September 16-18, 2005 Airshow report uploaded on December 19, 2005.
Airshow report uploaded on December 19, 2005.
The 2005 airshow season for me unfortunately had to end a little early, which meant that my last airshow would be at NAS Oceana. Gas prices around the country had started to fall, but not quickly enough to warrant adding Rotorfest back to the schedule. Oceana had a jam-packed lineup for 2005, featuring three military parachute teams, the Blue Angels, a ton of aerobatic performers, and of course, a host of military aircraft. It was my fourth trip to Virginia for 2005, the first of which being in March to catch VF-143's final flight. The second trip was for Langley AFB's airshow, and also involved some spotting outside NAS Oceana (I was supposed to get on base on one day but plans fell through and it never happened). The third trip was essentially a spotting trip at both Langley AFB and NAS Oceana, with emphasis on getting F/A-22s and the Tomcats from VF-31 and VF-213, since I did not know for sure when they would leave for their final cruise, and that trip saw the best and worst of weather in August - the first day I sat outside Oceana in the pouring rain after figuring nothing would happen at Langley. The second day was spent on NAS Oceana all day, touring the Hornet side of the base (including VFA-106's main hangar and offices and such), hanging out at the terminal, checking out the Tomcat/Super Hornet side of the ramp, and inside a Super Hornet simulator. The third and final day was spent at Oceana and at Langley, finally getting to see some flying at Langley, including some F/A-22 Raptors! Then there was the September trip, which was primarily for the NAS Oceana airshow.
My original plans for that day were to go to my first two classes that Thursday, skip my third class and the Friday class, and go down to Virginia on Thursday afternoon, getting there around 8 pm that night. I had found out the class I was going to skip on Thursday, that the professor gives out pop quizzes at random, so that scared me away from leaving on Thursday (I had not booked a hotel room at the time!). Less than a week before the airshow, I hurriedly booked a room in Virginia Beach, getting it for $55/night - which, in my opinion, was a great deal, especially for the timing AND the fact that it was in Virginia Beach, where rooms are pretty expensive. The only problem was that my hotel was close to Norfolk International Airport, which meant a twenty-minute drive to the base and a thirty minute drive to the beachfront. Any chances I had of taking a shower after the Saturday show were pretty much voided, if I were to get to the beach in time for the Beach Blast. Oceana 2005 then became a typical Virginia trip - get up at 3:00 am on a weekday, leave an hour after that, get to destination just after the morning rush. My mom tells me every time I go to Virginia and leave at that hour, it's the worst possible time. In a way, that's true, considering I only get like three or four hours of sleep the night before, but I'm also traveling at the safest possible time of the day. Interstate 95 southbound between I-495 and Delaware Route 1 is incredibly congested at any other time except around 4:45 am, which is when I hit that area, and thus it's safe to cross over five lanes of I-95 to reach Route 1. I have done Virginia trips where I hit I-95 in the daytime and both times, I had about a dozen close calls just trying to get over into the right lane. This trip, I had left fifteen minutes earlier than planned (the first part of the trip was the trip from Rutgers to home, which took almost two hours because of congestion on US Route 1), and had made great timing down to Virginia Beach, pulling into the Oceana Blvd spotting area in five hours and ten minutes.
The show was once again under a hurricane threat, this time with Hurricane Ophelia, which was lingering off the coast of the Carolinas and threatening to bring bad weather for the weekend. Friday had a lot of low clouds for most of the morning and early afternoon, preventing most of the performers from going up very high for their show. Thousands of people had made the trip to Virginia Beach that weekend with the anticipation of one final F-14 Tomcat demonstration, which was in limbo for months - unconfirmed reports appeared daily saying there will be a Tomcat demo, but then they were dismissed, until the end of August, when it was reported there would be a demonstration, and a practice demo schedule was published and several on-base photographers got invited to watch the practices. Tomcat demo or no Tomcat demo, I had said I would be there, even if gas prices skyrocketed to $2.2B/gallon.
The original plan was to be on base all day Friday, but things didn't quite go the way I had hoped they would. Last year, I was given passes for the Executive Squadron Chalet for all three days and the ability to park over by the Tomcat hangars for each of the days. I did not have any of those, so my luck at getting on base early on Friday went downhill quickly. Lt. Ian "Goon" Burgoon was able to get one of his fellow demonstration pilots out to get me on base, and I was able to get on base in time to catch the Super Hornet demonstration and the third to last F-14 Tomcat demonstration, which was flown in the retro aircraft from VF-101. At that time, the skies were still somewhat overcast with signs of clearing, but the demo was a low show. Any kind of Tomcat demo is always a great demo! The Blue Angels managed to get a high show in, and the weather started to look somewhat promising for the rest of the weekend, even with Hurricane Ophelia looming not too far away.
