All posts by Tomcatter5150

An average guy with interests in photography, aviation, 1/48th scale plastic aircraft models and cooking. I get to do some cool things and have some great friends.

2022 Selfridge ANGB Open House

Selfridge ANGB hosted their open house airshow on July 9-10, 2022. Like many airshows across the country, this one was previously postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the show did not feature a military jet team, the action in the sky was filled with warbirds, two parachute teams and was headlined by the USAF F-22 Raptor Demo.

Misty Blues

The all women’s parachute team, Misty Blues, opened the show each day with the flags of the United States and Canada followed by a large streamer promoting the team’s colors. Afterwards, the ladies walked the crowd line signing autographs and posing for photos with members of the audience.

JN-4 Jenny

The flying portion of the show each opened with the Friends of Jenny LLC‘s JN-4 Jenny. The Jenny is perhaps the most iconic American built aircraft of the early days of flight. It was one of the nation’s first aircraft designed to teach people how to fly, the aircraft synonymous with “barnstorming”, flew the airmail and eventually created what is commercial aviation.

This Jenny is only one of seven known to be left flying in the world today. The Jenny underwent a restoration beginning in 2012 and she took her first flight in many years on October 2, 2013. Many of the components needed to be refabricated, which was done using copies of the original Curtiss blueprints. She is painted to replicate the original Jenny “38262” which was in flying with the Army Air Service and was the first aircraft to fly the US Air Mail from Washington DC to New York City on May 15, 1918.

A-1 Skyraider

Warbird Heritage Foundation brought their AD-1 Skyraider. The AD-1 was designed as a single place to replace the dive bombers (Dauntless and Helldivers) and torpedo planes (Avengers) on the decks of the Navy’s carriers in World War II. The aircraft did not see service until 1946. Although too late to see service during WWII, Skyraiders were the light and medium attack aircraft of the fleet until the mid-1960s, seeing service in the Korean and Vietnam wars.

This particular aircraft is BuNo 09257 and built in 1947. It served with the fleet until 1956 when it was stricken from the inventory. It was purchased in 1982 as surplus and returned to flying condition in 1989. It was acquired by the Warbird Heritage Foundation in 2008.

So, if it is a NAVY plane, why does it wear a USAF livery? The answer is simple, when the Navy retired the planes, the USAF needed an aircraft that could loiter in a combat zone a long time, carry a large amount of ordinance and serve as an escort for the combat rescue helicopters. They remained in service with the USAF until the early 1970s.

Greg Colyer – Ace Maker Airshow

Greg Colyer started the jet warbird portion of the airshow with the “Ace Maker” T-33 Shooting Star. The T-33 was the nation’s first jet trainer. It saw service with the USAF, Navy and multiple allied nations into the 1970s. Many of the current versions flying, including “Ace Maker” are license built Canadair variants which had a more powerful engine.

Greg earned his pilot’s license while serving with the US Army. After leaving the Army he continued to fly and worked as an Air Traffic Controller. He continued to fly and performed an occasional airshow. Life changed in 2007 when he took his first flight in a T-33. Every since he wanted to own and perform in a T-33. His dream came true when he purchased the original “Ace Maker” and began performing at airshows across the United States. He now owns three T-33s and is working on developing a 2-ship T-33 team with “Scratch” Mitchell, a former RCAF CF-18 Hornet demo pilot.

AT-6 Texan – Tuskegee Airmen Tribute – Lt. Col. Jefferson

The Tuskegee Airmen Museum flew a tribute to Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson, a native of Detroit, Michigan. He graduated from pilot training in 1944 and did his combat training at Selfridge Field. He went on to serve with the 332nd Fighter Group, 301st Fighter Squadron “Red Tails” in Ramitelli, Italy. He was shot down on his 18th mission and was a prisoner of war for eight months in Poland. Mr. Jefferson continued to serve in the Air Force Reserves until 1969 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He passed away on June 22, 2022.

P-51D Mustang “Swamp Fox” – RT Dixon

RT Dixon performed an aerobatic display in his beautiful P-51D Mustang “Swamp Fox”. In addition to the aerobatic display, he did a formation pass with the AT-6 Texan as part of the tribute to Lt. Col. Jefferson. The P-51 was another aircraft the Tuskegee Airmen flew during WWII.

Swamp Fox was delivered to the USAAF on May 7, 1945, serial number 44-74202. She was too late to see service during WWII and served stateside in various roles and units until September, 1957 when she was removed from the inventory as surplus. She began a restoration in 2007 in Chino, California and flew again in 2012. The markings are those of Lt. Will Foard, 364th Fighter Squadron, 357th Fighter Group, 8th Air Force, based out of Leiston, England. Mr. Foard was able to see his restored “Swamp Fox” in December, 2012 and took flight in her with Robert Dixon Sr. piloting.

F-100 Super Sabre – Dean Cutshall

Early Vietnam era flight was represented by Dean Cutshall performing in his F-100F Super Sabre. The “Hun” as the Super Sabre was nicknamed, was America’s first aircraft capable of sustained super sonic flight. Dean’s version was built in 1958 as 56-3948, and is a two-seat variant. She flew in various roles for the USAF until 1973 when she was transferred to the Turkish Air Force. In Turkey, she saw combat in the invasion of Cyprus and was eventually retired to the desert in Turkey where she sat idle for 10 years. She was sold by the Turks and eventually brought back to the United States who intended to restore it. The owner failed to have the work done and eventually sold it to Dean. He and his crew ( Paul Swick and Jim “Prez” Prezbindowski) restored it including a new engine and numerous internal and external updates. She was returned to her USAF livery, although wearing civil registration N2011V. The Hun now resides in Fort Wayne, Indiana and is one of only several known flying examples left in the world. Of those known, Mr. Cutshall’s is the only one that flies regularly.

A-4 Skyhawk

The Warbird Heritage Foundation‘s second aircraft participating in the show was their A-4B Skyhawk. The Skyhawk replaced the AD-1 Skyraider on the decks of the Navy’s carrier fleet as the primary light bomber. The A-4 was extremely popular amongst the pilots and served in a number of roles for the Navy, Marines and numerous allied air arms. The aircraft’s agility and high subsonic speed made it an ideal aircraft to serve in other roles such as the Navy’s advanced trainer, adversarial aircraft (the aerial co-star of the original Top Gun film) and the mount of the Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration team from 1974 to 1986.

This particular Skyhawk is an early “B” model, built in 1958 and served with the US Navy until stricken from the records in February, 1970. The airframe’s history seems to be hazy from 1970-1980, but it appears she was serving as a technical trainer during that period. She was rescued from that role in 1987 and restoration to flight was initiated. She flew briefly in 1989 and then went on display at the EAA Oshkosh Museum. Warbird Heritage Foundation acquired the aircraft in 2007 and again restored her to flight status. Her first flight took place in 2009 and is now seen regularly at airshows across the Midwest region of the United States.

US Army Golden Knights

US Customs & Border Patrol Demo

The aerial branch of the SE Michigan branch of the US Customs & Border Patrol is stationed at Selfridge. They performed a demonstration of a rope extraction.

