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Hill Air Force Base continues 80-year tradition of air shows in northern Utah

An aerial view of four Thunderbird jets performing over Hill Air Force Base.

The Thunderbirds from the 3600th Air Demonstration Unit perform Sept. 30, 1956, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The performance was part of Hill AFB's first open house and air show that was held in conjunction with the dedication of the base's 13,500-foot runway. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Spectators on the ramp an open house and air show at Hill Air Force Base.

Spectators during the first open house and air show at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Sept. 30, 1956. The show included a feature the Thunderbirds from the 3600th Air Demonstration Unit. (U.S. Air Force photo)

An F-117 on the Hill AFB flight line. The base's air traffic control tower and the Wasatch Mountains appear in the background.

An F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter from the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing sits on the ramp during a 1990 open house and air show at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. At the time, the 37th TFW was from Tonapah Test Range Airfield, Nevada. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Thousands of visitors on the ramp during an open house and air show at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

Spectators during the 50th Anniversary Open House and Air Show held June 1990 at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Nearly 300,000 visitors attended the show. (U.S. Air Force photo)

An aerial view of a B-36 flyby over Hill Air Force Base.

A B-36 flyby May 20, 1950, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The flyby was in observance of Armed Forces Day. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A dozen or more patrons admire static displays of aircraft on the  airfield.

Open house visitors admire aircraft static displays April 6, 1946, at Hill Field, Utah. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Spectators admire a band playing on a lawn during an open house at Hill Air Force Base.

Spectators during an open house on April 6, 1946, at Hill Field, Utah. Due to cold, rainy weather only about 2,500 visitors attended. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Editor's note: This feature is part of a Hill Air Force Base 80th anniversary series. These articles will feature the base’s historical innovations and achievements, and will highlight mission platforms that have been operated and supported throughout the decades.

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- Hill Air Force Base has enjoyed a long tradition of inviting its neighboring communities to the installation for memorable open houses and air shows throughout its history.

This year is no different with the Warriors Over the Wasatch Air and Space Show returning to the Top of Utah June 27-28.

The show’s theme, 80 Years of Excellence, commemorates the installation’s rich heritage over the past 80 years and the show will feature the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron along with more than a dozen other world-class military and civilian aerial acts and ground displays.

Looking back, Hill Field held an open house April 6, 1946, in celebration of Army Day. Nearly 2,500 attendees braved the cold, rainy day following parades in Salt Lake City and Ogden to view aircraft static displays and equipment demonstrations.

The tradition of hosting open houses grew at Hill AFB when the U.S. Air Force became an independent service in 1947 and Armed Forces Day, held the third Saturday in May, replaced the separate Army, Navy and Air Force days three years later.

Each May throughout the early 1950s, Hill hosted open houses, mesmerizing guests with increasingly more impressive static displays and flybys.

The installation’s first open house and air show was hosted in conjunction with the dedication of the base’s newly constructed 13,500-foot runway Sept. 30, 1956.

The show attracted the largest crowd it had experienced at an open house with nearly 100,000 spectators witnessing the Thunderbirds from the 3600th Air Demonstration Unit (activated on June 1, 1953, at Luke AFB, Arizona) flying F-100 Super Sabres, performing awe-inspiring aerial maneuvers for 25 minutes over Hill.

The show displays included flight simulators, a jet ejection seat trainer, and the last remaining 44,000-pound bomb in the Air Force’s inventory (developed during World War II to destroy German submarine pens; it could penetrate 30 feet of reinforced concrete) and culminated with a retreat ceremony that incorporated a timed fly-over of six F-80s to the playing of the Star Spangled Banner and lowering of the colors.

Hill AFB continued its tradition of open houses and air show through subsequent decades.

During the base’s 50th Anniversary Open House and Air Show in 1990, Hill AFB hosted a crowd of approximately 300,000 visitors. On a cloudless day with temperature in the mid-90s, “the Thunderbirds drew gasps and applause from the crowd with their precision formations and maneuvers,” the Hilltop Times reported.

A big attraction at the 1990 show was the Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter, which amazed people with all its angles and sharp edges. The F-117A flyby from the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing on the first day of the air show was only the 8th public appearance of the fighter.

During the show, Col. Bruce Rianda, 2849th Air Base Group vice commander, said the level of attendance at the installation’s air shows indicated the level of cooperation and support Hill AFB receives from the surrounding communities.

That observation rings as true today as did 30 years ago.

In addition seeing the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron at this year’s June 27-28 air and space show, the community will witness the U.S. Air Force’s F-35, F-16 and C-17 Demonstration Teams, as well as U.S. Army Golden Knights Golden Knights Parachute Aerial Demonstration Team.

The show will also include nearly a dozen other acts, including an F-35A Lightning II attack demonstration by the 388th Fighter Wing, The Rocky Mountain Renegades air show team, a jet powered car and a pyrotechnics display, just to name a few.

An estimated 600,000 visitors are expected over the two-day event, while generating upwards of $50 million of economic stimulus for the local and surrounding communities.

For more information, visit www.hill.af.mil/warriors-over-the-wasatch.