After the Blue Angels landed, I took a spot at show right, where I also took up for Saturday's show, and got set up. I then had to take cover quickly as a quick thundershower blew through NAS Oceana for a good five minutes, and as quickly as that thundershower went through, the sky cleared up, and the Friday evening show got underway. Immediately as soon as the gates opened at 5:00 pm, the first demonstration got underway. Judging by the demo profile flown, I was confused whether or not it was a Super Hornet or a baby Hornet, since the demonstration was not as intense as a regular Super Hornet demonstration and did not follow the parameters of a Super Hornet demonstration. It was definitely a Super Hornet, with the demonstration flown in a VFA-11 Red Rippers jet, flown by Knuckles and Didja, who consist of one half of the Super Hornet demo pilot roster. Sadly, the last time I had seen a Red Rippers aircraft at an airshow, it was an F-14 Tomcat. The Super Hornet demonstration on Friday night was a pinpoint part of the show that was used as a major complaint by many people, saying it was commenced well before many people got on base, but it was done then because of a strict demonstration profile was set, stating that the demo must conclude no less than two hours before sunset.
The next demonstration was another military aircraft, this time an E-2C Hawkeye from VAW-120 Greyhawks, based at Naval Station Norfolk, which is about a ten to fifteen minute drive from NAS Oceana, depending on traffic. The particular Hawkeye used in the show was the Hawkeye 2000 version, which features new eight-bladed propellers, among other modifications. The demo profile is a lot different this year, consisting of the Hawkeye coming in from Norfolk, but landing at NAS Oceana just prior to its demonstration and starting the demo with a takeoff and a lot of high-G turns, making for a more aggressive demonstration. There was still enough moisture in the air so that the E-2C could manage to pull off some wingtip vortices during most of the repositioning and the minimum radius turn. After the Hawkeye departed, Allen Smith took off with his L-39 Albatross. Allen had told me at McGuire that he had hoped he would have the "Super Albatross" ready for Oceana, but unfortunately, he had fallen behind on the schedule. I talked to Allen after the Beach Blast on Saturday night regarding the project status and he gave me a rough estimate of a first flight sometime before his 2006 airshow season commences. Allen also seems to have gotten a new airshow waiver, since it seemed like he concluded his Cuban Eight with a couple snap rolls on the down line, which I don't recall ever seeing him do in the past.
As Allen landed on Runway 5L, the Skytypers took off on 5R and began their performance. There was not going to be any skytyping that night mainly because of the visibility (the conditions were becoming CAVU, which stands for Clear And Visibility Unlimited, or the best possible conditions for an airshow) and the time of day, but they did put on their normal performance. I tend to memorize jet team demonstration profiles, but since the Skytypers aren't a jet team, they somehow fall in that since I've seen them so many times over the last two years, I have their performance memorized! All of the SNJs proceeded to land on 5L, which seemed to be the designated landing runway, mainly to keep the show running without any gaps whatsoever.
Three aircraft took off next, which included a formation takeoff of F-86 Sabres, flown by Dale Snodgrass and Ed Shipley, followed by a QF-4 Phantom II with Lt.Col. Jerry Kerby at the controls. The three aircraft went out behind the crowd to set up for the forthcoming Heritage Flight. That meant that a TACDEMO was coming up, which was to be flown in an F-16C Fighting Falcon. The F-16 demo was provided by the East Coast Demo Team out of Shaw AFB in Sumter, South Carolina. This was the last show I would see Major Geoff "Hak" Hickman fly and his demonstration has really improved significantly over his two years as a demo pilot. Hak was able to pull off the typical Viper vapor, which is evident with the F-16 looking like it is wearing a scarf, but there was very little wingtip vapor, which I found to be very surprising. Hak also flew a little closer to the crowd than Ed "Pinto" Casey flew his F-16 demo at Oceana in 2002 and Hak has been using more afterburner each airshow, but he didn't use as much afterburner at Oceana as he did at Rhode Island!
Following his performance, the two Sabres and the Phantom had joined up to make a pass from the right, with Hak trailing behind the formation, joining up in front of the crowd for the Heritage Flight. Going back to my new Heritage Flight classifications, Oceana had a Modified Heritage Flight, because of the QF-4E Phantom II in the formation. To my knowledge, this was the first Heritage Flight flown at an airshow that featured two F-86 Sabres in the same Heritage formation. Four passes were flown, with the first being a head-on pass, the second pass coming from show right, the third pass coming from the left, and the traditional Heritage Flight break from behind the crowd. Following the break, each of the aircraft went down Runway 5R as a salute, with Dale Snodgrass flying his F-86 Sabre barely a couple feet off the ground at over 400 miles per hour. Behind Snort was Lt.Col. Jerry Kerby in the QF-4E Phantom II, performing a high speed pass and leaving the afterburners on for a decent portion of the flyby, with Hak making another high speed pass and shutting off the afterburner after reaching my position, and Ed Shipley making a low banana pass over the runway, a la Snort, before heading behind the crowd to set up for the next performance.
The Phantom and Fighting Falcon landed on Runway 5R and as the Phantom passed my position on the crowd line, Snort and Shipley came around from behind and to the right to begin their debut performance in the Dual Sabres routine. Now, I just want to just say that the F-86 is a really nice airplane, but it really doesn't make a whole lot of noise, but seeing two Sabres in formation was just something else. Dale "Snort" Snodgrass flew the lead position with Ed "Hollywood" Shipley occupying his right wing for most of the performance (he did transition into trail position for another part of the demo) and seeing two F-86s in formation was something I thought I would never get to see in my life. I can't put words down to describe how much I enjoyed seeing the two aircraft in flight and in formation, and announcer Rob Reider made a mention that it was the first time in about forty years that a F-86 Sabre demonstration flight appeared over the skies of a North American airshow. Interestingly enough, Dale was not flying his F-86 because his Sabre had several mechanical failures at the time, but he got to borrow Wyatt Fuller's magnificent F-86 to fly at Oceana's airshow. The conclusion of the performance featured the two pilots pitching up, with a closing pass performed by both, with Snort flying the first closing pass, followed by Hollywood. Both pilots performed a traditional banana pass as his preferred altitude, with Snort mowing the lawn as he usually does on his banana passes.
