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.
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.
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!