HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Kathy Wright is no novice when it comes to knowing her way around Hill Air Force Base's biennial open house and air show.
"I've been coming here probably since the '60s. My dad was stationed here in 1959," Wright said. "We've been coming for a long time."
So Wright, tagging along with her brother's family, had a prime spot along the flight line, as they watched the Warriors Over the Wasatch air show Sunday. Their neat row of folding chairs was topped with umbrellas to protect them from the scorching sun. Temperatures on the tarmac exceeded 90 degrees Sunday, which was the final day of the event.
While the air show's civilian acrobatic demonstrations are exciting, Wright, the daughter of an Air Force pilot and flight instructor, comes to see the Thunderbirds, the U.S. Air Force's elite air demonstration team.
"I love the Thunderbirds. I think they're great," she said.
After a year's hiatus due to cuts in federal spending, the open house and air show bounced back with high attendance Saturday and Sunday.
Air Force Col. Fred Thaden, co-director of the 2014 air show, said an estimated 300,000 people attended Saturday's events. Crowds were a bit smaller on Sunday but with the picture-perfect weather, organizers expected to draw an audience nearly as large, he said.
"This is probably a record-setting year," said Thaden, Vice Commander of the 75th Air Base Wing.
The open house for Utahns to learn more about military and civilian activities at Hill Force Base, as well as to display the Air Force's military capabilities, Thaden said.
"We had a lot of families out here both yesterday and today. We just really would like to have the kids come out and see what flying is all about and help them pursue their dreams. If they can dream it, they can do it," he said.
The weekend event infuses about $13 million into the local economy, which includes travel costs, lodging, hospitality, fuel, ground transportation for participants and vendors, as well as money spent by people attending the show for food, souvenirs and travel expenses, Thaden said.
While it is a community event, the Air Force puts on the open house and air show as a recruiting tool.
"We love to show what the Air Force can offer in terms of careers so we have a number of booths set up for that purpose. We like to show the public the military capability, the air demonstrations that we have, how we defend our great nation," Thaden said. Hill Air Force Base is one of the state's largest employers.
Brexton Fowers, who works for an information technology civilian contractor on the base, brought his wife Jenna and children Reagan, 5, and Lincoln, 2, to visit his place of work.
The open house, which is free, enables the family "to spend time together and have a good time," Fowers said.
It takes about 2,000 volunteers a full year to plan, coordinate and staff the open house and air show, Thaden said. The base heavily relies on support from surrounding communities to put on the event, he said.
Once this year's festivities wrap, organizers will start thinking about the next show two years from now.
"We start planning well in advance. In about a year, we'll start planning the 2016 show," Thaden said.