Jim LeRoy was up next and he was actually supposed to be one fourth of an airshow act that was scheduled to appear at Oceana's airshow in 2005. Jim flew his solo aerobatic performance that Friday night and it seems like the more I see him fly, the more I appreciate his talent, especially since he does not fly his Pitts to the show sites - he trailers it! As I was saying, Jim was going to be part of one of the highlights of this year's show, which was to include the likes of Jimmy Franklin and Bobby Younkin in their respective aircraft and Kent Shockley with the Shockwave, as part of the X-Team's Masters of Disaster program, but sadly, Jimmy Franklin and Bobby Younkin were killed in a mid-air collision in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan on July 10, 2005 while performing the Masters of Disaster with Jim LeRoy and Kent Shockley. Neither Kent or Jim were involved in the tragedy and both were able to shut down their respective vehicle and aircraft. I took this airshow close to my heart since Jimmy and Bobby were good friends of mine whom I respected and considered both pilots as mentors, using the ideology that you can do practically anything or come up with something interesting as long as you put your mind to it to make it work. It is related to Jimmy's idea of strapping a jet engine underneath his Waco and Bobby's idea of taking a Learjet 23 and putting it through an aerobatic routine. Even when this airshow report was uploaded, I still have a hard time understanding that I will never see these guys fly ever again.
Following Jim were the Red Baron Squadron. This year, the Red Barons have two full teams of four aircraft, with the "other" team flying at Oceana. The team I know all too well consists of John Bowman, Todd Schaufenbuel, Bill Stein, and John McMurray, who make up the "classic" Red Baron Squadron. The team at Oceana consists of Bryan Regan, Jayson Wilson, Matt Losacker, and Travis Aukes, who make up the "new" Red Baron Squadron. Both teams fly the same performance routine, but I actually prefer the "classic" squadron since I know them well and I got to fly with them at Langley AFB earlier in the year! After the Red Barons landed, the Showcopters had their Robinson R22 and R44 running, while a C-130 Hercules from the Michigan ANG in Selfridge ANGB took off with members of the Red Devils and Black Daggers for their nighttime jump. It was the second year in a row that the Michigan ANG provided a C-130 for the jump teams at Oceana's airshow and these guys sure know how to fly a C-130, since their takeoff consisted of a very low transition (for a C-130!) and a forty-five degree climb before turning behind the crowd to get some altitude.
A short break in the action came as the national anthem was played, allowing the C-130 to gain altitude for the jumps later on in the night. After the national anthem was played, it was time for the Showcopters to show off. The Showcopters typically fly with three helicopters - two R22s and an R44, but at Oceana, only one of the R22s showed, while the R44 was also in attendance, which meant that Jim Cheatham and Bob Bolton were at the show. I do like the Showcopters' performance, but the lack of a third helicopter in the show didn't help it at all. Now if I had seen the two-ship performance before I saw the three-ship performance, I could say the opposite. As the Showcopters landed, the Blue Angels had the stage for their performance. Although it would have been nice to see the entire team perform a twilight display, that will never happen because of safety and airshow regulations that have been in place for decades. However, Fat Albert can perform during the night. Fat Albert performed one of the rare JATO demonstrations at a twilight show, which will become rarer and rarer because of the declining number of JATO bottles available (the majority of the JATO bottle inventory was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004). Seeing Fat Albert at night was a treat for me, since I haven't seen him do a JATO performance since the first time I was at Oceana for an airshow (and at that time, I was trying to get a parking spot on base when he went up). It was a typical Fat Albert performance, with a high speed pass and a short-field landing rounding out the twilight show performance.
As the evening turned into nighttime, the other C-130 was already at altitude and ready for the first set of jumpers to exit the aircraft. The US Army Special Ops Black Daggers exited the Hercules first, with each of the jumpers wearing what amounted to a large Roman candle strapped to their foot, and landing spot on with the target laid on the tarmac in front of the crowd. Following the Black Daggers were the Red Devils, who took on a more traditional approach to a nighttime jump. It's becoming an Oceana tradition to have the Red Devils jump at the airshows, since each nighttime jump shows every member of the Red Devils coming down covered in over a hundred glow sticks. Strangely enough, one of my friends, who I persuaded to go to NAS Oceana last year for the airshow, thought the scene on the beach last year was insane and wanted to get a glow stick off a Red Devil jumper this year, and he managed to do so that Friday night!
