Eastern North Carolina has been the home of aviation since Orville and Wilbur Wright launched the first manned flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903. A mere five years after that, the United States Navy began acquiring the new-fangled flying machines and, while the progress of aviation certainly took off and flew from there, it sure didn’t leave the area.
The Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, occupying 13,000 acres of coastal real estate along the Neuse River in Havelock, is now the largest Marine air base in the world. For aviation enthusiasts who might like to stop by and see the aircrafts, be forewarned that this is not a matter of simply showing up and driving around.
Group tours of five or more may be scheduled in advance by calling 252-466-5895, and other special arrangements may be made for individual visitors. But the average, casual spectator will be stopped and likely turned away at the main gate.
The annual air show, held in April or May, is the one occasion when the base is open to the public and people come from miles around for a spectacular, not to mention free, exhibition of aviation skills. This past year, the Canadian Forces Snowbirds, a nine-jet team, executed a 45-minute sequence of dramatic rolls and loops choreographed to music. The signature stunt was the mirror roll, an intricate maneuver involving two planes, their wingtips perfectly aligned, but one of them flying upside down in a mirror image. Ballroom dancing is an apt comparison.
In previous years, it has been the Thunderbirds from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, but regardless of who does the flying, this is the largest air show in North Carolina and it ends with a bang, or a whole lot of bangs, in a fireworks display at dusk. The show typically runs three days, over Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For information about the air show, you can visit the MCAS Cherry Point Air Show website.
Fourth of July and Memorial Day observances in Havelock are noteworthy occasions and, when troops are returning from foreign shores, the streets are lined with welcome-home banners and misty-eyed family members. President Obama visited Cherry Point and neighboring Camp Lejeune in February, landing in Air Force One on Cherry Point’s busy airstrip.