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HILL AIR FORCE BASE — The clear, blue skies over Hill Air Force Base were overtaken Saturday by stunning, death-defying displays of aerial prowess as the Warriors Over the Wasatch Air and Space Show returned to Utah after a four-year hiatus.
"It's been a break," Tim Clayson, a Utah National Guard veteran and Payson resident, said. "Our family loves coming out and seeing the aircraft, supporting the military. We'd like to think we're regulars."
Clayson and his family were just a few of the estimated half-million-plus showgoers in attendance for the air show that brings visitors from all across the country.
Kevin Ireland, executive director at the Utah Air Show Foundation, described the excitement surrounding this year's show as "unmeasurable."
"It has been absolutely incredible. People are so excited to come out to see this show, look at the people we have here now and it's only 9:40 in the morning," Ireland said.
For Ireland, it's nice to see the excitement after all the work that goes into putting on an air show of this magnitude.
He said he will start planning and preparing for the next show on Monday, after the conclusion of this year's event.
"It takes that long to work with our sponsors, to work with the state of Utah to get our performers in line and make everything happen the way it needs to happen because it is such a large show," Ireland said. "It's a full two years of planning, dedication and making this thing happen."
For the Air Force, air shows are all about recruiting.
"That's their number one goal, they use air shows to recruit young individuals into the air force," Ireland said.
Along with serving as a crucial recruitment tool, Ireland said, the show is an important opportunity for taxpayers to see exactly what happens behind the gates at Hill Air Force Base, "for their freedom."
Showgoers on Saturday were treated to stunning aerial displays, jaw-dropping pyrotechnics and world-class acts like the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, as well as Hill Air Force Base's very own F-35A Lightning II Demonstration Team.
The show also included 80 static aircraft — parked aircraft that give showgoers the chance to get an up-close-and-personal experience — from all different eras of wartime.
Jennifer Patterson was at the air show with her daughter and said their family has been coming to the Hill Air Show for over 30 years.
"We've missed it so much," Jennifer Patterson said. "My grandpa was a bomber in World War II and so, I grew up loving airplanes and we come every year."
She passed her love of aviation to her daughter, Camilla Patterson, who said that she was looking forward to seeing the Thunderbirds most of all because of their "speed and noise."
Even after 30-plus years of attending the Hill Air Show, Jennifer Patterson said this show was busier than she'd ever seen it.
The increased attendance Saturday even caused some temporary delays for folks trying to get into Hill Air Force Base.
Just before noon, the base tweeted that "gate entry into the base has been temporarily paused to allow the lines inside to catch up and shorten," before reopening the gates less than an hour later.
Micah Garbarino, a spokesman with the 75th Air Base Wing, said that the entry was temporarily paused due to security portals to enter the flight line being backed up.
"They're pausing traffic coming onto the base to let them catch up a little bit," Garbarino said.
For folks planning to attend the second day of the free show on Sunday, both Garbarino and Ireland emphasized utilizing public transportation to avoid waiting in long lines.
"It's so important that people ride the train and take the bus," Ireland said.
"You can get on the FrontRunner every half hour from all points south and north and ride the train up to the Clearfield station, jump on a bus (and) they'll take you right to the flight line," said Lt. Col Joseph Michaels, air show coordinator for the Warriors Over the Wasatch Air and Space Show. "They're doing a great package for a family of four for $15 — it's the way to go, you don't want to get involved in traffic."
While FrontRunner doesn't usually run on Sundays, Michaels confirmed that it will be running Sunday, making the air show one of the only events in the state where FrontRunner operates on a Sunday.
For Sunday's show, gates will open at 8 a.m. and the event kicks off around 9:55 a.m., with nonstop performances all day long until around 4:30 p.m., depending on scheduling and how the flying goes.
A list of prohibited and permitted items, as well as additional information about the show, can be found online here.