As the Red Devils were going down the crowd line handing out glow sticks, Kent Shockley had the Shockwave fired up for his nighttime performance. What I absolutely love about the Shockwave is the burner pops, especially when it's at night and it's a little cool out, it's such a good warm feeling to have a burst of fire about 200 feet in front of you when you're starting to shiver (I wasn't shivering as badly at Oceana as I was at Langley... that was brutal!). Following Shockwave was a fireworks display to close out the twilight show. NAS Oceana manages to have one of the better fireworks displays for an airshow and this year's display was kept up to par. Gene Soucy was supposed to fly his nighttime performance but he was not at the base that night, being weathered in somewhere south of Virginia Beach - all due to Hurricane Ophelia.
Like last year, NAS Oceana opened up the Officer's Club to the public after each airshow day. I took in the activities after Friday's show. It was nice to meet up with a bunch of photographers who are contributing members of Fence Check's Forums. I even took in some of the O'Club's finest (drinks, that is!) and took full advantage of that, which also made me stay there until one in the morning just so I could get to my hotel safely (and I did get there safely, if you were going to ask). Somehow I managed to get up and at Oceana early enough on Saturday to tour the static displays and get the same spot I was at on Friday, which was at show right. I also used my new digital camera for the first time, shooting all of the static displays with it instead of using the video camera. Speaking of which, the statics were like a typical Oceana static display - not that many. The Air Force cancelled all active duty participation at airshows, leaving the Reserves and the Guard units the only units to do static displays. The military side of the static displays included a B-52H Stratofortress from Barksdale AFB, a C-5A Galaxy from Westover ARB, a C-21A Learjet from Peterson AFB, a C-130H Hercules from Keesler AFB, a Canadian CP-140A Aurora from CFB Greenwood, a CH-146 Griffon, an F-14B Tomcat from VF-32 Swordsmen at NAS Oceana, an F/A-18E Super Hornet from VFA-106 Gladiators at NAS Oceana, an HH-60H Seahawk from NAS Norfolk, an HH-60J Jayhawk from CGAS Elizabeth City in North Carolina, an MH-60S Knighthawk from Naval Station Norfolk, a T-1A Jayhawk from Vance AFB, an NU-1B, a T-6A Texan II, and a T-38C Talon all from NAS Patuxent River, a T-34C Mentor from NAS Oceana, a TH-57C JetRanger from NAS Whiting Field in Florida, and a UC-12M Huron and a UH-3H Sea King from Naval Station Norfolk. I should also mention that the F-14 and F/A-18E were parked closer to the crowd line, at show center, and nose-to-nose. The civil sector of the static display included a PBY Catalina from Fighter Factory (my friend Rich Kolasa actually flew into Oceana on board this aircraft!), B-25J Mitchell Panchito, a US-2B Tracker, a T-28 Trojan, a TBM Avenger owned by Fighter Factory, a Cessna 172S, a Cessna 172P from the Civil Air Patrol, a Lancair, and a Learjet 35 from L3 Communications.
Flying displays on both Saturday and Sunday got off to an early start, with Allen Smith giving media rides in his L-39 Albatross, a Beech D18 also giving media rides, as well as a Nanchang CJ-6A. This went on until around 9:30 in the morning each day, letting an E-2C Hawkeye from VAW-120 Greyhawks make an overhead break and land on runway 5L for its upcoming demonstration. The Hawkeye taxied almost all the way to the end of 5L, letting the Skytypers take off on 23L to set up for their performance later on. As the Hawkeye taxied past, the crew folded the wings on the aircraft, just as Allen Smith was taking off on 5R. Allen still had the original engine inside the L-39, and still continues to mention about upgrading the airframe to accept an engine that delivers at least 25% more thrust. It should be ready for 2006, and when it is ready, I can't wait to see it! Meanwhile, the familiar and sad sounds of F110 engines could clearly be heard from the distance, as the Tomcats had started their engines in preparation for the upcoming tactical demonstrations.
Allen landed on runway 5L as it was time for a newcomer to Oceana's airshow to show off. What is becoming standard practice with NAS Oceana's airshows nowadays is to take full advantage of the parallel runways - land the performer on the left, launch the next performer on the right (that's if the 5s are in use... it'd be vice versa for the 23s). That newcomer was Nancy Lynn, who flew her first performance at Oceana in 2005. Nancy's flying a much more aggressive performance nowadays over the performances I saw her fly at Dayton back in 2003. Her son, Pete, does the narration for her show, and is a very good friend of mine. In fact, both Pete and his mom are both real good friends of mine considering I helped put together some footage for them for the ICAS Convention in 2003. Nancy was a last-minute addition to Oceana's lineup, and I actually had no idea she was going to be performing until I saw her Extra in one of the Tomcat (well, now Super Hornet) hangars.
After Nancy landed, it was time for the E-2C Hawkeye demonstration. The Hawkeye in question was the Hawkeye that had landed earlier. It was positioned on the far end of 5R and took off to start one of the finest Hawkeye performances I had ever seen. The E-2 performing was actually the Hawkeye 2000 variant, which features new eight-bladed composite propellers as its major external feature. The demonstration consisted of a takeoff, a high-G repositioning, high speed pass, minimum radius turn, banana pass (well, not quite), a carrier break, and a touch-and-go departure back to Naval Station Norfolk. It was at this time the fleet aircraft started to taxi out to the parallel runways, setting up for their takeoffs. Following the Hawkeye's departure was Dale "Snort" Snodgrass taking off in his F-86 Sabre. Well, it really wasn't HIS Sabre... the particular aircraft belongs to Wyatt Fuller and he lent it to Snort for the weekend because the Skyblazers Sabre had some serious mechanical issues at the time (it's back and flying now). Snort climbed up pretty high and departed the immediate area, with the Skytypers skytyping at the same time.
