By Lt. Col. Francisco G. Hamm, Air Force Entertainment Office
/ Published November 14, 2008
Los Angeles, Calif. -- Imagine this. You are in a jet 25,000 feet in the air, going 450 miles per hour. You approach another aircraft from behind so closely that you are bounced around by the turbulence from its jet wash. Suddenly, coming toward you is a long piece of metal attached to the plane in front of you. Its target - the refueling port on top of your jet.
Your mission: to successfully maintain your position while you receive fuel from your supplier, in flight. The locals call it 'passing gas.'
A new TV hit? A Hollywood blockbuster? The latest gaming sensation?
No, it's your United States Air Force at work.
The Air Force got ready for its 'Hollywood close up' 25,000 ft. in the clouds. An air refueling mission near the Grand Canyon became the scene, November 12th, for media and entertainment professionals, who got a rare, extreme close up look at the airlift and tanker missions and the citizen airmen who perform them.
For most of these entertainment professionals, there is a lot of time spent in a virtual, fictional world. This was an opportunity to see the real thing.
"The Air Force has a huge role in the joint fight through air, Space and cyberspace," said Brig. Gen. James Melin, 452 Air Mobility Wing Commander, March Air Reserve Base, Calif., to about 25 members of the entertainment industry professionals who were in awe in their new surrounds...historic March Field, not only known for its dazzling aircraft, courageous pilots and thousands of incredible airmen passing through its gates, but also for its connection to Hollywood as the location for many spectacular movies, and the home of Bob Hope's first USO performance. "This is an opportunity for us to showcase this role and give you a better appreciation of your Air Force."
"To have the opportunity to meet the people who have a profession that helps people and who dedicate their lives to their country is exciting," said Christine Cavalieri, a producer who works in television. "I've learned so much...you can't get this from the movies...this is the real thing."
From November 14-21, Air Force Week in Los Angeles will provide Southern Californians a chance to meet members of their remarkable Air Force.
"The Air Force was something I just kind of thought about, but when I saw the planes, met the some of the Air Force people and saw just a slice of what they do, I realized how amazing it is, said Tim Gibbons, an executive producer for The HBO hit, "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
"It has changed my perspective," said Gibbons.
Media and entertainment professionals took advantage of an opportunity to get a closer look at the Air Force. The day included briefings, opportunities to talk to Airman and look inside aircraft like the KC-135 Stratotanker and C-17 Globemaster III, and also see an MQ-1 Predator up close. The United States Air Force Honor Guard performed a precision rifle drill for the guests with the C-17 as their backdrop.
"I thought they were amazing, very talented Airman," said Rex Lee, an actor starring in the HBO hit "Entourage," who enjoyed the Air Force Honor Guard Drill Team performance. After the performance he joined in with others who spent time mingling and taking photographs with drill team members.
Guests also got to speak with former Secretary of the Air Force Vern Orr, who was there to see the static displays on his 92nd birthday. Secretary Orr was responsible for the Air Force's acquisition of the B-1 Bomber.
The main event of the day was an actual air-refueling mission.
Members of the media and entertainment industry were split up into two groups as the former boarded the KC-135 while the latter boarded a C-17...both were soon reunited at a high-altitude rendezvous.
"[This was a] once in a lifetime experience," said Craig Hayden Owens, a director of marketing with Electronic Arts gaming company.
Owens won the draw to fly upfront in the cockpit and was overwhelmed by the experience. "It was cool to have the head sets on and be able to listen to all the communication. It was something you expect to experience in a video game but this was so much more."
For actor Jeff Pride, the experience was exciting. "Being in the cockpit with the aircrew...it was amazing to see the confidence in the aircrew with the tanker aircraft so close to the plane taking fuel, and they still took the time to share with us what they were doing."
"I am all about authenticity, so seeing this first hand is great," said Electronic Arts gaming artist Waylon Brinck. "Immersion is a big deal in gaming so you want to give the players a feel for the real thing, so it's great to experience this today first hand."
For some, it was clear there was a lot to learn about the Air Force.
"When my publicist told me about the event I thought I was going to fly in a small (fighter) jet," said Lee. He was pleasantly surprised though when he saw the C-17.
For Gibbons, his amazement was well documented as he spent a lot of time taking notes for his blog.
"The Air Force is amazingly organized and efficient, he said. "I had no idea of the scope of things that actually go on."
His biggest surprise of the day was the massive size of the C-17. "Getting us in a C-17 was great, it's bigger than my house!"
"Before coming to the event, I didn't know what to expect. I envisioned the military being hard on the battlefield and by the book, yet I felt in full comfort the whole time," said Pride, walking around inside the C-17.
The day started with a welcome briefing by Maj. Gen. Robert E. Duignan, 4th Air Force Commander, March ARB, Calif., who shared his excitement about the Air Force's role as a key player in the joint team.
"We have so many great Airman in our Air Force with fantastic stories, he said. "This week is an opportunity to tell those stories."
The Air Force Week program is a program helping communicate to America's communities nationwide the critical role the Air Force plays in global humanitarian missions, our dominance of air, space and cyberspace, and defending America's future.
Community visits, flyovers, film festivals, sporting events, weekend expositions, concerts and more, during each Air Force Week, provide an up close and personal look at the Air Force men and women serving on the frontline.
Although they said flight was cool and amazing, most guests walked away with a better understanding and appreciation of the airmen carrying out the mission.
"I am very happy that these are the people in the Air Force who take care of us everyday, said Gibbons.
"I was amazed at how polite people were today. Normally you see the military in the movies as more buttoned-up or wild and crazy. But what I saw today were real people."
"I learned a lot about what the Air Force does," said Lee, during flight. I never understood what it meant when members of the Armed Forces would say they are proud to serve until today."