Tag Archives: F/A-18 Super Hornet

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!!!

VFA-31 Tomcatters 2021 Westpac Deployment

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.

Felix Rules!

VFA-31 Tomcatters 2020 WESTPAC Cruise Video

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.

Felix Rules!

VFA-32 Swordsmen 2021 Cruise Video

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.

The aerial footage is exceptional in this video!

VFA-137 Kestrels 2020-2021 Cruise Video

Above feature photo by LTJG Christopher Forero.

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!

The History In An Image: US Navy’s Legacy Flight – The Strike-Fighter

The image above is the US Navy’s Legacy Flight from the 2017 Cleveland National Air Show. CAF Dixie Wing’s FG-1D Corsair leads a F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-106 Gladiators. Traditionally, this is always a highlight of an airshow for me when a warbird flies formation with a current military aircraft. I was exhilarated at the time since the combination of a Corsair and Super Hornet was something I rarely witnessed – along with the fact that two of my favorite aircraft were together. What I failed to recognize when I took this image is the history it captures. At the time, this photo represented the US Navy’s first strike-fighter, the Corsair, and their current strike-fighter, the Super Hornet.

The photo pass of the 2017 USN Legacy Flight

What is a strike-fighter? Some official definition may exist, but the general idea is that a strike-fighter is an aircraft primarily designed for fighting other aircraft in air-to-air combat but also has the ability to deliver air-to-ground ordinance such as bombs, rockets or other munitions when needed.

The genesis of the strike-fighter idea was born out of boredom and necessity. The VF-17 “Jolly Rogers” were a land based F4U Corsair unit deployed to the Solomon Islands. The Jolly Rogers led by Lt. Commander Tom Blackburn along with sister USMC F4U squadrons, RNZAF P-40s and USAAF P-38s eliminated the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy aircraft. The Japanese realized the Solomon Islands were lost and pulled what remained of the air fleet back to defend mainland Japan. With no aerial opposition, the fighter sweeps became hours of boredom for the fighter pilots. However, the ground battle still was long from over. Since a fighter plane escort of bomber aircraft was no longer required, Blackburn along with other members of VF-17 came up with a plan…carry a bomb and help the guys on the ground.

At the time, this was a radical idea. Aircraft were designed for a specific purpose – fighter, dive-bomber, torpedo and bomber. The aircraft did not have wiring for wing or fuselage mounted ordinance. Work was initiated and a rough bomb rack and cockpit wiring were installed. After a few modifications, a bomb rack that could safely carry and deliver a bomb was complete. Blackburn sold the idea to his superiors and the idea was tested out operationally.

This innovation and idea was eventually approved for all Corsair units. Engineering from the original VF-17 design was modified and incorporated into manufacturing at Chance-Vought and Goodyear. These modifications included permanent wing and fuselage wiring to allow external ordinance.

Ultimately, that decision to allow a fighter to carry bombs has permanently changed Naval Aviation. In the immediate future, F6F Hellcats were modified to carry bombs and rockets similar to the F4U-1/FG-1 Corsairs. Nearly every Navy/USMC fighter aircraft since has the ability to deliver air-to-ground ordinance.

A feature unique to carrier based aircraft is foldable wings. Here the FG-1 Corsair and F/A-18F Super Hornet show their similarities.

The fleet is now beginning to deploy the F-35C along with the USMC F-35B, the next generation of strike-fighters. The F/A-18 and F-35 will continue the strike-fighter duties for the next several decades.

F/A-18 Super Hornets from VFA-151 Vigilantes and VFA-2 Bounty Hunters and a F-35C Lightning II from VFA-147 Argonauts (The first active F-35C unit)

Only about 45 years separate the Corsair and Super Hornet.

VFA-102 Diamondbacks 2019 Cruise Video

Feature photo above by U.S. Navy photo by Lt. JG Douglas Spence.

Enjoy the 2018-2019 cruise video from VFA-102 Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks currently fly the F/A-18F Super Hornet out of Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and are one of the forward deployed Super Hornet squadrons of Carrier Air Wing 5. The squadron regularly deploys aboard the USS Ronald Reagan.

2018 Battle Creek Field Of Flight Airshow

Below are photo highlights of the military themed airshow the weekend of June 30 – July 1, 2018. The event technically hosted a traditional airshow as well several days later, with some variation of the performers. This was my favorite show at Battle Creek in several years with a large variety of aircraft and performers.

The Class of ’45

The Class of ’45 is composed of two performers, Scott Yoak performing in the black and chromed P-51D Mustang, and Jim Tobul performing in his F4U Corsair. Both pilots perform solo aerobatics, showing off the impressive handling of these two WWII/Korean War era aircraft. Then the two join up for several impressive formation flying passes.

The stories related to the restoration of these two aircraft are very interesting, as are the biographies of the pilots.

Class of ’45 – Scott Yoak in the P-51 Mustang leads Jim Tobul in the F4U Corsair

USAF A-10 Warthog Demo Team and Heritage Flight

Battle Creek was home to A-10s for a number of years and it was good to see a Hog in the sky again. Capt. Cody Wilton demonstrated just why the A-10 is still the premier close-air-support aircraft in the world.

