As thousands of spectators crowded to get into the Arctic Thunder open house and air show Saturday at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, most found traffic backed up for hours at the base's public gates.
Some waited. Some walked. Others gave up and drove home.
A line of cars stretched back a mile from the base's Boniface Parkway gate at 3 p.m., about a half-hour before the show's top draw: the U.S. Air Force Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds.
There were no shuttle buses onto the base for this year's air show, the same as the previous event, in 2010, and while military officials reported no problems with that year's traffic getting on base, they said there were far more people attending this year. In previous years, buses shuttled spectators from East and Bartlett high schools and Northway Mall.
The Air Force, which hosts the show every other year, received complaints about traffic congestion Saturday, and parking was limited on JBER, said base spokesman Bob Hall.
"I don't recall in 2010 having to turn anyone away, and we had to turn lots away this year because we ran out of parking," Hall said Saturday. "We had an estimated 225,000 people (total) for both days of the show last time. There was easily more than half that today."
The show continues Sunday. Some hoping to attend planned to walk or ride bicycles on base. Ninety-year-old World War II veteran pilot Howard "Mike" Hunt said he had not given himself enough time to get on base to participate in the show.
"I didn't fly today," Hunt said. "I was stuck in traffic on Boniface, so my partner flew. ... I only live three miles from here, but it took me three-and-a-half hours to get here."
But Hunt, who helped shuttle planes from the U.S. to the former Soviet Union through Alaska during the historic Lend Lease program, laughed about his difficulties getting to the show on time.
"My son said, 'I told you to get here early,' and I will tomorrow," Hunt said.
Most who made it into the air show, by far the largest public event JBER holds, seemed to have enjoyed themselves despite the long wait. Kids with ear plugs danced to music over the loudspeakers or watched in awe as the Thunderbirds' five F-16s screamed past. Smiling attendees had their pictures taken sitting in the cockpits of a different planes, including an F-22 stealth fighter on display.
"I'm really impressed with the Air Force and Army," said spectator Marc Giampaoli. "Once you got on base, everything was well coordinated."
Still, the traffic was "horrible," Giampaoli said. After waiting in line for more than two hours, everyone in Giampaoli's group decided they should park the car and walk in about a mile, he said.
"I think the weather was just too nice," he said.
As the Thunderbirds' ended their acrobatics show -- the jets passing within inches of each other while flying more than 500 mph at times -- the pilots landed, got out of their planes and signed autographs.
An announcer came over the public address system to urge caution.
"Now is the most dangerous part of our air show," he said. "Your drive home."
Reach Casey Grove at email@example.com or 257-4589.