Team Selfridge Demo

Selfridge Air National Guard Base is the second largest joint Reserves bases in the United States. The primary occupant is the 127th Wing of the Michigan Air National Guard, with aircraft assets including the KC-135 Stratotanker, A-10 Thunderbolt II (Warthog) and C-130 Hercules. Additionally, the United States Coast Guard uses the facility for MH-65 Dolphin helicopter operations as Air Station Detroit. Other operators include components of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force Reserve, and Army Air National Guard, operating CH-47 Chinooks.

Czech-Mate Team

Michael Terfehr of 45 North Aviation leading the way in the T-33, Ron Staley in the blue L-39 and Scott Gusakov in the “Tumbling Goose” L-39.

The team formed in 2019 and primarily performs in the Midwest, with the aircraft being based in Michigan. All members of the team belong to the Classic Jet Aircraft Association and the Red Star Pilots Association. The L-39 Albatross is the worlds most numerically popular jet warbird at this time.

USAF C-17 Globemaster III Demo (East Coast)

The USAF C-17 East Coast Demo Team brought the huge Globemaster III to Selfridge. The team is based at Joint Base Charleston South Carolina. Although a large cargo aircraft, the pilots state that it handles like a fighter aircraft and is quite agile.

The C-17 began operations in 1993 with the USAF and is the primary medium cargo and troop transport. The aircraft is designed to to use short runways and allows for a large payload. The storage area can be configured to handle a number of different types of cargo, including seats, palletized cargo, and tracked vehicles.

RCAF CF-18 Hornet Demo

Our Canadian allies were represented by the CF-18 Hornet Demonstration Team. Captain Jesse “Modem” Haggart-Smith is the team’s demonstration pilot. Modem earned his wings in 2016 and has over 600 hours in the Hornet. The CF-18 is Canada’s primary fighter aircraft and the RCAF routinely deploys internationally to support allied nations and perform security duties requested by the United Nations.

Sadly, the CF-18 was only able to perform on Saturday. While the team brought two aircraft (standard for the airshow industry), both were subject to maintenance issues on Sunday.

USCG MH-65C Dolphin Demo

Selfridge is home to USCG Air Station Detroit. The MH-65 Dolphin is the assigned duties such as search and rescue, law enforcement and homeland security missions. Air Station Detroit has a large area of operations that include southern portion of Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario. In total, the area covers 1,100 miles of shoreline from Saginaw Bay, MI to the St. Lawrence Seaway.

USAF F-22 Raptor Demo

The feature performance of the 2022 show was the USAF F-22 Raptor. Maj. Joshua “Cabo” Gunderson provided a high energy demonstration of America’s premier air-superiority fighter.

Around The Field

Selfridge had a nice static display, but still small compared to prior years.

VAQ-131 Lancers EG-18G Growler

The static display highlight for me had to be the pair of Growlers from VAQ-131. The unit is stationed at NAS Whidbey Island, Washington. Seeing their CAG aircraft was great!

2022 World War II Weekend – Reading, PA

Mid-Atlantic Air Museum hosted the 31st annual World War II Weekend on June 3-5, 2022. Saturday’s crowd was believed to be a record, and enthusiasm was high with a large number of aircraft, WWII vehicles and reenactors.

Weather was near flawless with temperatures in the high 70s all weekend with no rain which traditionally plagues at least one day of the event. The weekend was not without challenges. Several aircraft were down for a portion or the entirety of the event due to mechanical issues. The CAF Corsair also struck a bird during Friday’s show, causing it to miss Saturday’s flight.

L-Birds

L-Bird is slang for the various liaison aircraft that served in nearly every major battle of the war. Liaison aircraft are light aircraft used for local observation and spotting for artillery units. The L-Birds were used from WWII through Vietnam. During Vietnam, the mission was eventually taken over by helicopters.

Trainers

Trainers were represented by several examples of all levels of the WWII trainers – Basic, Primary and Advanced.

“Jersey Jerk” T-6/SNJ Texan Formation Team

Pacific Theatre Bombers

Bombers from the Pacific Theatre of Operations were represented by the SBD Dauntless, Val Diver Bomber and Kate torpedo bomber.

SBD-5 Dauntless

The Dauntless was the US Navy’s dive bomber. The airframe served from the initial days of the war to the end. Although it was slow and considered obsolete, the aircraft and its crew used it with major success. The Dauntless is credited with sinking over 300,000 tons of enemy shipping, which includes five aircraft carries. Four of those were during the Battle of Midway.

This particular Dauntless is part of the Commemorative Air Force, and is operated at CAF Airbase Georgia. The aircraft has been with the CAF for a number of years, and was restored to its present condition during a multi-year restoration from 1991 – 1999. The paint scheme is accurate to the time period around the Battle of the Marianas (“The Marianas Turkey Shoot).

B5N2 “Kate”

Alan Armstrong owns this reproduction “Kate”, the Japanese Navy’s torpedo bomber. The aircraft is also part of the Commemorative Air Force, and is operated at CAF Airbase Georgia. The airframe was purposely built for use in the movie Tora! Tora! Tora! and has also been used in numerous other movies and television shows.

The aircraft is currently configured in the markings of the Group Leader from the Second Carrier Division of the Carrier Hiryu. The aircraft participated on the Pearl Harbor attack, with the specific target of the on the Battleship, U.S.S. California.

D3A “Val”

The Val was the Japanese equivalent to the SBD Dauntless at the outbreak of WWII. This specific aircraft is also a reproduction and was purposely built for for use in the movie Tora! Tora! Tora! The aircraft is owned by Ken Laird.

Medium Bombers

The medium bombers were represented this year by two B-25 Mitchells. The Delaware Aviation Museum brought their highly polished “Panchito” while Tom Duffy brought the natural aluminum finished “Take-Off Time” Both Mitchells are later “J” models with the bombardier nose.

“Take-Off Time”

“Panchito”

Panchito is one of the aircraft selling rides during the weekend, making it one of the busiest aircraft on the ramp.

Jerry Wells Aerobatic Demo

Perhaps the act that surprised me the most was Jerry Wells’ aerobatic demonstration in the BU-133 “Jungmeister.” Although an older design, the aircraft was in immaculate condition and was incredibly nimble. I was very entertained and surprised at the aggressiveness of the demo. I look forward to the next time I am able to see Mr. Wells perform.

Heavy Bombers

Heavy bombers in attendance included the Yankee Air Museum‘s B-17G Flying Fortress “Yankee Lady”, Commemorative Air Force’s B-29 Super Fortress “FiFi” and B-24 Liberator “Diamond Lil”.

“FiFi”

“FiFi” is the B-29 Superfortress belonging to the CAF B-29/B-24 Squadron. After the war, she was originally used as a missile target on the China Lake range. Thankfully she was not damaged and rescued by the CAF around 1970. She flew for a number of years as the lone airworthy B-29. In 2006 she was grounded due to engine maintenance. Original engines were problematic and spare parts in short supply. The decision was made to retrofit custom built engines to allow FiFi to return to the skies. After four years, she flew again in 2010.

“Yankee Lady”

Yankee Lady is a B-17G Flying Fortress built by Vega as USAAF serial number 44-85829. She was built too late to be used during the war and was placed into storage. She was eventually transferred to the United States Coast Guard, where she served until 1958. In 1959 she was sold for scrap mental, but was saved when purchased and used as an aerial firefighter in 1966. In 1969 Like several other aircraft in attendance, she was used in the filming of the movie Tora! Tora! Tora!

