Up close and personal

CNJ staff photo: Benna Sayyed Civilians surround an A-10 fighter jet, mingle with airmen, ask questions, and observe the jet’s artillery Saturday at the Cannon Air Force Base open house.

Benna Sayyed

Excitement prevailed at Cannon Air Force Base on Saturday as area residents poured in to get an up-close look at the 27th Special Operations Wing’s airpower.

Civilians mingled with airmen, learned about and toured various aircraft and watched youngsters enjoy their few minutes as pilot of a static aircraft. A Cannon spokesman said officials estimated about 4,000 civilians attended the event.

“Getting to see the planes up close in person, to see how big they are and learn about them is pretty neat,” said Racheal Bollema, who drove from Portales with her three sons and husband to attend the open house.

She said the larger planes fascinated her sons more than anything.

Senior Master Sgt. Robert Elliot experienced a bit of nostalgia upon returning to Cannon after retiring in July 2004 following a 25-year career.

“The first thing I wanted to do when I walked up was to look at the tail number to see what year it was manufactured to see if it was maybe one of the planes that I worked on,” said Elliot, who worked on F-16 and A-10 fighter jets as an aircraft maintenance technician.

“Being responsible for a multimillion-dollar aircraft kind of raises a hair on the back of your neck, to think you’re in charge of that and to know that you’re also responsible for the lives of the crew members that fly them,” he said.

Elliot said he was excited to see that F-16s and A-10s are still part of Air Force inventory and still in use.

“It’s nice to know you can still go to an Air Force base and feel comfortable. You need that dose of Air Force every once in a while,” said Elliot, whose house is two miles from Cannon’s runway.

Maj. Travis Norton provided insight on the mission of Predator MQ-1 drone. According to Norton, many individuals are behind the operation of this remotely guided aircraft — the pilot, the aircrew, the people responsible for viewing video and maintainers behind the video.

He said every jet can have between 40 to 50 people supporting its mission, guiding the aircraft and making sure it gets to the ground safely. He mentioned that a mission that does not put the pilot in the sky may seem dull to civilians, but is actually exciting for a pilot to see the impact his or her work has on the ground team.

“The most rewarding thing you can do as a remotely-guided aircraft pilot is to guide the men on the ground to keep them out of harm’s way. You can tell the men on the ground ‘hey, don’t turn left, there is danger waiting for you.’ You could have been watching this the whole time and can take that convoy in another direction,” said Norton.

“I joined the Air Force for the love of flying. More importantly to me was seeing guys out there on the ground in harm’s way and doing everything that I can do with the passions that I have to help those guys.”