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2018 NAS Oceana Airshow

The 2018 NAS Oceana Airshow was held on September 21-23. Friday was open to military family members, and was also an open house for local 5th graders as a STEM laboratory. The event was the largest in several years, and included headline performances by both the US Navy Blue Angels and the RCAF Snowbird jet demonstration teams.

The weather varied all three days, which can be evidenced by the photos. However, flying was able to be completed all three days and provided some wonderful vapor opportunities as well as some nice cloud backdrops. The variety of acts was a good blend of civilian and military performers.

The Aircraft of the Fleet

The Fleet Demo is perhaps the highlight of the airshow each year. This years squadron participants included VFA-105 Gunslingers, VFC-12 Fighting Omars, VFA-131 Wildcats and VFA-106 Gladiators.

Bandits! The art of dogfighting with VFC-12 Fighting Omars

NAS Oceana is home to own adversary training squadron VFC-12 Fighting Omars, callsign “Ambush”. The squadron flies F/A-18 Hornets painted to resemble aircraft the fleet pilots may encounter while on deployment. Here, the Hornets are in a “splinter” paint scheme to resemble the Russian SU-35.

The squadron is made up of a combination of active duty and reservists and is tasked with training the fleet pilots in the art of dogfighting. Unlike the fleet ready rooms, this squadron is made up of high time and veteran pilots who have mastered the skills required to best aerial adversaries. Much like the Blue Angels flight demonstration team, the members are hand picked and must be approved by the other members of the squadron. The pilots are selected for their flight skills and personality due to the small size of the squadron and teamwork required to accurately train the fleet pilots.

The pilots are training using tactics of potential adversaries such as Russia and China using some of the oldest aircraft in the Navy.

VFC-12 and VFA-105 Gunfighters demonstrated a vertical 1×1 engagement, as well as a 2×1 horizontal dogfight.

Air-to-Ground Demo

VFA-105, VFA-131 and VFA-106 demonstrated various air-to-ground bombing and strafing tactics used by fleet Aviators while on deployment.

Passing Gas…Flattop style

F/A-18 Super Hornets from VFA-105 Gunslingers demonstrated the buddy air refueling system during the fleet performance at NAS Oceana.

The Fleet Flyby

US Army Black Daggers Parachute Team

USAF F-22 Raptor Demo

Major Paul “Loco” Lopez provided a stunning demonstration of the USAF’s F-22 Raptor. The jet is considered by many to be the world’s best air superiority fighter. Abilities include “super cruise” (ability to exceed the speed of sound without afterburner), thrust vectoring and stealth. Stealth is achieved by carrying all ordinance internally in three bays. Thrust vectoring provides the aircraft unparalleled maneuverability, even compared to the F-16 and F-15. The jets two Pratt & Whitney F-119 engines provide 35,000 of thrust each, and in afterburner provide ample “freedom thunder!!”

US Navy F/A-18C Hornet – The Final “Legacy” Hornet Demo

The Gladiators from VFA-106 flew the last F/A-18C Hornet demo while at their homebase of NAS Oceana. The squadron serves as the fleets F/A-18 training squadron and also provides the aircraft and crew for the Legacy Hornet Demo Team. The Hornet has been the backbone of the fleet attack duties since the early 1980s.

US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet Demo

VFA-106 also serves as the fleet’s F/A-18 Super Hornet training squadron and provides aircraft and crew for the USN Tac Demo Team. The F/A-18 Super Hornet is the fleet’s primary fighter aircraft and also serves as a multi-role air-to-ground platform. The TAC Demo focuses on the fighter configuration while demonstrating the performance and maneuverability of the Super Hornet.

Greg Shelton FM-2 Wildcat Aerobatics

Greg Shelton provided some naval history by flying an aerobatic routine in his FM-2 Wildcat. The Grumman F4F (and its General Motors license built FM-2 version) was the backbone of the US Navy fighter force at the start of World War II. Although outmatched by the lighter Japanese Zero, it held the line until America’s manufacturing might could provide better designs such as the F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair.