Then, it was time for one of the highlights of NAS Oceana's airshow - launching the fleet aircraft. Launching off runway 5R were two F-14B Tomcats from VF-32 Swordsmen, one of which being a special paint job (the tail stripes for the Swordsmen Tomcats were yellow and the Alpha Charlie font was more script-like). Taking off on 5R in formation were AC-101 and AC-104, and on 5L was AC-115 and AD-160, which was the Grim Reaper's retro bird, separately. Following the Tomcats were two F/A-18C Hornets from VFA-136, the Knighthawks - AB-310 and AB-307. Following the Knighthawks were a pair of F/A-18F Super Hornets from VFA-211 Checkmates, with AB-100 leading (this is the squadron's CAG jet, which is very nicely painted up) and AB-103 following closely behind. All eight aircraft went out beyond the show area to join up and return a little later on in the show.
After the Super Hornets left the immediate area, Dale Snodgrass came back around to perform his aerobatic demonstration. I've waited practically all year for Snort to fly his aerobatic performance and I finally got my wish at Oceana. The only thing lacking from the solo performance at Oceana was a smoke system in that particular F-86. It wasn't the complete performance, but what Snort was going to fly later on in the day more than made up for an abbreviated solo aerobatic performance. Snort landed on 5L as the morning parachute jumpers had just left their MH-53E Sea Dragon jump ship. Jumping out of the Sea Dragon were members of the British Red Devils and the US Army SOC Black Daggers. The Red Devils and the Black Daggers exited from 12,000 feet up and came down in formations, before breaking off and releasing their canopies. A four-ship of Red Devils had formed up a diamond (trailing the Union Jack), bringing it in real close to the ground before breaking off for landing, while the Black Daggers performed individual approaches to the target area, and one Red Devil being circled by the Red Baron Squadron, carrying the Stars and Stripes to earth, with a US flag drawn out in the sky by the Skytypers and the national anthem being played.
After all the jumpers landed, it was time to bring back the fighters. The four F-14 Tomcats had formed up in a diamond formation, with the F/A-18C Hornets flying in echelon left formation off the left wing of the Tomcat diamond and the F/A-18F Super Hornets flying in echelon right formation off the right wing of the Tomcat diamond. The formation flew by without afterburners, which happened to be one of the sweetest sounds in military aviation. The Hornets and Super Hornets broke off of the formation as they reached the base boundary, and strangely enough, there was no sneak pass by any aircraft right after the fleet flyover. There was one on Sunday, and it was flown by Goon and Ox in a VFA-106 Super Hornet. Usually the sneak pass signals the start of the Air Power Demonstration, but with nothing to go by on Saturday, the Air Power Demonstration started about three minutes after the fleet flyby. The first two jets to come in to present their attacks were the baby Hornets from VFA-136. The Knighthawks approached from show left and performed straight-in attacks on the base, breaking to the right as they passed show center. The Hornets followed up to reposition from the right to perform pop-up attacks on Oceana, exiting the show area to the left to head back to the carrier. Actually, they didn't exit just yet. The Knighthawks still had some punch left, as the two Hornets came in one-by-one, popping up to deliver their munitions, only to be followed closely by the Super Hornets from VFA-211 Checkmates came in from the left, performing straight-in attacks in somewhat close formation and breaking off to the right to reposition. I believe on Sunday's show when the Checkmates came in for their first attack, one of the jets was able to pull out a full cone of vapor around the rear of the aircraft while the other one wasn't able to do so. The Checkmates repositioned from the right, popping up for another attack, and as they exited, the Skytypers were still up skytyping, and Rob Reider made it quick to point out that Cdr. "Desi" Desimone's seventeenth anniversary was on that Saturday! I do believe they spelled anniversary incorrectly, but I couldn't tell since the letters were starting to fade away (by the way, Desi's role for the airshow is being the air boss). The Super Hornets made one final pop up attack on the base, coming in staggered, exiting to the right to meet up with a tanker to return back to their carrier. Meanwhile, the final set of aircraft came in from the left. This would be the final year of the Tomcat's participation in the Air Power Demonstration. Two F-14B Tomcats from VF-32, the Swordsmen, came in low and fast from the left for their first attack. The Tomcats broke left to reposition for the second attack - one aircraft coming in from the right and the other aircraft coming in from the left. Both aircraft popped up for a strafing pass down the runway before turning towards one another to rejoin. Coming in from the right, the Swordsmen approached the target with a popup and a bomb delivery, which resulted in a wall of fire of about 1,500 feet long being set off. Strangely enough, Rob Reider did not make any mention of the Tomcats having to hit up the tanker before heading back to the carrier, considering how the F-14 has a lot more range than the baby Hornet and the Super Hornet.