In 1985, she was purchased by the Yankee Air Force (as the Yankee Air Museum was known by at the time) and was immediately placed into the hangar for restoration. She returned to the skies in 1995 and is painted represent an aircraft in the markings of a B-17G assigned to the 8th Air Force, 381st Bomb Group flying out of Ridgewell, England.

“Diamond Lil”

“Diamond Lil” is the B-24 Liberator belonging to the CAF B-29/B-24 Squadron. She is likely the oldest surviving B-24 as her serial number is the 25th of 18,482 B-24s built. She was originally assigned to the Royal Air Force as a trainer, but a landing accident changed her fate. She was subsequently used as a B-24 trainer, B-24 development and a cargo variant (C-87) hauling parts between B-24 factories.

Diamond Lil became a member of the CAF in 1967 and was originally painted in the in the colors of the 98th BG, of the Ploesti oil field raid. In 2006 she was repainted and renamed. Then in 2012 it was decided to return her to her original name “Diamond Lil”. She subsequently suffered from a nose gear failure that required a year’s worth of restoration work. Like the B-29, she is one of two flying examples of the B-24 currently.

Fighters

The WWII fighters were well represented with five different examples flying.

P-39 Airacobra

Certainly one of the highlights was the appearance of the Military Air Museum‘s P-39 Airacobra. There are only a handful of these aircraft flying, so to see one is a rare treat. The aircraft is a P-39F, and was originally serving in Australia when it crashed on May 1, 1942 during a training exercise.

The aircraft was recovered in 1972 and subsequently restored. Although marked in USAAF markings, the aircraft is also marked as a P-39Q that was supplied to the Soviets.

P-63 King Cobra

The King Cobra is part of the Commemorative Air Force, and is operated at CAF Airbase Georgia. Although the P-63 looks similar to the P-39, it is actually a totally new design. It was redesigned to address some of the shortcomings of the P-39.

The airframe was sold as surplus in 1946 and flown by several civilians until 1975. After a legal battle, restoration began on the deteriorated airframe around 1980 by the CAF Missouri Wing. However, a flood damaged the hangar and numerous parts. The restoration was abandoned by the Missouri Wing and subsequently acquired by CAF Airbase Georgia in 1996. Full restoration was restarted in 1999 and the first flight was conducted in February, 2017. CAF decided to mark the aircraft in an accurate livery once completed. The aircraft now wears markings during its time with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) – the forerunner of today’s NASA.

The weekend highlight was the two Bell machines flying in formation.

P-40M Warhawk

” The Jacky C” is a P-40 owned by the American Airpower Museum.

P-51D Mustang

“Red Nose” is the nickname of this airframe and as is the aircraft that started the Commemorative Air Force. She now flies out of CAF Airbase Georgia. She began service in 1945 with the USAAF and served until 1947. She went into storage until 1951 when she was sold to the Canadian Air Force, where she served until 1957. She was then sold to the founders of the CAF in 1957.

A restoration was initiated in 1993 and she was transferred to Airbase Georgia in 2002. Red Nose represents the aircraft of Capt. David Howe, who flew with the 334th FS, 4th FG, 8th AF.

FG-1/F4U Corsair

Two Corsairs were present at the event. One from the CAF Airbase Georgia (checker pattern) and the other I believed to be owned by Tom Duffy. The checkered Corsair struck a bird on Saturday, so photo opportunities were limited.

Formation

The USAAF fighters formed up for a rare formation flight of four USAAF fighters.

Military Reenactment

One of the yearly highlights is the large battle reenactments. This year was based on the ETO.

Around the Field

There is so much to see and experience at the event. Aircraft, reenactor camps, WWII era themed entertainment.

P-61 Black Widow

The Mid-Atlantic Air Museum continues to restore their very rare P-61C Black Widow.

A special shout out goes out to the crew of “Beach City Baby”. She is a C-53 Skytrooper owned by Vintage Wings, Inc. My son and I met the crew at breakfast of our hotel, including the owner, Jason Capra. Each of these fellas were very fun, polite and gracious with their time to talk to my son.

I had the opportunity to watch them interact with other people on the show grounds. Their interactions with others were similar to ours. I can honestly say these guys are a class act all around.

Reenactor, Joseph Turi poses in front of his favorite aircraft, the P-40 Warhawk.

The CAF West Texas Wing brought the rare SB2C Helldiver. She was unable to participate in the flying portion of the show due to some mechanical issues. We were able to get a close up look when she was moved to the static display area.

VFA-105 Gunslingers 2021 Cruise Video

Enjoy the 2021 Cruise Video from VFA-105 “Gunslingers”. The unit is based out of NAS Oceana in Virginia Beach, Virginia and fly the F/A-18E Super Hornet. The unit is part of Carrier Air Wing Three and sail aboard the USS Eisenhower (CVN-69)

During the six month deployment (February 18 – July 13, 2021) Air Wing Three flew 6,100 sorties amassing 12,401 flight hours. The strike group flew missions in support of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) and Operation Freedom Sentinel (OFS).

“Tonight we ride!!!”

The History In An Image: “Betty’s Dream”

With the war in Europe over in May, 1945 the focus shifted to conclude the fighting in the Pacific. The island hoping campaign brought the fight to Okinawa in April, 1945. For two months the battle raged on with the end result being airfields to use to bring the 4-engine B-29 Super Fortress fleet over Japan. If this tactic failed, the Allies were set to invade Japan. Luckily, the B-29s were successful in bringing the Japanese to accept the surrender demands set forth by the Potsdam Conference of “Unconditional Surrender”. On August 15, 1945 the Japanese verbally accepted the terms of surrender, but no formal documents were yet signed.

On August 19, 1945 the Japanese surrender delegation of twelve officials was set to arrive at the airfield at Le Shima, Okinawa. Upon landing they would board a large American transport aircraft for the final flight the Philippines to sign the initial surrender documents. Although the surrender was ordered and announced by the Emperor of Japan, some radical military leaders still sought to fight to the bitter end. These radicals ordered what remained of the Japanese Air Force to shoot down any aircraft attempting to surrender. In light of this, the American’s ordered an escort and fighter protection (twelve P-38 Lightnings) set up for the two Japanese aircraft to ensure their arrival.  The Japanese surrender delegation were sent in two unarmed G4M “Betty” medium bombers. The Japanese aircraft were ordered to be painted all white with green crosses to prevent confusion and signify the party as surrender delegates. The delegates landed at Le Shima and were immediately transferred to two awaiting C-54 transports to take them to the Philippines to sign the documents.

“Betty’s Dream” with an escort B-17 and the two Japanese surrender aircraft. Four of the P-38 fighters can be seen flying top cover. Photo via USAAF

The American escort group was made up of six aircraft, with two being B-25 Mitchells from the “Air Apaches” of the 345th Bombardment Group based at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. The Air Apaches were selected specifically due to the large contributions the unit made to the overall Allied victory. It has been suggested, but unconfirmed, that the B-25 was selected as the main escort aircraft in tribute to the Doolittle Raiders.

