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Lightning In The Desert
Every other Spring, Luke Air Force Base hosts an open house and air show. For one weekend the gates of the base are thrown open for anyone who wishes to learn about the mission, people, and equipment of the USAF. Military and civilian aircraft are placed on display. Aerial demonstrations occur almost nonstop. Usually, the Air Force's premiere flying demonstration team, the Thunderbirds, perform.
Luke Air Force Base is named for the first aviator to receive the Medal of Honor- Lt. Frank Luke Jr. Born in Phoenix in 1897, the "Arizona Balloon Buster" scored 18 aerial victories during World War I (14 of these German observation balloons) in the skies over France before being killed, at age 21, on Sept. 29, 1918.
In 1940, the U.S. Army sent a representative to Arizona to choose a site for an Army Air Corps training field for advanced training in conventional fighter aircraft. The city of Phoenix bought 1,440 acres of land which they leased to the government at $1 a year effective March 24, 1941. On March 29, 1941, the Del. E. Webb Construction Co. began excavation for the first building at what was know then as Litchfield Park Air Base. The fledgling Arizona base was called Luke Field at the request of its first commander, Lt. Col. Ennis C. Whitehead.
The first class of 45 students arrived on June 6, 1941, to begin advanced flight training in the AT-6, although only a few essential buildings had been completed. Capt. (and one day Brig. General and Senator)Barry Goldwater served as director of ground training the following year.
During World War II, Luke was the largest fighter training base in the Air Corps, graduating more than 12,000 fighter pilots from advanced and operational courses in the AT-6, P-40, P-51, and P-38, earning the nickname, "Home of the Fighter Pilot." By Feb. 7, 1944, pilots at Luke had achieved a million hours of flying time. Since then Luke has been base to a myriad of aircraft including the F-84, F-104, F-4, F-15, F-16, and soon the F-35.
The Luke AFB air show is free to the public and dates are well-publicized. Parking is off base (just follow the signs) and attendees may either walk onto the base or use shuttle buses. There are plenty of refreshment stands for food, beverages, and souvenirs. Attendees are free to stroll along the aircraft parking ramps and visit all of the airplanes on static display. Young men and women who fly and maintain the aircraft are nearby and eager to answer any questions. The skies overhead are full of airplanes doing maneuvers that would make most people toss-up that corn dog they just inhaled. It's a great way to enjoy an afternoon in the Arizona Spring sun stretching your legs and listening to the sound of freedom.
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Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.