Immediately following the wall of fire, the Knighthawks returned to Oceana for a high speed pass and overhead break to land on the 5s. The timing of the formation breaking off was absolutely perfect, as they timed it to break with the black smoke from the wall of fire in the background! One of the F/A-18Cs landed on Runway 5L while the other landed on 5R. As they were touching down, the Super Hornets from the Checkmates came overhead for their break, which consisted of one jet breaking to the left and the other breaking to the right, which also determined which runway they would be landing on. As the Super Hornets were landing, the four Tomcats came overhead in a diamond formation, with the left and right wings breaking away in their respective directions, and the lead and slot planes then breaking left and right, respectively. Luckily, the VF-101 F-14 was able to land on 5R, so we could get some close-up shots of it while landing as opposed to getting it on the left. The Hornets taxied in real close formation, followed a minute or two behind by the Super Hornets with their wings folded. As the Super Hornets taxied in, two F/A-18E Super Hornets from VFA-143 Pukin' Dogs departed and headed out to the USS John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier to practice some carrier qualifications. The Tomcats were a little more behind the Super Hornets and taxied in one by one, with the last Tomcat, AC-101, taxiing closer to the crowd line than the other three.
After the last Tomcat taxied by show center, two more Pukin' Dogs Super Hornets took off, also heading to the JFK. Immediately after the second departed, the Skytypers appeared over to begin their performance. The Skytypers put on their usual performance but it seemed like they put out a lot more smoke than in the past, even when they were doing skytyping. As the Skytypers were closing out their performance, another F/A-18E Super Hornet from the Pukin' Dogs departed for the carrier, giving room for the Skytypers to do their break and land on runway 5L. As the Skytypers were landing, Kent Shockley had the Shockwave Jet Truck fired up for its dry run of the day. Kent had parked the Shockwave on a taxiway towards show right between the main ramp and 5R for his burner pops, and effectively gave all the photographers out there some smoke to inhale (before we at the crowd line got it). Kent's run clocked in at about 325 miles an hour on Saturday.
Following Shockwave was the F/A-18C Hornet demonstration. Lt. Dustin Lee flew the CAG jet from VFA-131 Wildcats in one of the better baby Hornet demonstrations I had seen in a few years. We were even treated to an extra carrier break after the touch-and-go portion of the demonstration, and the vapor was there, but not in the abundance that I've seen in past Hornet demonstrations. It seems that Hornet demonstrations have become rarer and rarer as the years go by, as I've seen fewer and fewer Hornet demonstrations in the last two years. As the Hornet landed on 5L, Jim LeRoy was set to go on 23L to begin his performance. It had been just a little over a year since I last saw Jim LeRoy flying and I have to admit - I missed seeing his performance! I actually had a chance to talk to Jim after the airshow on Sunday and he mentioned that he is looking to regroup the remaining members of the X-Team and add new members for 2006. Oceana was scheduled to have the X-Team perform, but sadly, two of the performers that were scheduled to fly - Jimmy Franklin and Bobby Younkin, lost their lives in a tragic accident in Moose Jaw, SK in July while performing an X-Team performance with Jim LeRoy and Scott Shockley. Jim landed safely and Scott was not involved. If I wasn't in a rush on Sunday, I would have given Jim some help with dismantling his biplane, considering the last time I saw him fly, I gave him a hand in towing the plane back to the hangar (this was at Sussex).
After Jim landed, the Showcopters had the aerobatic box. Once again it was only Jim Cheatham and Bob Bolton flying, and I could tell that something was missing without that third helicopter. One of these days I would love to see their performance at either a much smaller show site, or better yet, Rotorfest. In my opinion, helicopter demonstrations are best experienced at the smaller shows because of the smaller aerobatic box and everything seems a lot closer. After they concluded their performance, it was time to launch the jump aircraft. The Canadian Sky Hawks used a DeHavilland CC-115 Buffalo as their jump ship, and it was the first of two aircraft to take off. The Buffalo demonstrated its short takeoff capability and following closely behind was a C-130H Hercules from the Michigan ANG. The Michigan ANG guys have been kind enough to supply a plane for the second year in a row at Oceana and like last year, performed a very low transition, keeping the plane a mere ten feet or less off the ground before pulling up and banking to the right to gain altitude.
Three more aircraft were to depart to set up for later performances. The first two aircraft were a pair of F-86 Sabres, flown by Dale Snodgrass and Ed Shipley. Snort and Shipley took off in a very nice tight formation before breaking off to the right. The third aircraft was a QF-4 Phantom II flown by Lt.Col. Jerry Kerby. The particular Phantom is painted up in a Vietnam camouflage scheme with a light grey bottom. After he departed, it was time for the F-16 demonstration. Major Geoff "Hak" Hickman's demonstrations have been getting better and better all throughout 2005. Hak did something on Saturday that confused me - he "reversed" his performance about halfway through the demonstration. I had never seen the slow speed pass and the knife edge pass flown from the right and left, respectively up until now. It made for some interesting photo ops for the Fence Checkers out there and I have to say that I liked that change! Hak did fly the dedication pass from show right, giving him the chance to join up with the Heritage Flight aircraft after they passed from the right following the Viper demo.