USAAF Photo of the 499th Bombardment Squadron “Bats Outta Hell” assembled together
The business end of Betty’s Dream

One of those escort B-25s was named “Betty’s Dream”, serial number 44-30934 from the 499th Bombardment Squadron “Bats Outta Hell”. She was a B-25J gunship model with a solid nose that housed eight .50 Caliber machine guns. About 800 of the gunship variants were produced and used to fly missions at tree-top level against shipping, airfields, troop concentrations and fuel dumps. It is believed that the “Bats Outta Hell” were selected as an intimidation tactic due to the fearsome angry bat painted on the nose of all of the squadron’s aircraft in combination with the guns pointing out of the nose. The other B-25 was from the 498th Bombardment Squadron “Falcons” – also part of the Air Apaches.

The current “Betty’s Dream” in the twilight of the 2016 Planes of Fame Friday evening show

Betty was assigned to pilot Capt. Charles “Pop” Rice, the Operations Officer of the 499th and co-pilot Capt. Victor Tatelman in June, 1945. At the time of the surrender escort, she had 22 mission markings and two ship silhouettes, which represented two sunken Japanese ships. However, the surrender escort mission was flown by Maj. Wendell D. Decker. Capt. Tatelman was pilot in command of Betty’s Dream when the Japanese envoys returned to Japan. This return mission was of the utmost importance considering the Japanese only had one copy of the official and executed surrender documents.

The current mission markings simulate those of the original Betty’s Dream

By signing the initial surrender, the formal end to WWII was set. Betty’s Dream flew her last combat missions. It would take several weeks for the occupation and final surrender ceremony to be worked out. The formal Japanese surrender took place on September 2, 1945 onboard the Battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo harbor.

Photo pass of Betty’s Dream from the 2016 Planes of Fame Airshow

The fate of the original Betty’s Dream is unknown. It is highly likely she ended up in a smelter’s pit. Thankfully, history has been kept alive with the current representation of her. The current airframe was produced in August of 1945 as serial 45-8835. It served in Arkansas until written off and sold as surplus in 1946. It served as a civilian testbed until 1972 when it was sold and used as a fire bomber in Canada. In 1993 she returned to the United States and the restoration back to its bomber configuration began. In March, 1999 she returned to the skies as “Betty’s Dream”.

I fell in love with Betty’s Dream at the 2004 Thunder Over Michigan airshow. It was the first time I saw her and she was memorable. What stood out to me was the gunship configuration and the menacing angry bat nose art. At the time, most B-25s flying used the greenhouse bomber nose. I always hoped that the next year would bring her back to the Midwest where I attended most of my airshows at that time.

I had to wait until 2016 to see her again, this time at the Planes of Fame airshow in Chino, California. She is easily one of the most impressive and memorable of the current flying B-25 restorations. I hope the livery continues for years to come – and I do not have to wait as long to see her again!

A simulated bombing pass during the 2016 twilight show at the Planes of Fame museum
The B-25 was one of the most heavily modified USAAF aircraft of WWII. The gunship nose modification was ideal for strafing and put lots of ordinance in place quickly

Although not the original aircraft, the current representation of Betty’s Dream is amazing. As I said, what made her my favorite was the nose art. I did not learn of the historical significance of the markings until I started doing some research. History is literally right in front of you sometimes. Now you know some of the story of Betty’s Dream.

The History In An Image: “Dottie Mae”

“Dotttie Mae” has a story to her with a touch of history to go along with it. She is a P-47D Thunderbolt (P47D-28-RA), serial number 42-29150, and manufactured in 1944 at the Republic factory in Evansville, Indiana. She was assigned to the USAAF’s 9th Air Force on December 16, 1944, and served with the 405th Fighter Group, 511th Fighter Squadron.

Lt. Lawrence Kuhl had 17 combat missions in his log book when he was assigned a new P-47 airframe. To honor his wife, he named the plane “Dottie Mae” and had the Roberto Vargas pin up calendar artwork piece titled “Santa’s Little Helper” painted on the side.

After flying in 90 combat missions, Dottie’s flying career came to an end on May 8, 1945 when she crashed into a lake near Ebensee, Austria. Sadly, the incident was not related to combat, but instead as a celebration. The pilot that day, Lt. Henry Mohr, was flying low over a recently liberated concentration camp to boost the morale of the prisoners. However, he came down too low and the propeller blades clipped the water causing the aircraft to crash into the lake. The airframe sank, but luckily Lt. Mohr survived the incident and exited the aircraft. Dottie remained at the bottom of the lake for over 60 years. With the crash, Dottie Mae made history as the last USAAF aircraft lost “in action” in the European Theatre of Operations (ETO) during World War II.

In the summer of 2005, Dottie was raised from the lake in Austria, and in 2010 she brought to Idaho for restoration by Vintage Airframes, LLC. Surprisingly, she was reported to be in good shape considering she was in water for over six decades. Some of her original paint still remained including her name and nose art. The aircraft flipped over when she sank. The depth of the water, combined with the silt that collected over her underside surfaces preserved the aircraft nicely. The preservation is similar to the US Navy aircraft that sank in the Great Lakes during WWII.

The team at Vintage Airframes used original wartime design documents to make repairs and components. The owner spared no expense in restoring the aircraft to a “factory new” condition and the results are easily apparent. The preference was to use original parts if possible, then using new old stock or fabrication as a last resort. Dottie returned to the sky on her first post-restoration flight on June 23, 2017.

The aircraft is now owned by the “Allied Fighters” organization, which is based at the Chino, California airport. An excellent area for warbirds considering Planes of Fame Museum and Yank’s Air Museum are also located at the airport.

The return to flight is not the only bright spot in the story. When the restored Dottie was unveiled, three of her former crew were there to see her. Pilots Larry Kuhl (the one that named her) and Ralph Vanderkove were in the audience as well as one of her armorer’s, Leonard Hitchman.

After the war ended, many of the P-47s were scrapped rather than flown back or transported back to the United States. Of the approximately 15,000 P-47s built, Dottie is the only known combat veteran of either the 8th or 9th Air Force ETO area of operations with a combat history.

Dorie now makes many regular appearances at airshows on the West Coast. The casual person may identify the aircraft as a P-47, but few people know her place in history. She is a beautiful aircraft and it has been fun seeing her in her glory.

The USAF Heritage Flight (P-38, P-47 and A-10) flies over Dottie Mae
Dottie Mae, a P-47D, leads the Planes of Fame P-47G, an earlier version known as a “razor back” because of the solid spine behind the canopy
Dottie Mae leads the USAF F-16 Viper Demo Team during the Heritage Flight portion of a flight demonstration in 2019
Dottie Mae looking as beautiful as the day she was painted onto the P-47

2022 Space Coast International Airshow

The 2022 Space Coast International Airshow was held on May 21-22 at the Space Coast Regional Airport. The show had several highlights including the F-22 Raptor demo and the EA-18 Growler demo. The airshow announced that the static display was the largest in the show’s history. Most of the static aircraft were from the Valiant Air Command’s museum. Static highlights for me included the F-14 Tomcat, Canberra and F-4 Phantom II.

SOCOM PARA-COMMANDOS

The show openers were the SOCOM Para-Commandos, a joint unit comprised of active duty Army Special Forces, Navy SEALS, Air Force Combat Controllers and Marine Raiders.

John Black Aerobatics

Local performer, John Black, flies his Super Decathlon in an aerobatic routine. John retired from the US Air Force as a Lt. Colonel and flew F-15 Eagles for the Florida Air National Guard.