Bill Leff T-6 Texan Aerobatics & Final Show

Veteran warbird aerobatic pilot, Bill Leff, flew his final acro routine at NAS Oceana. He has flown many times at Oceana and his performances will be missed. Although not as glamorous as the fighters from the WWII era, it has been said that if you can master aerobatics in the T-6 Texan, you can fly anything. The T-6 airframe was the advanced trainer for the United States and many of its allies and continued to serve until the late 1950s. The type is widely known as “the pilot maker.”

Michael Goulian Extra 330sc Aerobatics

Flashfire Jet Truck

Canadian Forces 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, the Snowbirds

NAS Oceana was blessed to have two headlining jet teams for the 2018 event. The Canadian Forces Snowbirds made a rare appearance over the skies of Virginia Beach. The team is equally as skilled as the pilots from the American teams such as the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds, but their demonstration is much different. Their jets are trainers and not as powerful as the American Team’s jets. Therefore, the demonstration is more graceful and includes nine aircraft. This allows for larger formations and different variety of formations than the American Teams.

Of note, the team “crop dusted” the Blue Angels over the weekend, as seen in the first picture below. “Crop dusting” is a term of art and is basically the team blowing smoke over the other team. This is a gag between all of the North American teams and is done for humor and inter-team bonding. It is not uncommon for the teams to do so when one team flies over the other while transitioning to a show location or headed to a remote flyover.

Kent Pietsch Jelly Belly Aerobatics and the World’s Smallest Aircraft Carrier

Kent Pietsch is an amazing performer. His aircraft, an Interstate Cadet, weighs just 800 pounds and has 90 horsepower. The Cadet is not your typical aerobatic airplane, yet Kent makes it look routine. In fact, the routine is filled with maneuvers that require a high degree of skill and control. The climax may be the landing of the aircraft on top of the RV, which is billed as the world’s smallest aircraft carrier. It usually takes a couple of passes, but Kent is usually very successful in landing the Cadet and subsequently taking off again from the RV. Note below on the right photo that the main gear are not locked into position and the tailwheel is not on the RV on this instance.

The Wounded Warrior Flight Team

The Wounded Warrior Flight team flies two L-39 Albatross jets. The aircraft are former advance trainers from the Soviet Union and are now used to bring awareness to the needs of various veterans across the United States. The jets are flown by two veteran US Navy pilots and perform a “grudge match” aerial dogfight.

US Navy Legacy Flight

This year’s Legacy Flight included the F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-106 Gladiators and the F4U Corsair owned by Jim Tobul. An iconic formation considering both aircraft were used by the fleet similarly – both as a fighter and as a multi-role support aircraft. A good comparison of the size of the two aircraft can be seen below. The finale was enjoyable as both aircraft folded their wings simultaneously in front of the crowd.

Jim Tobul F4U Corsair “Korean War Hero” Aerobatics

US Navy Blue Angels

The Navy’s flight demonstration team looked amazing as ever for the 2018 shows over Oceana. The skies were challenging at times with clouds and high winds, but the team looked sharp as ever. At least with clouds and moisture the vapes come out!

334th Fighter Squadron F-15E Strike Eagle

The 334th brought their commemorative F-15E Strike Eagle for static display. The jet celebrates the 75th Anniversary of the 4th Fighter Wing. The paint scheme was starting to show some wear, but it still looked great, and would have been amazing to see in the air.

The Final Legacy Hornet Squadron VFA-34 Blue Blasters

The “Blue Blasters” of VFA-34 recently returned from their final cruise in the older “Legacy” model of the F/A-18 Hornet. In April, the squadron recently deployed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) for a three-month WESTPAC deployment which included a port stop in Vietnam, the first by a US carrier since the war ended. The Blue Blasters returned to sea on August to participate in the multi-national war exercises called “RIMPAC”. VFA-34 is the final Legacy Hornet Strike Fighter Squadron and is scheduled to transition from the Legacy Hornet to the Super Hornet in early 2019.

“That’s it, you’re not going to see a Hornet on an aircraft carrier – at least with U.S. Navy paint on it – ever again.”

Lt. Kevin Frattin – USNI News, February 4, 2019

Around the field…

The USAF brought a specially painted T-6 Texan II, and the VFA-213 Blacklions squadron car made an appearance. Check out a special article related to squadron cars I recently wrote here.

