The annual NAS Oceana airshow was held on September 17-18. The show was headlined by the US Navy Blue Angels, but featured several other jet demos and some of the top name civilian performers. The weather was absolutely some of the best comparatively to years past with nice skies and comfortable temperatures. The show is always well attended, but this year it seemed to be a larger crowd. There was a noticeable difference in the static display size, with very few aircraft on static display. The Andrews AFB show was held the same weekend, and many people speculated that USAF assets went to that show. However, many of the squadron CAG jets were out for review. Several were back in the “zoo” (the storage area during the show), which was disappointing. But the aerial performance was strong and had a good variety of aircraft and acts.
US Navy Leap Frogs
The show opened with the Leap Frogs jumping in the flag and several demonstrations of canopy relative work. It is their first time performing at Oceana in a number of years, and it was great to see them again. The team is made up of active-duty Navy SEALs, Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCC) and support personnel. The team jumped from a MH-53C helicopter from HM-12 “Sea Dragons”.
USAF F-16 Viper Demo Team
The Viper returned to Oceana with Capt. Aimee “Rebel” Fiedler piloting “Venom” the specially painted F-16 demo jet. She flies a great demo and had some vapes on the photo pass.
Bob Carlton’s Jet Powered Glider
Bob Carlton brought his
Fleet Air Power Demo
The Air Power Demonstration is a brief glimpse at the Carrier’s might. The squadrons that participated this year included: VFA-87 “Golden Warriors”, VFA-105 “Gunslingers”, VFA-213 “Black Lions”, VFA-32 “Swordsmen”, VFA-31 “Tomcatters”, VFA-131 “Wildcats”, VFA-83 “Rampagers”. Demos included air-to-air air combat maneuvers, several different air-to-ground delivery simulations and air-to-air refueling.
US Coast Guard
The US Coast Guard had representation for the first time in a number of years. A HC-130 Hercules and MH-60 Jayhawk from Air Station Elizabeth City flew a formation pass, followed by a solo pass of each.
Skip Stewart muscled his highly modified Pitts aircraft known as “Prometheus” though a high-energy routine. He is a difficult act to photograph since the plane is constantly moving on all axis, but he is a fantastic act to watch.
Matt Younkin flew his Twin Beech 18 “Miss Ellie” through an aerobatic routine that defies what the aircraft was designed to do. Although not traditionally known as an aerobatic aircraft, Matt shows that it indeed can perform rolls and loops! Great routine with lots of smoke.
US Navy F-35C Lightning II Demo
To me, the F-35C demo stole this year’s show. The “Charlie” model is the Navy and Marine Corps fixed-wing version of the F-35, which features a larger wing for better handling during the landing sequence on an aircraft carrier and more robust landing gear. The F-35 is the fleet’s stealth strike-fighter, and is an impressive machine. Love all the noise and vapes!
US Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet East Coast Demo
Although I enjoyed the F-35 demo, the hometown Super Hornet demo was still impressive! The team is based at NAS Oceana and participates in about a dozen shows a year, primarily on the East Coast. The team is made up of instructors from VFA-106 Gladiators, the East Coast RAG (FRS) squadron. We were hoping for a vape cone, but the conditions were not letting it happen.
US Navy Legacy Flight
The CAF Dixie Wing F4U/FG-1 Corsair was on hand to fly along with the F-35 and F/A-18 demo teams to perform the Legacy Flight. It was great to see and the wing fold salute at the end is what caps off performance. Fly Navy!
Hayden Proffitt – Hot Streak Jet Truck
Hayden Proffitt II performed and raced in his “Hot Streak II” jet truck. Hayden is the grandson of NHRA legend, Hayden Proffitt, and a veteran of the USAF. His truck, a highly modified 1957 Chevy with two jet engines, 25,000 horsepower and capable of 350+ MPH!!
US Navy’s Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Team
I started and ended my 2022 airshow season with the Blue Angels. The team performed a very tight routine and looked great going into the final third of their performance season.
Around the Field
Here are a few highlights from the static display.
Here is the 2022 cruise video from the Red Rippers of VFA-11. The unit is based at NAS Oceana, Virginia, flying the F/A-18F Super Hornet. The unit is part of Carrier Air Wing One, and deploys onboard the USS Harry S Truman (CVN-75).
Photos of the CAG Jet
The CAG jet was on display at the 2022 NAS Oceana Airshow.
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).
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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)!!
The “Tomcatters” of VFA-31 recently posted their 2021 Westpac Deployment cruise video. The unit is part of Air Wing Eleven (CVW-11) and sails aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71). The Tomcatters are stationed at NAS Oceana in Virginia Beach, VA and fly the F/A-18E Super Hornet.
The 2020 cruise of the Tomcatters of VFA-31. The unit is based at NAS Oceana in Virginia Beach, VA and fly the F/A-18E Super Hornet. The Tomcatters are part of Air Wing Eleven (CVW-11) and deploy aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt CVN-71.
Additionally, the VFA-31 deck crew made a video to show ops from the flight deck.
Enjoy the 2021 cruise video from the “Swordsmen” of VFA-32. The unit recently returned from a six-month deployment aboard the USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN-69). The unit is part of Carrier Air Wing 3 (CVW-3) and is stationed at NAS Oceana in Virginia Beach, VA flying F/A-18F Super Hornets.
Enjoy the 2020-2021 Cruise Video from VFA-137 Kestrels. The Kestrels are based at NAS Lemoore and fly the F/A-18E Super Hornet. VFA-137 is part of Carrier Air Wing 17. When deployed, Carrier Air Wing 17 currently sails on the USS Nimitz (CVN-68).
A short video, but provides some fantastic footage!