Valiant Air Command Warbirds

Three of Valiant Air Command‘s warbirds participated in the show. B-25 Mitchell “Killer Bee”, N2S Stearman, and C-47 Skytrain “Tico Belle”

Marchetti S.211

Doug Matthews piloted his Marchetti S.211 for his final public displays. This was my first time seeing this little trainer jet. Looks like a fun ride!

Army Aviation Heritage Foundation “The Sky Soldiers”

The Army Aviation Heritage Foundation brought three of their Vietnam veteran aircraft to perform. Two UH-1 Hueys and the AH-1 Cobra. Besides performing, rides were also available for purchase. These aircraft can be heard from a long distance and perhaps no other sound is as distinctive as those from these two types of helicopters.

A-10 Thunderbolt II (Warthog)

Two A-10s from the 76th Fighter Squadron “Vanguards” participated. The 76th is stationed at Moody AFB in Georgia and is part of the 476th Fighter Group. The unit has its origins with the original “Flying Tigers” and the “FT” tail code along with the shark mouth on the nose are a tribute to that legacy. Saturday’s performance featured both jets in flight, while Sunday only one of the jets flew while the other was in the static display area.

USN EA-18 Growler Legacy Demo Team

One of the newer demo teams on the airshow circuit is the EA-18 Growler team. Traditionally the display is a 2-ship performance. However for the entire weekend, the second jet was down due to a mechanical issue. Saturday’s display was flown by Flt. Lt. Tom “Fogo De Chao” Budd (an exchange pilot from the RAAF) and Lt. Brandon “Fat Amy” Baker. Sunday’s performance was flown by Lt. Eddie “Ham” Desch and Lt. Kelsey “DIP” Daucher (a graduate of Florida Institute of Tech, located in nearby Melbourne, FL).

Legacy Flight

Stuart Milson piloted Cavanaugh Flight Museum‘s AD-5W (EA-1E) Skyraider. This Legacy Flight was special since the formation included two electronic warfare aircraft. The museum’s Skyraider was delivered to the Navy in 1955 and served in VAW-12 “Bats” until 1960. The airframe was then transferred to VAW-11 until it was retired from service in 1963. The airframe is painted in the scheme it wore while serving in VAW-12. In addition to the Skyraider, Stuart Milson performs the heritage flight in numerous Navy warbirds including the Corsair, Hellcat and Bearcat.

Buck Roetman – Wild Horse Aviation

Buck Roetman founded Wild Horse Aviation in 2006 and is a modified Pitts S2S aircraft. The routine is a high-energy performance that thrills up high and down low to the surface. Buck has flown for over 35 years and has over 13,500 hours of experience. He began performing at airshows in 1998. In addition to flying, he also serves as an Aerobatic Competency Examiner for the International Council of Air Shows (ICAS).

USAF F-22 Raptor Demo

Maj. Joshua “Cabo” Gunderson shredded the skies in the F-22 Raptor. With the area’s high humidity, the jet made plenty of vapor clouds. The Raptor demo is simply amazing since the jet is so powerful and utilizes thrust vectoring. Even though I have seen this demo many times now, it continues to amaze me with the level of control and power available at any given second.

Heritage Flight

Stuart Milson also performed the Heritage Flight in P-51D Mustang “Brat III” from Cavanaugh Flight Museum. The museum’s P-51 was manufactured in 1944 and shipped to England. It was assigned to the 9th Air Force, 370th Fighter Group, 401st Fighter Squadron, and was flown by Lt. Hjalmar Johnsen.

2022 Heritage Flight Training Conference

The 2022 Heritage Flight Training Course took place at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base the first week of March. The aircraft and personnel began to arrive March 1 and flying operations were conducted between March 3 to March 6.

The USAF Heritage Flight is a formation flight of modern military aircraft with aircraft from World War II, Korea or Vietnam. The formations may include two aircraft and may be as large as four aircraft. The formations serve as a salute to our nation’s aerial air power and rich aviation history. Additionally, the formation serves as a living memorial to the men and women who have served – or are currently serving in our armed forces.

Although the formations look pretty simple, training for the crews, both USAF and civilian, is absolutely necessary. Training includes formations, timing and safety.

The Warbirds

This year saw a much smaller variety of aircraft attend, with only P-51s and a lone F-86 Sabre. Although this may seem disappointing to some, the collection of aircraft was still impressive.

A-10 Thunderbolt II (Warthog) Demo Team

Major Hayden “Gator” Fullam is the A-10 demo team pilot and commanding officer of the team. The demo is part of the 354th Fighter Squadron “Bulldogs” and is based at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona. The A-10 is the USAF’s dedicated close air support aircraft and still unrivaled in the world despite being designed in the early 1970s. Although its official name is Thunderbolt II, the nickname “Warthog” is universally accepted and used by the pilots and maintainers.

The team usually brings two jets to an airshow, a specially painted “demo” jet and a spare from the available pool of squadron aircraft. The demo jet is currently painted in a Southeast Asia camouflage scheme, a tribute to the close air support aircraft of the Vietnam era. Sadly, the demo jet was not used either day I visited the conference.

2-Ship Heritage Flight with P-51 Mustang

In this session, Maj. Fullam flies with Bruce “Doc” Winter in his P-51D Mustang “Happy Jack’s Go Buggy”. The routine was flown twice, allowing each pilot the opportunity to lead the formation.

The practice also included a variation of the final break, which includes a turn into the opposite aircraft, which appears to be a cross-over, or a turn away (split break) from the opposite aircraft.

F-16 Fighting Falcon (Viper) Demo Team

Captain Aimee “Rebel” Fiedler is the newly appointed demo pilot for the Viper Demo Team. The demo is part of the 55th Fighter Squadron, located at Shaw AFB in Sumter, South Carolina.

Since 2020, the demo jet has been affectionately known as Venom, with the USAF applying special snake markings on the jet. Many other countries have applied special paint schemes to their demo aircraft, and this has been a welcomed addition by the USAF.

2-Ship Heritage Flight with F-86 Sabre

This session is an example of a multiple jet formation, two very successful USAF aircraft, the F-16 Viper and F-86 Sabre. The F-86 Sabre “HELL-ER Bust X” is owned by Comanche Fighters, and is piloted by Dan Friedkin. Mr. Friedkin is the founder and chairman of the Air Force Heritage Flight Foundation, the nonprofit organization that funds and supports the USAF Heritage Flight.

Like the A-10 demo, the routine was performed twice, with each respective jet taking turns leading the formation.

F-35A Lightning II Demo Team

Major Kristin “Beo” Wolfe is the demo pilot and commanding officer of the F-35A demo team. The team is part of the 421st Fighter Squadron, based at Hill AFB, Utah.

4-Ship Heritage Flight with 3 P-51 Mustangs

TF-51 Mustang “Bum Steer”
P-51D Mustang “Fragile But Agile” – owned by Comanche Fighters
P-51D Mustang “Double Trouble Two” – owned by Tom Friedkin

Like the other demos, the formations focused on the three respective P-51s each sharing a turn leading the formation. The others would assume left and right wing.

I have to admit that of all four demo teams, the F-35 team seems to be having the most fun. Maj. Wolfe got out of the cockpit with a smile on her face and congratulated the entire team planeside after each performance. I like seeing that kind of mutual respect and a close team.

