Red, white and blue:
Cherry Point, sand dunes, and the wild blue yonder
Story by Lois Carol Wheatley
Havelock on North Carolina's coast is a prime location for a Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS). Our troops can defend these shores from foreign incursions because it's right on the Neuse River to allow deep-water access, and there's an abundant supply of flat, level turf all around for a massive system of runways and airstrips.
MCAS at Cherry Point came first, built in 1941 and commissioned in 1942. Havelock eventually developed all around it after that, as housing, shopping and dining sprang up to accommodate the thousands of recruits and civilians who have flooded the area to work at the air station.
It's possible the government put this facility in this particular spot merely because Orville and Wilbur Wright launched the first manned flight right up the coast, about a 20 minute flight away, in Kitty Hawk in 1903, or it could be sheer coincidence that the progress of aviation, which was rapid after that early start, never left Eastern North Carolina.
It could also possibly be due to the region's temperate weather and mild winters, and as a consequence, there being absolutely no point in ever going elsewhere. Also, having "First in Flight" on the license plates might have some appeal to the jet set.
However it happened, the MCAS at Cherry Point, occupying 13,000 acres with satellite facilities all around, is now the largest Marine air base in the world.
Unfortunately, the area is not set up as a tourist attraction for reasons of national security, and casual, drop-in visitors are likely to be turned away at the main gate. Group tours of five or more may be scheduled in advance, however, by calling the public relations office at (252) 466-5895, and other special arrangements may be made for individual visitors.
There's another opportunity to visit the area and see all those cool aircrafts. Once a year, that prohibitive main gate swings wide open to admit anyone and everyone.
The annual air show, held in April or May, is the one occasion when the public spills through that gate in full force to watch a free exhibition of aviation skills. The show changes every year, but this past year it was the Canadian Forces Snowbirds, a nine-jet team, executing a 45-minute sequence of dramatic rolls and loops choreographed to music.
Anything and everything airborne is part of the show, including parachute jumps and fireworks. In previous years, its 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 typically runs three days, over Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Private family tours at the air station tend to be very focused with questions like "Where is the RQ-2B?" These planes can be personal, practically members of the family, and more than likely someone in the family has flown or worked on some aircraft they'd like to visit with again.
Some visitors come because they were stationed here at Cherry Point, or their grandfather or dad had been there, and the rest of the family wants to see where they lived, get a good look at the barracks they stayed in, the place they worked, and the aircrafts they have heard so much about.
Terms: Cherry Point
Information on Cherry Point.