Category Archives: 2022 AIrshow

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!

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!!!