F-22 Raptor Demo Team

Major Joshua “Cabo” Gunderson is the demo pilot and commanding officer of the F-22 demo team. The team is part of the 1st Fighter Wing, based at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. The Raptor is the USAF’s air superiority fighter, and is widely considered the most capable fighter plane in the world.

3-Ship Heritage Flight with 2 P-51 Mustangs

P-51D Mustang “Val-Halla” owned by the Heritage Flight Museum and piloted by Greg Anders.
P-51D Mustang “Dolly/Spam Can” owned by Planes of Fame and piloted by Steven Hinton Jr.

The formation flew the routine three times. Each Mustang led the formation, with the final time having the F-22 lead.

“Practice Makes Perfect”

Some of the formations above may seem distant and out of place. However, these practice flights provide the training and experience necessary to master the formations seen at airshows and events across the country. By the end of the training syllabus, the formations are sharp and what you come to expect of the Heritage Flight. It was very neat to see the process and progress during the time at Davis-Monthan.

Thank You

I have to give a shout out to my friend Craig for suggesting this adventure (and the Blue Angels Winter Training trip). I also wish to thank his friend and now my new friend, Brad Bowen, for sponsoring us onto the base. Without it, the coverage and our experience of the ACC Heritage Flight Conference would be much different. Thanks fellas for a couple of great days and a memorable experience!

2021 Thunder Over Michigan Airshow

The 2021 Thunder Over Michigan Airshow took place on August 6-8 at the historic Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The theme for the event was a gathering of B-25 Mitchells, with the headlining performance of the USAF Thunderbirds. This was also a year for firsts for the show.

Many airshows cancelled due to Covid-19. However, the crew at Thunder Over Michigan elected to try a 2-show per day, drive-in style format show to be socially responsible yet provide an airshow to the airplane fanatics that craved the rumble of round engines and jet noise. The show morphed into one of the largest in the country when the US Navy’s Blue Angels announced that they would also appear at the show. Thunder Over Michigan was one of only several shows that would host both US jet teams at the same show. The lineup of warbird aircraft, military demos and the TWO jet teams made this one of the best airshows I have ever attended.

Jim Tobul – F4U Corsair “Korean War Hero” Aerobatics

The F4U-4 Corsair “Korean War Hero” (BuNo. 97143/N713JT) owned by Jim Tobul has a combat history aboard two aircraft carriers and two squadrons. The aircraft flew with VF-884 aboard the USS Boxer, and then later with VF-653 aboard the USS Valley Forge. In total the aircraft flew 200 sorties during the Korean War. In 1960, the aircraft was sold to and used by the Honduran Air Force until approximately 1970. In 1981, the Tobul family purchased the aircraft and began a 10-year restoration of the aircraft.

German Luftwaffe A400M Atlas Demo

Thunder Over Michigan has had a fantastic relationship with the German Luftwaffe over the past several years, hosting several different types of aircraft. The A400M demo at Thunder Over Michigan was the first in North America for the type. The Atlas is roughly the equivalent to the USAF C-17 Globemaster III. Although the Atlas is a turboprop, it has very good performance and handling for an aircraft of its size. Very impressive demo!

B-17G Flying Fortress “Yankee Lady” and the Little Friends

The Yankee Air Museum’s flagship aircraft, “Yankee Lady” performed in the show making several passes with P-51 Mustangs. Arguably, the B-17 and P-51 are the two most iconic aircraft associated with the USAAF 8th Air Force and the Americans participation in the ETO.

USAF F-35A Lightning II Demo Team

The most impressive single-ship demonstration of the event in my opinion was the USAF F-35 demo. Major Kristen “Beo” Wolfe absolutely shredded the skies in the F-35A Lightning II, the USAF’s newest “lightweight” strike-fighter. The F-35 Demo Team comes from the 388th Fighter Wing, based at Hill AFB, Utah. The skies were challenging, but the crowd was rewarded with amazing photo opportunities of this amazing aircraft and pilot. The aircraft and demo profile bring everything airshow fans want…lots of jet noise, vapes and burner!

USAF A-10 Thunderbolt II Demo Team

Maj. Hayden “Gator” Fullam piloted the USAF A-10 Warthog Demo. The team is based at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ. The aircraft continues to be the premier close air support aircraft in the world. Although I have seen this demo many times, it is still one of my favorites! HOOOGGG!!

USAF Heritage Flight

The USAF Heritage Flight was 3-ship performance, consisting of a P-51D Mustang “Moonbeam McSwine”, and the A-10 and F-35 demo teams.

US Navy Blue Angels

As I said in the intro, this was a solid airshow. With the announcement that the Blues would be in attendance as well propelled this show into the stratosphere. This was the 75th Anniversary of the team, as well as, the team’s first year in the F/A-18 Super Hornets. The team was the morning headliner, and for Sunday’s performance, the team wore yellow flightsuits. Yellow flightsuits are now seen very often and are reserved for special occasions.

Gathering of B-25 Mitchells

The warbird headlining act was the gathering of B-25 Mitchells. In attendance were 14 of the medium bombers. On static display was another, “Sandbar Mitchell”, which is currently being restored. There were several others scheduled to attend, but mechanical issues, Covid-19 travel restrictions or weather prevented the aircraft from attended. Regardless, this was a very impressive collection of B-25s.

The only one I was unable to photograph in the air was “Georgia Mae.” She did not participate in Sunday’s performance.

“Champaign Gal”

Champaign Aviation Museum’s B-25 is “J” model with USAAF serial number 44-28866, and wears civilian registration of N744CG. The airframe was used by the Air Force until 1957. It was retired to the boneyard, and then sold for use as an aerial firefighter until the late 1980s. She was acquired by the museum in 2008, and regularly takes her to airshows around the Midwest.

“Devil Dog”

Devil Dog is part of the Commemorative Air Force, and is the lone aircraft of the “Devil Dog” Squadron. The Devil Dog represents a PBJ-1J in the markings of VMB 612 squadron. The airframe is a B-25J-30-NC and has the serial number is 44-86758. Civilian registration is N9643C.

“Georgie’s Gal”

Liberty Aviation Museum’s B-25 is also a “J” model, with USAAF serial number 44-86777, and wears civilian registration N345BG. She continued with USAF service until 1958. After that she was bought and sold several times and used for various task including executive transport and cargo. Liberty Aviation Museum acquired the aircraft in 2011 and underwent an extensive restoration.

“Killer B”

Tom Reilly owns Killer B, a “J” model, with USAAF serial number44-86697, and wears civilian registration N62163. The aircraft was basically surplus upon completion at the factory. She was shipped for storage and then eventually transferred to the RCAF. After RCAF duties, she was owned by serval civilians and subsequently used by several Latin American air forces. Reilly restored the aircraft and made the first flight as Killer B in 1995. The aircraft is now home in Titusville, Florida.

“Lady Luck”

C&P Aviation services brought Lady Luck, a “J” model, with USAAF serial number45-8884, and wears civilian registration N5833B. She served with the USAF until 1958, wherein she was sold to numerous civilian owners, including the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. She was acquired by C&P in 1993, and the aircraft is located in Minnesota.

