every day.
“I’m impressed with all the young people we’ve met today and are serving overseas,” said Sun City West resident Beverly McGinnis, who, along with husband, Gordon, have been attending Luke Days for many years. “It’s nice to see how dedicated they are and what knowledge a lot of them have.”
Glendale resident Alana Marturana also felt a sense of patriotism while visiting the base.
“This is who we are,” she said. “Our soldiers are protecting America, and it’s very uplifting to speak with them.”
Several of her nephews are stationed in Afghanistan and, rather than live vicariously through them, Marturana said she wanted to check out the aircraft they operate and meet other personnel involved with military endeavors.
Military personnel stationed at Luke Air Force Base answered questions pertaining to their missions, daily activities and the capabilities of the various aircraft on display. The public was also allowed to climb aboard some of the aircraft and pretend they were members of the Air Force by sitting in the cockpit, a favorite of many children and teens.
Before the non-stop aerial maneuvers, which began at 11 a.m. both days, more than a dozen planes greeted interested sightseers who wanted to get a feel of what it’s like to be an Air Force pilot and discover just how massive the aircraft are up close. The public could also check out a military bomb-disposal unit showing off its robots, and various activities and food stations.
Rich and Sue Odesa, who are winter visitors from Wisconsin and live in Goodyear half the year, said they were impressed with the sheer size of Luke Air Force Base. Rich Odesa served in the Air Force in the early 1950s and appreciated seeing how far technology has advanced over the years.
“There’s a lot of sentimental value to the F-16,” he said. “I support whatever’s best for the Air Force.”
The McGinnis’, who brought lawn chairs to view the aerial maneuvers and enjoyed touring the aircraft, complimented base officials for offering a family-friendly event.
“We just plan to wander around and check out everything,” Beverly McGinnis said. “It’s just amazing to see.”
Zach Colick can be reached at 623-876-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.