That Heritage Flight formation featured the F-4 Phantom leading both F-86 Sabres, with Geoff Hickman and the F-16 flying the slot position. Four passes were flown, with the first being a head-on pass, the second pass coming from show right, the third pass coming from the left, and the traditional Heritage Flight break from behind the crowd. Following the break, each of the aircraft went down Runway 5R as a salute, with Dale Snodgrass flying his F-86 Sabre about fifteen feet off the ground at over 400 miles per hour. Behind Snort was Lt.Col. Jerry Kerby in the QF-4E Phantom II, performing a high speed pass and leaving the afterburners on for a decent portion of the flyby, with Hak making another high speed pass and shutting off the afterburner after reaching my position, and Ed Shipley making a low banana pass over the runway, a la Snort, before heading behind the crowd to set up for the next performance. I want to make a note that Rob Reider was kind enough to let us hear what the Phantom sounds like when he made his high speed pass!
The Phantom and Fighting Falcon were recovered on Runway 5L as Dale Snodgrass and Ed Shipley came back around with their F-86 Sabres. NAS Oceana played host to the debut airshow performance of the Duel Sabres flown by those two pilots and in my opinion, that is one of the best F-86 Sabre performances I have ever seen in my entire life. It ranks up there with the Horseman Mustang performance in terms of warbird formation aerobatics. The Sabre doesn't make a ton of noise as compared to a Phantom or Super Sabre but it is very graceful, and having the second Sabre in the air makes it even more graceful. Snort and Shipley concluded their performance with a break, followed by a very low pass by each pilot, with Snort coming by at about ten feet off the ground and Shipley about thirty feet off the ground.
Both Snort and Shipley went on to land on Runway 5L, and while rolling out, the B-2 Spirit came in for its flybys. The Spirit made a total of two passes, showing off the underside of the massive flying wing, before heading off to another show site to do more flybys. Typically B-2 crews fly one aircraft to a number of show sites one weekend day of each month and cover up to five airshows while taking off and returning from Whiteman AFB, Missouri. After the B-2 left the Virginia Beach area, the CC-115 Buffalo was inbound at 10,000 feet, with the Canadian Sky Hawks exiting the aircraft. A total of fifteen jumpers exited the Buffalo, formed up in freefall, and split to open their canopies. Several members of the Sky Hawks managed to perform some canopy relative work, and one jumper even spiraled down with a candy cane smoke system hanging off his right heel. After all of the Sky Hawks landed, the C-130 came in at 10,000 feet and the British Army Red Devils and the US Army SOC Black Daggers exited the Hercules. Both teams flew some formations in freefall before breaking off and the Black Daggers flew individual approaches into the jump area, spreading out their landings. The Red Devils pulled off some canopy relative work, with one jumper bring in the Union Jack and another jumper bringing in the Stars and Stripes. They also performed a showline spread, and I even had two jumpers come in practically right on top of me! As they were all coming in, I could hear the sound of a pair of General Electric F110 turbofan engines idling, as it was an F-14 Tomcat getting ready to fly.
The Buffalo and the Hercules landed out of sight of the crowd, meaning they landed on either Runway 32L or 32R and while they taxied back to their parking spots, the Red Baron Squadron had just taken off. For 2005 and onward, the Red Barons have two teams of four aircraft, with the "other" team flying at Oceana. The team I know all too well consists of John Bowman, Todd Schaufenbuel, Bill Stein, and John McMurray, who make up the "classic" Red Baron Squadron. The team at Oceana consisted of Bryan Regan, Jayson Wilson, Matt Losacker, and Travis Aukes, who make up the "new" Red Baron Squadron. While the Red Barons were performing, the F-14 Tomcat taxied by and headed out to Runway 23L to await its time to fly. In my opinion, I think that the Red Barons' show seemed to have gotten a little longer than in past years, considering when the team is flying three different "shows" in their performance.
Following the Red Barons' landing on 23R was the reason why a large percentage of the NAS Oceana airshow crowd came to the airshow - to see the F-14 Tomcat fly for one final time. There had been a lot of speculation on whether or not there would be Tomcats flying in the 2005 show up until about three weeks before showtime, when it was confirmed that there would be a flight of Tomcats in the fleet flyby and one final Tomcat demonstration. Then the next question that popped up was regarding which aircraft would be flying the demonstrations. VF-101 and VF-32 each had one Tomcat painted up in a retro paint scheme (AD-160 and AC-112, respectively) symbolizing the respective squadron's markings on the Tomcat from the 1970s. The plan was to fly the Grim Reapers retro jet on Friday and Sunday, and the Swordsmen retro jet on Saturday. It didn't quite work out that way, though, which I will explain a little later. The available demo team pilots from 2004, Lt. Jack "Rocco" Tangredi and Lt. Joseph "Smokin' Joe" Ruzicka were quickly requalified to fly the demonstration about two weeks before airshow weekend. The demo jet on Saturday was not the Swordsmen retro jet, but rather a normal Swordsmen jet - AC-104. Rocco and Smokin' Joe put the Tomcat through one of the best F-14 demonstrations I have ever seen, and at the same time, one of the saddest demonstrations, since Saturday's was the second to last Tomcat tactical demonstration. In typical Oceana Tomcat demonstration style, the first high speed pass was accompanied by a 1,500 foot wall of fire from Rich's Incredible Pyro. The weekend's Tomcat demos had a lot of meaning considering the aircraft is in retirement, with the last of the Tomcats flying off into the sunset in September of 2006. Traditionally, a member of VF-101 narrates the F-14 demonstrations, but for the final demonstration, Rob Reider had the honor to narrate the very last F-14 Tomcat demonstration, and Rob did an incredible job of building up the suspense in the beginning portion of the script and throughout the entire demonstration. In my opinion, it was very appropriate that Rob got to announce the final demonstration. I did not shoot video of Sunday's demonstration but rather shot pictures of the aircraft, which happened to be VF-101's retro jet. The crew had parked the jet at show right on Saturday for the X-Team to perform and on Sunday for the Subway Hummer giveaway. Sunday's taxi back had a lot more meaning to it, as Rocco and Smokin' Joe brought the Tomcat to show center, bowed to the crowd, and shut down the engines. They both exited the aircraft, shook hands, and were met on the ground with champagne showered all over each other and the plane. Members of the Tomcat Demo Team, the Commanding Officer of NAS Oceana, and several Blue Angel pilots came over to congratulate Rocco and Smokin' Joe for the demonstrations. The maintenance crew towed AD-160 off to the hot ramp as a symbolic sign that the Tomcat demonstrations have ended.
