Sara's Column: Air show brings ‘need for speed’

Some of my earliest memories are from an air base.
Jun 6, 2014
Sara McManamy-Johnson

“I feel the need. The need for speed.”

– Tom Cruise (Maverick) and
Anthony Edwards (Goose)

Top Gun (1986)

Some of my earliest memories are from an air base.

My dad, a former Air Force pilot, joined the Tennessee Air National Guard shortly after I was born and remained in the Guard until I was a senior in high school.

As a Strategic Air Command pilot flying a Boeing KC-135 air refueling tanker, my dad frequently lived on base on weekends. Occasionally I was able to visit, but it was a rare treat.

But I always looked forward to one particular day each year: the day the air show came to town.

Every Guard member was required to show up in their “green baggies” – also known as flight suits – and family was welcome to tag along. Which I did, happily.

To this day, I still remember what I guess was the first time my dad led me through his plane. He showed me where he sat in the cockpit, and I was awestruck at all the dials and buttons and gauges. There seemed to be a thousand of them; how did he remember what each one meant?

He led me to the boom pod toward the back of the plane, where he explained how while he was up front flying the plane, someone else was back there trying to line up this pole that would transfer the fuel into the gas tank of a plane flying below.

Yeah, I was pretty awestruck.

Those air shows were where I first learned about the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. 

The Blue Angels flight simulator was better than any amusement park ride, and I’d eagerly wait, counting down the minutes for the real ones to blast through in formation.

My dad came prepared each year with foam earplugs to protect my young hearing, but they seemed to barely blunt the screaming engines that seemed to vibrate through to my chest.

I was hooked.

In retrospect, those air shows are probably at least partially responsible for my lifelong love of planes. And I’m pretty sure I can thank the Blue Angels for my almost 30-year obsession with the movie, Top Gun.

I realized recently that some of my old “friends” are going to be in the area for a visit.

The Great Tennessee Air Show is set for June 14 and 15 in Smyrna, and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels will be among the featured performances.

I think I feel the need for speed coming on. 

Sara McManamy-Johnson is the digital content director for The Lebanon Democrat and Wilson County News. Email her at or follow her on Twitter @wilsoncoreports. 


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