This weekend will see more than 100,000 people step foot on Barksdale Air Force Base for the 2017 Defenders of Liberty Air Show and one of those visitors is coming from pretty far out.
Thomas Dittmer will be making the trip with his daughter from Normal, Ill. for the second year in a row.
“I had it on my radar for a few years, but last year was first opportunity to see the airshow at Barksdale,” Dittmer said.
The 1,600-mile roundtrip is all part of the enjoyment for Dittmer and his daughter, as the Air Force retiree said they both aren’t “couch potatoes” and love being in the car. And for Thomas, he’s had a fascination with aircraft since his childhood.
“Growing up in northwest Indiana, I always had my eyes on the sky,” he said. “For my sixth birthday, I was given a ride in a small aircraft around the town where I grew up. I still remember that to this day, and I’ll be 61 in a month.”
After being turned down to fly Army helicopters, he was undeterred, saying, “I thought, ‘If I can’t fly the darn things. I can at least watch them.’ So I joined the Air Force in 1974 and became an air traffic controller.”
After leaving the military, he eventually went to work for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 1982. He retired in March 2010 with more than 32 years spent watching airplanes.
“I enjoy watching aircraft. Period,” said Dittmer. “I am just fascinated there are machines that are able to violate the forces of gravity and fly. That is so cool.”
After retiring, he followed his passion to travel around the country and take photos of various airshows for his photography business, Tom’s PhotoGraphy.
“Traveling is part of my life. I put it on hold while working and raising a family,” he said. “But I’m retired and now I don’t have anywhere particular I have to be. So I can take my time.”
That sense of adventure led Thomas to Bossier City last year for his first trip to the Barksdale Air Force Base Defenders of Liberty Air Show. He came almost solely to see the might of a B-52 in air.
“I hadn’t had the opportunity to see a B-52 fly since the reserve from Barksdale came for a Prairie (Ill.) airshow flyby in 2004 or 2005. I saw them all the time when I was in the Air Force and that’s part of my youth, as it were. It brings back good memories.”
This year, Dittmer is looking forward to seeing the B-1 and B-2. He is also looking forward to chatting with airmen.
“Basically being on a military base is a thrill and I’m impressed by the amount of respect the members in military show the individuals who show up. They’re respectful and helpful, it’s very inspiring to see these young people in the military and how they deal with the public,” he said. “I can sense pride in their base and in the airshow.”
He said it is difficult to compare the Barksdale air show to his other experiences around the U.S. noting that each show has its own flavor and variety.
“Each show is unique in its own way and the quality of entertainment is superb. The great thing about an airshow is the variety,” Thomas explained.
The public can access Barksdale at 9 a.m. and the show will begin at 11 a.m. each day. Admission is free. Attendees can access Barksdale Air Force Base through Northgate Road in Bossier or Westgate off Barksdale Boulevard. Food and drinks will be available for purchase at the air show. There will be water bottle filling stations throughout the spectator area and sunscreen is highly recommended.
For complete details, including security information and guidelines, visit www.BarksdaleAFBAirshow.com. Or keep up with this year’s air show by liking their Facebook page, www.Facebook.com/BarksdaleAirShow.