JOINT BASE Under skies that grew steadily darker Saturday, visitors to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey watched as a stunt plane flew skyward before seeming to stall and plummeting straight down - only to skim just above the ground and then repeat the heart-stopping act.
"If I was in there, I'd definitely think it was scary," said Ryan Deehr, 9, of Medford, adding that the stunt planes were his favorite part of the 2014 Open House and Air Show, the largest ever at the base.
The show was an unexpected stop for Ryan and his sister Zoey, 8, who came to shop at the base commissary for groceries with their father, Mike Deehr, a retired master sergeant. They made a quick detour when they saw the air show was on.
"We were just lucky he forgot it was the same day," Ryan said.
About a quarter-million people were expected to attend the three-day event.
To accommodate the crowds and exhibitions, the Air Force sent 18 tankers and cargo planes to other bases for the weekend.
Visitors were able to check out a Boeing B-52 bomber, World War II-era P-51 Mustangs, Spitfires, and a variety of cargo planes and jets, as well as military tents and mini-museums.
With military precision, buses ferried visitors from grassy parking lots to the tarmac in minutes.
There were plenty of booths offering fried foods, smoothies, and snacks. Souvenir tents featured military patches, tiny aircraft models, T-shirts, hats, and inflatable replica assault rifles.
The event kicked off at 10 a.m., when a lone member of the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team jumped from a plane, carrying an American flag as the national anthem played over loudspeakers.
Dave Reed, 11, of Cookstown, N.J., thought the jump was cool. His sister, Anne, 13, was not as convinced.
"I don't think I'd be brave enough to do it," she said.
"Air shows are the gateway to learning," said Rich Kaplan, 43, an aviation consultant from Massapequa, N.Y. "Without these, people wouldn't really know what these [aircraft] could do."
Kaplan and friend Ayal Kashani, 31, from Vineland, were touring the interior of a C-17 Globemaster 3 cargo plane. Inside is where "the magic happens," Kaplan said.
Standing near a C-130 cargo plane, Navy officers answered a steady stream of questions from visitors about the aircraft and its mission.
"If it fits, we'll carry it," Petty Officer Michael Markey said, adding that the VR-64 Squadron had carried cargo ranging from "dolphins to seals and Navy SEALs." C-130a are also used during national disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, when they were essential for delivering food and water.
"We'll leave at a moment's notice," Markey said of his squadron.
One of the smaller - but no less popular - aircraft was a World War II-era C-45 Expeditor that was towed from the Harold F. Pitcairn Wing of the Freedom Aviation Museum in Horsham on a trailer.
"The kids love to climb in and out of something like this," said Ted Sowirka of the museum staff.
If you go to the show on Sunday, taking sunscreen, earplugs, bottled water, folding chairs, and cameras would be helpful. Gates are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The show begins at 10 a.m.
For more information and directions, visit http://www.jbmdlspecialevents.com.