“Maid in the Shade”

Commemorative Air Force owns “Maid in the Shade” a “J” model, with USAAF serial number43-35972, and wears civilian registration N125AZ. She is part of the Air Base Arizona squadron. The airframe has combat history in the Mediterranean Theatre of operations based in Corsica. She ended service with the USAF in 1950. After that she was used as an aerial sprayer. She was obtained by the CAF in 1981.

“Miss Mitchell”

Commemorative Air Force owns “Miss Mitchell” a “J” model, with USAAF serial number44-29869, and wears civilian registration N27493. She is part of the Minnesota Wing of the CAF. The aircraft pays tribute to the original aircraft that served with the 310th Bomb Group, 380th Bomb Squadron during 1944-45 in the Mediterranean. The current nose art was painted by the same artist that painted the original “Miss Mitchell” nose art on the original aircraft in 1944.

“Rosie’s Reply”

Yankee Air Museum owns Rosie’s Reply. Unlike most other Mitchells in attendance, she is an early “D” model, with USAAF serial number43-3634, and wears civilian registration N3774. Like “Maid in the Shade”, Rosie has combat history in the Mediterranean, having flown at least eight combat missions. The airframe was initially meant for the RAF, but was forced into USAAF service temporarily. She did return to North America in 1944 and was transferred to the RCAF for use as a training aircraft. She left RCAF service in 1968 and was eventually purchased by Glen Lamont and flown as “Gallant Warrior”. In 1988 she was acquired by the Yankee Air Museum and renamed “Yankee Warrior.” In early 2021, she was repainted into the current scheme, and is representative of the original look during her combat service in the MTO.

“Semper Fi”

Commemorative Air Force owns “Semper Fi”, a  PBJ-1J (the only known flying example). The PBJ is the Navy variant of the B-25 and is manufactured as a B-25J-30-NC. Her serial number is 44-30988 and wears civilian registration N5865V. Semper Fi is part of the Southern California Wing of the CAF. Semper Fi was produced too late in the war to see service, was eventually sold as surplus in 1947. CAF acquired her after numerous civilian owners in 1988 and began a lengthy restoration that was completed in 2016.

“Show Me”

Commemorative Air Force owns “Show Me”, a a “J” model, with USAAF serial number44-31385, and wears civilian registration N345TH. She is part of the Missouri Wing of the CAF. The airframe served as a trainer with the USAF until 1959. She was subsequently sold as surplus. After several private owners, she was purchased by the CAF in 1982.

“Take-Off Time”

Tom Duffy owns Take-Off Time, a “J” model, with USAAF serial number44-30832, and wears civilian registration N3155G. The aircraft is frequently seen at many Mid West. Little other details appear to be available about the aircraft.

“Wild Cargo”

The Military Air Museum owns Wild Cargo, a “J” model, with USAAF serial number44-30129, and wears civilian registration N7947C. The airframe served with the USAF as a trainer until 1958. It was subsequently sold as surplus. After a handful of other owners, the Military Air Museum acquired the airframe in 1997 and was restored to flight status in 2005. In addition to the B-25, the Military Air Museum has a large number of flyable WWI and WWII aircraft. It is well worth the trip to Virginia Beach, VA to check this collection out!

“Yankee Doodle” aka “Axis Nightmare”

The Tri-State Warbird Museum owns “Yankee Doodle”, a “J” model, with USAAF serial number45-8898, and wears civilian registration N898BW. The airframe was produced too late in the war to see service. She was immediately placed into storage. Eventually, she served as a trainer with the USAF until 1959. After being purchased as surplus, the aircraft was only flown for a handful of years before sitting derelict. She was recovered in 1983 and began flight again after a restoration in 1985. Tri-State Warbird Museum acquired the aircraft in 2004 and was flown in the markings of the RAF with nose art of “Axis Nightmare.” The aircraft is now a “star”, having been one of the two B-25s used to Hulu remake of the film “Catch-22.” It currently wears the nose art of “Yankee Doodle.” It is uncertain if the current scheme will remain or if the museum will revert it back to “Axis Nightmare.”

“Georgia Mae”

Wiley Sanders from Alabama owns Georgia Mae, a “J” model, with USAAF serial number44-86785, and wears civilian registration N5262V. Like several others in attendance, this airframe was produced too late in the war to see service and was immediately placed into storage. It was eventually used by the USAF as a trainer and sold as surplus in 1958. The current owner purchased it in 1983 and completed restoration in 1985. Little else is known about the aircraft.

US Navy EA-18G Growler Demo Team

The USN Growler team made their first Michigan appearance. The EA-18G Growler is the Navy’s electronic warfare and countermeasures aircraft. The Growler is a variant of the F/A-18F Super Hornet, with modifications to the aircraft for the specifics of electronics warfare. The most notable difference from the Super Hornet is the addition of the electronic pods on the wingtips instead of the usual missile rails.

The team does not perform a full aerobatic demonstration of the aircraft, but does provide several nice high-performance passes and climbs.

“Mad Max” P-51 Mustang Aerobatics

Lou Horschel performed an aerobatic routine in his TP-51D Mustang. The airframe is USAAF serial number 45-11559 and wears civilian registration of N51MX.

US Navy Legacy Flight

The Legacy flight returned to the Michigan skies in the form of the EA-18 Growler along with Jim Tobul’s F4U-4 Corsair. The formation was done fantastically.

USAF Thunderbirds

The featured jet team for the afternoon performance was the USAF Thunderbirds. The ceiling for Sunday’s performance was not ideal, but the team still pulled off a fantastic show and capped a memorable airshow.

Closing

The 2021 show certainly set the bar high for future Thunder Over Michigan airshows. Whether this is a blessing or a curse is yet to be determined. Regardless, the event was a huge success, and it was wonderful to see all of the aircraft in the sky above Michigan. I wish to thank Yankee Air Museum’s Executive Director, Kevin Walsh, for his continued support of my airshow photography.

Blue Angels Winter Training 2022

The United States Navy Blue Angels deploy to NAF El Centro annually to transition the new members of the team and train for the upcoming airshow season. 

While at El Centro, the team performs twice daily, six days a week. This rigorous flight schedule allows the team members to learn and eventually perfect the flight demonstration. The team’s training is not limited to just the flight activity. The team’s narrator is memorizing his performance, and the ground crew is practicing the pre-flight checks and movements. Each flight is taped and debriefed. Maintenance is performed. Basically, each function of the team is honed while deployed.

NAF El Centro is in the heart of California’s Imperial Valley. Locally, the base is surrounded by farm land and nearby is a vast desert. The team performs over the base two days a week, with the remainder of the practice flights taking place over the desert range. It may seem odd to some since most airshows are performed at bases or airports. The desert flights allow the team to sharpen their skills with little danger to civilians as well as practice routines remotely for beach type airshows. The days at base are adored by the Blue Angel fans that flock to the watch the practice demos.

On March 3, 2022 I had the opportunity to attend one of the practice days at El Centro. This has been an aviation “bucket list” item for many years. Let me tell you that the experience was everything I had hoped it would be! A close friend of mine (also an aviation photographer) met me in Arizona to share the adventure.

We arrived early at El Centro, hoping to get a good spot to experience the take-off “blast.” Numerous other people had the same idea. However, people were kind and let us set up around them. The basic rules of aviation photography were expected – do not get in my way and we are good! After a brief wait, we noticed the team taxiing out for the first practice hop.