Tom Friedkin led the USAF Heritage Flight in P-51 Mustang “Bum Steer”

P-51 Mustang “Bum Steer” leads the A-10 Warthog Demo Team during the USAF Heritage Flight

CAF’s Prowlers of the Pacific

Prowlers of the Pacific was a new act by the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) and is a tribute to the American air war in the Pacific Theatre. The act is a tribute to US Navy and Marine Aviators as well as airmen on the other side.

CAF’s “Prowlers of the Pacific” – A tribute to the Naval and Marine Aviators of World War II. American aircraft include the SB2C Helldiver, SBD Dauntless and an F4U Corsair
This is a replica Nakajima B5N “Kate”. The aircraft was used in the movie Tora Tora Tora

Canadian Harvard Aerobatic Team

The Hamilton, Ontario based Canadian Harvard Aerobatic Team returned to the Battle Creek skies after a several year absence. The Harvard is a challenging aircraft to fly, let alone in formation aerobatics. The rule of thumb in WWII was that if a cadet could master the SNJ then he/she could handle any of the high performance fighter aircraft of the era.

The Canadian Harvard Team perform a comedic salute to the British Commonwealth Air Training Cadets that learned on the demanding Harvard/T-6/SNJ.

USN F/A-18 Super Hornet (East Coast Demo Team) and Legacy Flight

The East Coast F/A-18 Super Hornet Demo Team from VFA-106 “Gladiators” showed off the US Navy’s front line strike fighter. The Gladiators serve as the East Coast fleet replacement squadron, and are based at NAS Oceana in Virginia Beach.

One of the traits of the Super Hornet is the amount of vapor that the aircraft creates at high speeds. Below is an example of the upper wing vapes during the photo pass.

After the solo demo, Jim Tobul joined up to lead the Super Hornet in the Legacy Flight.

The US Navy Legacy Flight returned to the skies. Here Jim Tobul in his F4U Corsair leads an F/A-18F Hornet from VFA-106 Gladiators.

Solo Civilian Performances

Michigan native Bill Stein in his color changing Edge 540
Team Red Line in RV-8s

Jerry Conley Early Jet History in “Vampy”

Jerry Conley performed in his de Havilland DH.115 Vampire. The Vampire was designed for the British and was the first single engine jet fighter aircraft. The design was a success and served in the air arm of many nations. The jet is fully acrobatic and has high performance for an aircraft of that era.

Jerry Conley down low and fast in his Vampire jet “Vampy”
The photo pass DH-115 Vampire “Vampy”

USMC MV-22 Osprey

The headliner of the 2018 event was the USMC MV-22 Osprey. The hybrid aircraft takes off like a helicopter and then tilts the engines and rotors to fly like a traditional fixed-wing aircraft. The benefit to this tilt-wing technology is the ability to use the aircraft like a helicopter, with increased performance and economy of a fixed-wing aircraft.

The Marines do not perform a high number of demonstrations, and Battle Creek was selected as one of only a handful of locations for 2018. The demo was flown by a crew from VMM-261 “Raging Bulls” based at MCAS North River, North Carolina. The unit is part of Marine Aircraft Group 26 and the Marine 2nd Aircraft Wing.

Its a wrap…

The 2018 concept of two different style airshows in just a handful of days apart was a real interesting concept and a welcome change of pace. The variety of aircraft and performers over the four airshow days was exhilarating and exceeded expectations. Although the event was unable to draw a jet team in for 2018, the blend of military, warbird and civilian performers made the absence of a jet team go unnoticed.

F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-106 takes to the skies to begin the Super Hornet demo.

VFA-41 Black Aces 2018-2019 Cruise Video

Enjoy the 2018-2019 cruise video from VFA-41 Black Aces. The Black Aces currently fly the F/A-18F Super Hornet out of NAS Lemoore, and are one of the more iconic squadrons in the US Navy.

VFA-41 CAG Jet

I was able to see the VFA-41 CAG jet while attending the 2019 NAS Lemoore airshow. It was impossible to get a quality photo of the jet due to the placement, but I was able to capture both sides of the tails, which was the only deviation from the standard USN gray paint scheme.

Unlike some squadrons who keep the CAG jet painted similarly for several years, the VFA-41 CAG jet paint scheme has already been redone for 2020. I am eager to see it in person or at least in their next cruise video.

VFA-14 Tophatters 2018-2019 Centennial Cruise Video

Enjoy the 2019 cruise video footage from the oldest squadron in the US Navy, the VFA-14 Tophatters. This video also celebrates the squadron’s 100th anniversary. The “Lids” are based out of NAS Lemoore.

My interaction with the Lids Centennial Jet

I was fortunate to see the Centennial CAG and XO jets while at NAS Lemoore open house/airshow. Both of the “color” jets have some great footage in the video. The squadron also had some great geedunk for sale!

The awesome VFA-14 Tophatters CAG jet tail!

Centennial Geedunk…Money went QUICK!

VFA-14 Tophatters XO jet on the ramp at NAS Lemoore