From the ground up: Building an air show

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Duncan McElroy
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Few things get a crowd pumped up like a formation of fighter jets screaming past while performing death-defying acrobatics.

Air shows have been a staple of military culture for many years. They show off the latest technology and capabilities of the Air Force's aircraft to bring the military and local civilian populations together to witness the spectacle of the American aviator's prowess.

For Lt. Col. Ryan Conner, Keesler's 2015 Air Show on March 28-29 will be much more than a fun weekend - without him, not a single aircraft would make it off the ground.

Conner, 81st Training Wing safety chief, is also the air show co-director.

In charge of logistics, planning and safety, it's his job to ensure Keesler gets the top-billed military and civilian flying acts and static displays while maintaining the proper safety and Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

"Essentially what I'm doing is trying to get the aircraft here," said Conner.

While being a pilot has allowed him to participate in air shows during his military career, Conner has been attending shows for years.

"I always went to air shows as a kid," he remarked. "I grew up next door to Fallon Naval Air Station, Nevada, home of 'Top Gun.' As a kid I was around airplanes a lot. Now I get to be a part of it. I'm getting to meet all kinds of different military and civilian acts."

As an RC-135 Rivet Joint pilot and T-1 Jayhawk trainer pilot, Conner has participated in air shows at home and overseas.

Keesler's 2015 Air Show is his first opportunity to sit on the planning committee though.

Despite the difficult task of building the air show, Conner said he's having fun and enjoying the opportunities of being a co-director.

Conner is especially excited for the planned static displays - this year will have a focus on Keesler's en-route casualty care capabilities.

En-route casualty care is the practice of providing medical care to wounded personnel in an aircraft, directly after they're evacuated from the battlefield and in transit to a medical facility. This practice is used during wartime as well as peacetime humanitarian efforts.

"The static displays will have a theme in a way," Conner said. "Air shows are an outreach opportunity to show [the public] what their tax dollars are doing. This year we're showcasing Keesler's ability of en-route casualty care. Our capabilities allow our personnel downrange to receive near-instant care as soon as they're taken off the battlefield."

"A doctor told me a statistic the other day," he continued. "He said if we picked someone up from the battlefield that had a pulse, they have nearly a 99 percent chance of survival. So for this air show we're going to showcase our C-17s from the Air National Guard, C-130s from the Army National Guard, and UH-72s, CH-47s and HH-60s that all provide that kind of care."

While the ground portion of the show will focus on casualty care, the air portion will highlight the Air Force Thunderbirds.

Conner and Maj. Shane Devlin attended the International Council of Air Shows in Las Vegas, Dec. 8 and 9, 2014, to confirm which civilian and military acts would be appearing at the Keesler Air Show.

"It's basically a non-profit organization that's a focal point for air performers, insurance, merchandising, concessions and marketing companies, civilian air acts and more," explained Devlin, 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron assistant director of operations, and Conner's assistant for the air show planning. "Anything you envision at an air show, from concessions companies to the pilots, are members of ICAS and attend this conference."

The Navy's Blue Angels, Army's Golden Knights parachute jump team and the Thunderbirds reveal their event calendars for the next season of shows at ICAS, Devlin said.

"It gives opportunities for people like us who want to host an air show to see and feel exactly what kind of performers and planes we can go after and possibly request," he continued.

From rounding up static displays to coordinating no-fly zones with the FAA, Conner, Devlin and the air show committee work as a team to get the mission done.

"Conner comes from an operations background with being a navigator," Devlin said. "He understands what it takes to make the mission happen. He's very aware of how to hit a time on target and put the pieces together - which is a key factor when you're trying to put on an air show that could host 200,000 people in a weekend."

With a confident nod, Devlin says Conner has all the key leadership skills and traits to help pull off a safe, successful air show.

"It takes an army to build an air show," Conner said. "Without a team of skilled, knowledgeable wingmen tackling the different pieces of this air show, not a single plane would get off the ground. It's been an adventure working on this project, and I'm excited to see all the working parts come together in March."

For more information on Keesler's 2015 Air Show/Open house, visit or check for updates on the Keesler Air Show Facebook.