I had a great time at the 2018 NAS Oceana airshow. It is always amazing to see the fleet aircraft at the East Coast’s Master Jet Base and meet the aircrews. As long as the base continues to have shows, I will do my best to return to see them for years to come. Fly Navy!

Squadron Vehicles: Gaudy and Spectacular!

In the air, a squadron can be identified by the type of aircraft being flown and squadron logo or tail codes. On the ground, a squadron’s identity is reflected in their vehicle. For semi-truck drivers, wood in the cab is the decor of choice while chrome is king for most “hot rods”. In a squadron vehicles, anything goes. The more gaudy and outrageous the better! Everything from wild paint schemes to spare aircraft parts can be seen on what has become the squadron’s ultimate alter ego.

The tradition appears to have started with the Navy. According to lore, official transportation was generally unavailable to squadrons that were deployed or on training detachments. Accordingly, the squadron car was born out of necessity. Several members would chip in a few dollars and buy a cheap vehicle to get around. Usually, the junior officers were tasked with driving the senior officers around to the base functions and parties.

VMFA(AW)-225 Vikings hurst squadron car. A fitting ride for sure!

The original squadron cars were plain and simple, what my generation would call a “beater” – cheap and usually in need of some sort of repair. Over time, the cars started to get custom paint jobs that reflected persona of the squadron. Standard cars morphed into retired limos. Not to be outdone, limousines transformed into old school buses and RVs. As the type of vehicle changed, so did the exterior details. Modern squadron vehicles are adorned with anything and everything to make their ground transportation match their aerial rides. Retired tails are mounted, maybe a refueling boom or perhaps simulated missiles/guns. Basically, the rule of thumb is this: it has to be bigger, wilder and more flashy than the other squadron’s ride yet, reflect the squadron’s history and culture. The early cars were very politically incorrect and crass. When ladies began to incorporate into the flying units, the crude references were mostly stricken. However, a few may still have a reference or two if you look close enough.

VFA-32 Swordsmen RV . Note the unit awards painted on the upper portion.

Ultimately, the squadron car is a symbol of pride for the unit. It gives the men and now women a fun diversion from the everyday routine and shows the wild imagination and creativity these people have. While the members of the squadron may rotate, the squadron vehicle passes to each successive generation to modify and carry on the tradition. The legacy builds as more customization or modifications are completed.

The fire engine of VMFA-232 Red Devils is a fantastic example of the squadron’s symbolism reflected in the squad car.

The “squadron car” has become such a legend that the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida displays the Lincoln Continental limo formerly of VAQ-134. The automobile was driven all the way from NAS Whidbey Island to NAS Pensacola to be put on display in 2003!

I imagine the VMFA-314 Black Knights former fire truck is probably now the ultimate party bus inside!

Next time you are at an airshow or open house at the local military base, keep an eye out for the unique and imaginative works of art from the Navy, Marine and USAF/ANG units.

Here is the 107th Fighter Squadron “Red Devils” Limo, an example of a USAF ANG squadron car. Plenty of room for a group and/or some fun times!

2019 NAS LEMOORE AIRSHOW

NAS Lemoore opened its doors to the public September 21-22, 2019 for their first airshow since 2011. This was my first time out to NAS Lemoore and the base was nothing like I expected – especially for a Navy base. The base is located in the heart of California’s Central Valley, and is a huge complex. The base is so large that it has two separate areas. One is the command portion, and the other is the operations section. Unlike the other military bases I have been to, there is no surrounding city. The base is actually in the middle of farm land, literally in the middle of nowhere. NAS Lemoore and “Nowhere” turned out to be an oasis of excitement and an excellent experience.

The show was headlined by the Navy’s Blue Angels and also included performances by the Patriot Jet Team, demos by the F-15 Eagle and F-35C Lightning II, a tactical demonstration by aircraft of the fleet, civilian warbird performances by Skyhawk 518, Greg Colyer in his T-33 “Ace Maker” and CAF SoCal Wing brought their F6F Hellcat, P-51 Mustang, F8F Bearcat, Zero and PBJ-1J Mitchell. The static display was full of aircraft from the base’s squadrons except VFA-25 and VFA-86, which were deployed. The fleet’s newest aircraft, the F-35C Lightning II, was on display both in the air and on static display with aircraft from VFA-125 and VFA-147.