The excitement was building in my body. I did what seemed to be the thousandth check of my gear. I looked around to make sure I was not in my neighbor’s way and no one was in mine. The hand-held scanner I brought was tuned to the team. Meanwhile the four-ship diamond was at one end of the runway while jets Five and Six were now less than 100 yards away from us. And just like that we heard Boss announce “let’s go, brakes off…burners NOW!”

The diamond formation was headed straight at us on centerline of the runway” As the team lifted off, the slot pilot immediately moves into position. Just as he gets into position, they clear the fence and fly right over you in FULL MAXIMUM POWER! The coolest thing a jet nut can experience. However, it was the loudest thing I have ever experienced in my life. I was not prepared and did not have hearing protection, so I had to immediately cover my ears. The rush of the jets is exhilarating and amazing. You felt the air pressure change and the wind of the jets passing. Jet exhaust smells were also afoot. They flew over us at about 30 yards above our heads! 

As the diamond pulled up and into their show opening loop, the two solo jets moved into take-off position. As the diamond roared back over the runway, the solos went to full burner and took off. A second deafening blast of jet noise!

Squirrel Cage Loop on Take-Off

After the solos departed, the team went through the show demo. The end of field perspective is a completely different visual experience than being at show center or even on the show line. The benefit is that you get to see the team at different angles and how they position themselves to make the maneuvers happen at show center. 

Coming at us head on on the downside of the “Dirty Loop”

After the entire show is performed, the team sets up to land. It was really amazing how quickly the flight demo was over. The team performed the traditional pitch break to land and came down. After all six jets were down, the team taxied back in Blue Angel formation style.

Pitch Break to Land

The bonus for our trip was the USAF Thunderbirds were also at El Centro. Recently, the two teams have been doing combined training for a week each year. This year, the Thunderbirds were visiting the Blue Angels. We had just missed out on a dual training day. The Thunderbirds were only set to depart. Eventually the Thunderbirds fired up the jets and taxied to the long runway and took off individually. We were very disappointed, as we were hoping for another jet blast off. The team did form up and did a delta pass and a delta break. While not exactly what I was hoping for, it was fantastic to see both teams.

After the Thunderbirds departed, it was some downtime before the second flight demo. It was not quiet the entire time. Two C-2 Greyhounds from VRC-30 worked the pattern for almost an hour. They made several landings and take-offs or did simulated touch-n-go landings. a UH-1N also came in. Meanwhile, Thunderbird 14 came in, a C-17 Globemaster III arrived to pick up the team’s communications trailers and tools.

As the C-17 was loaded, the C-2s continued their pattern work. Suddenly, we noticed a fire truck racing up the runway. The lead C-2 abruptly lined up for landing and we noticed engine two was off with props feathered. It executed and emergency landing and was met by the fire trucks. Eventually, it taxied back to the hangar on one engine. Meanwhile, the second C-2 needed a place to land and the long runway was fouled by the emergency landing earlier. The C-2 lined up on the other runway and came in on approach from behind us! What a great experience being buzzed by the COD at a little over 30 yards above our heads. Also, during this time, a T-34C Turbo Mentor also came in, flying approach from behind us.

After the pattern excitement wore down, the Blues were back in the jets and ready to do the day’s second practice. I had checked my bag and found a pair of ear plugs to use for the second jet blast take-off. Identical to earlier, the jets moved into position. Boss made the call to go into burners and the jets came roaring at us. The diamond formation roared overhead. This time, I was able to photograph the entire process. The noise was still at extreme levels but the ear plugs made it bearable for the seconds the jets were above us. Max adrenaline was again flowing!

The afternoon practice was modified in several ways. The cloud cover changed from the morning to afternoon, so Boss made several changes to work in some low-show maneuvers. Additionally, the delta break was performed three times, with a different variation each time. During this portion, the flight surgeon was radioing the team to announce visual imperfections to help improve the formation. This is not uncommon and she also serves as one of the team’s safety observers. I thought it was neat to hear the improvements required since visually the maneuver looked flawless. 

As the six jets landed and went back in for the day, we moved back to the car. Although the jets were down the excitement and adrenaline were still freshly pumping. We had a long drive ahead of us to get back to Arizona for the next chapter of our aviation adventure. 

Reflecting back on the experience, I can say it was one of the most exhilarating and unique experiences of my aviation life. There is no way to really explain the feeing or the sheer noise of the take-off. Winter training was an experience that I do not regret and highly recommend as an aviation enthusiast (just make sure to bring hearing protection)!! 

Your 2022 United States Navy BLUE ANGELS!!!

2021 Thunder Over New Hampshire

Pease ANGB located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire hosted the 2021 Thunder Over New Hampshire show on September 11-12. This was the base’s first show in ten years and included a historic first flight demo of the KC-46A Pegasus tanker which are stationed at the base.

Show Opener: USSOCOM Para-Commandos, Mike Wiskus and RI ANG C-130

The anthem performance opened the show with the USSOCOM Para-Commandos jumping from a Rhode Island ANG C-130 and Mike Wiskus providing the traditional airshow opening.

F-35A Lightning II – Vermont ANG

“The Green Mountain Boys” of the Vermont Air National Guard’s 134th Fighter Squadron provided the “sound of freedom” as the anthem concluded. They are the first Air National Guard unit to fly the F-35A and operate out of the Burlington ANGB.

Greg “Wired” Colyer – T-33 Shooting Star

Greg Colyer of Ace Maker Airshows brought his beautiful T-33 Shooting Star “Ace Maker” (N933GC). The T-33 is the trainer variant of the F-80 Shooting Star, and went on to serve for many years as the advanced trainer for the United States and many other allied nations.

Rob Holland

Nashua, New Hampshire native Rob Holland performed in his MXS-RH. Rob is the current US National Aerobatic Champion (10 consecutive years). Learn more about Rob Holland and his amazing custom MRX aircraft at Ultimate Airshows.

USAF F-22 Raptor

Major Joshua “Cabo” Gunderson piloted the F-22 Raptor. The F-22 Raptor demo is part of the 1st Fighter Wing, operating from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.

Scott Yoak P-51 Mustang “Quick Silver” aerobatics

Scott Yoak performed an aerobatic display in his P-51 Mustang known as “Quick Silver” (NL51HY). Quick Silver was restored over several years by his father, Bill Yoak, whom brought the aircraft to better than factory new when the restoration was complete. More information about the aircraft and its story can be found at the Quick Silver Website.

Mike Wiskus Aerobatics

Mike Wiskus performed a full display in his Pitts S-1-11B known as the “Super Stinker”. Mike is set to retire from airshows after the 2021 season.

New Hampshire ANG KC-46 Pegasus Demonstration

The 157th Air Refueling Wing located at Pease ANGB in Portsmouth, New Hampshire flew the first public demonstration of the USAF’s newest aerial refueling tanker, the KC-46A Pegasus. The unit currently operates 12 of the aircraft and are the only Air National Guard Unit assigned the aircraft.

USAF Thunderbirds

The USAF Thunderbirds were the feature act of the afternoon. The display was shortened due to an issue with the 5 jet. Maj. Curran landed and immediately went to a ready two-seater, and rejoined the display for the delta maneuvers.

Around the Airfield