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HAFB COOKS UP A HOT 50TH BIRTHDAY PARTY

It's a recipe for success:

Take 250,000 people of all ages, sizes and descriptions. Throw in 20 or 30 aircraft, including the much-touted "secret" F-117A Stealth fighter. Get some bands to provide music. Now add mock bomb attacks and combat-team demonstrations. Top with a precision air show highlighted by the world-famous Thunderbirds. Bake for eight hours at 95 degrees.And don't forget the hot dogs and soda pop.

Hill Air Force Base knows how to throw a party. It pulled out all the stops Saturday to celebrate its 50th birthday. Thousands of cars lined up for miles in all directions, filled with people anxious to share the occasion.

Hill Air Force Base's air shows are always popular. But the Stealth fighter added extra zest. For most Utahns, it was a first opportunity to see the normally attention-shy craft.

The air surrounding the unusual-looking fighter rang with several spontaneous comments: "It's sure funny-looking." "It's a lot smaller than I expected." The most common question, apparently, was "Where the heck is the exhaust? I've walked around this thing four times and I can't find it."

"Hill Field" was named in honor of Maj. Ployer P. Hill on Dec. 1, 1939. Hill died in 1935 at Wright Field, Ohio, while testing the original model of the B-17 long-range heavy bomber, according to a note in the program.

The famed aviator was well-represented at the base on Saturday. Parachuters kicked off the program when they landed with an American flag, which they presented to Hill's son, Ployer P. Hill Jr. And his children, Mike, Doug, Chris, Gail and Lisa, showed up to surprise their father and honor their grandfather with a family reunion.

The sky was cloudless, and it was hot enough to melt the crowd. Hundreds took refuge in the shadows cast by aircraft wings.

Kids splashed happily at the water fountain. Couples wandered through Hangar One, looking at exhibits from the military and from companies like Thiokol and Hercules Aerospace. More than a few fathers wore wriggly children on their chests and backs like odd jewelry. Hundreds of parents pushed baby strollers around in the sun. Meanwhile, some teenagers were admiring the Vietnam-era Air Force jump suit and talking about "way back when people dressed like that."

Officials had invited Hill Field alumni, who worked at the base between 1940 and 1943, back for the party. More than 180 of those alumni and their guests took their places as honored guests in a special section for a close-up view - and a place to sit - at the show.

The high point of the day? It depends on whom you ask. But an informal poll by the Deseret News showed the Stealth had some stiff competition from loyal Thunderbird fans, who show up year after year to watch the F-16 Fighting Falcons show how they earned a reputation as the world's "most precise tactical bomber."