THE FLEET AIR POWER DEMO

The fleet air power demo included aircraft from VFA-2 Bounty Hunters, VFA-151 Vigilantes, VFA-14 Top Hatters, VFA-125 Rough Raiders (Saturday only) and VFA-147 Argonauts (Sunday only).

F-35C LIGHTNING II DEMO

The Navy surprised the crowd with the first public F-35C Lightning II demo. Although not officially a formal demonstration yet, the routine used is the prototype for the 2020 airshow season which is rumored to be the first official year of the Navy’s F-35C Demo Team. The aircraft is powerful and the display was very aggressive with numerous afterburner passes and high-g turns. The F-35 certainly has to be the loudest jet currently flying. No complaints from me though. I love the sound of Freedom’s Thunder.

COMMEMORATIVE AIR FORCE – SOCAL WING

Commemorative Air Force – SoCal Wing brought several of their warbirds to NAS Lemoore for display and participation in the flying portion of the show. The aircraft included the F6F Hellcat, F8F Bearcat, P-51 Mustang, A6M Zero and PBJ Mitchell. The aircraft flew multiple passes, including solos and several different formations. A top notch collection showcased by pilots that know how to show them off.

US NAVY LEGACY FLIGHT

The Navy’s Legacy Flight was performed by two F/A-18 Super Hornets from VFA-122 Flying Eagles and Rich Sugden flying his FJ-4B Fury. The Fury is the only flying example of the type. The aircraft was damaged after a wheels up landing several weeks later and will require a lengthy repair period.

F-15C EAGLE – CALIFORNIA AIR NATIONAL GUARD

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the F-15 Eagle demo flown on Saturday. California Air National Guard’s 144th Fighter Wing presented their specially marked F-15 for the occasion. The paint scheme is a celebration of the unit’s 75th Anniversary. It was AWESOME to see and hear the mighty F-15 again. Once a staple of the US airshow circuit, seeing an F-15 is becoming extremely rare and almost non-existent in the air.

PATRIOT JET TEAM

This was the first time I saw the Patriot Jet Team and was extremely surprised at how much I enjoyed their demo. The team is made up of former USAF Thunderbirds and USN Blue Angels pilots. Accordingly, I expected a show similar to the military teams. However, the show was more like a performance by the European military jet teams and included colored smoke. The flight performances were well executed and had an equally well done narration. I am now a huge fan of the Patriot Jet Team!

US NAVY BLUE ANGELS

What can I write that has not already been said a million times prior about the Blue Angels? Nothing…so check these images out and see a brief glimpse of the talent and skill that make them arguably the most popular military jet team in the world! FLY NAVY!

NAS LEMOORE RESCUE

Besides hosting the Navy’s West Coast fighter jet squadrons, the Navy also has several MH-60 Seahawks based at NAS Lemoore for rescue purposes. These Naval Aviators provide assistance locating and retrieving downed flyers when a tragedy occurs. However, these crews also help the local first responders when necessary. The local area is mountainous and relatively uninhabited. The unit’s skill set is ideal to assist when local resources are limited and time is of the essence.

The NAS Lemoore Seahawk crews provided an example of a search and rescue (SAR) demo, including a narration of why certain techniques are used. Well done Sailors! FLY NAVY!

KENT PIETCH

Kent Pietch is likely my favorite civilian performer on the circuit. Sure, I have seen his act many times, I have photographed for his team, and I have ridden along in the vehicle he lands on when performing the truck top landing. Yet, the talent and execution make this one hell of a performance – every time! Personally, Kent is a class act and after watching what he can do with an aircraft not really designed to be an airshow star, you have no doubt he is a leader in the industry.

CALIFORNIA TAIL

Photos of the F/A-18 tails on hand at the show. Love the CAG Bird colors…hopefully the tradition will continue. If not now, in the near future.

AROUND THE FIELD