Following the Tomcat demonstration on Saturday, Jim LeRoy took to the air once again, not to fly his solo aerobatic performance, but to fly the X-Team's performance (I should also mention that an F/A-18 Hornet from the Knighthawks taxied out to 23L during the Tomcat demonstration, but I felt that the last paragraph should only include the F-14 in it and no other airplanes). Kent Shockley also had the Shockwave Jet Truck fired up, and this was one of the remaining X-Team performances of 2005. Two other performers were set to appear at Oceana, namely Jimmy Franklin and Bobby Younkin, but unfortunately, they were involved in a mid-air collision at an airshow nine weeks before Oceana's show and were killed. Gene Soucy was scheduled to perform with Jim LeRoy, but Gene was weathered in because of Hurricane Ophelia and he didn't make it to Oceana until Sunday. The X-Team has retired the Masters of Disaster name and will be regrouping in 2006 under the title of Masters of Xtreme. Jim LeRoy flew what he called the "Tribute to the Masters" at NAS Oceana and it was a very fitting tribute, although no mention of Jimmy Franklin and Bobby Younkin were made at all over the entire weekend.
Jim landed on 5L and following his landing, the F/A-18C Hornet that was parked at the end of 23L took off to set up for the upcoming Legacy Flight. Meanwhile, Rocco and Smokin' Joe brought in the F-14 Tomcat, taxiing by and flying the American flag out of the cockpit of the aircraft as the F/A-18F Super Hornet demonstration was about to begin. Lt. Ian "Goon" Burgoon and Lt. Chuck "Ox" Shamonsky flew Saturday's performance, which was somewhat dismal because of the atmospheric conditions. As amazing as the Super Hornet demonstration is, it's even more amazing when it's somewhat humid out and the pilots can pull the vapor out of the air, but there wasn't enough humidity in the air to do just that. Following their performance, Goon and Ox joined up with Dale Snodgrass in an F4U Corsair and the F/A-18C Hornet for the Legacy Flight. I wasn't expecting to see the Tomcat in the Legacy Flight considering I don't think there would have been time to get Rocco and Smokin' Joe requalified for the Legacy Flight as soon as they had gotten the demo requalification. The Legacy Flight consisted of two passes, plus the final pass from behind the crowd for a break. Strangely enough, Friday's Legacy Flight along with Sunday's did not have a Corsair flying but had Dale flying the F-86. It sounds kind of weird, but when you think about it, the Navy flew a modified version of the Sabre known as the FJ-2 Fury.
After all of the Legacy Flight aircraft were recovered, it was time for the Blue Angels to take the stage. As is typical with a Blue Angels display, Fat Albert was the first of the Blue Angels aircraft to go up. For some reason it seemed the JATO takeoff wasn't nearly as loud as in previous performances. Fat Albert went on to perform a low pass and the short field landing before turning the show over to the Hornets. I was a bit skeptical that the Blues would not fly the high show on Saturday because of the clouds around their aerobatic box, but I was proven wrong, since they ended up flying their high show. In fact, it was one of the best Blue Angels performances I had seen in a couple years! The timing on everything seemed spot-on, and I suppose it made up for their absence from last year's show because of Hurricane Ivan.
After the Blues landed, I spent a good amount of time on NAS Oceana talking with some Fence Checkers and Rob Reider, who was going to be at the Beach Blast later on in the day. I stayed on base for about half an hour before heading to the beach. For some reason, the flow of traffic was taken out of the London Bridge Road gate and onto London Bridge Road (the western edge of Oceana... Tomcat Boulevard and Oceana Boulevard is on the eastern side of the base), so I had to go a little out of my way to reach the beach, where a couple of my friends let me use their hotel bathroom to freshen up (well, take a shower...). Then it was time to hit up Virginia Beach!
The third part of the NAS Oceana airshow weekend is the Beach Blast, which coincided with the Neptune Festival, which the airshow is no longer a part of. The 2005 Beach Blast's flying activities included an F/A-18F Super Hornet making some burner passes and the parachute teams. Rob Reider did make it over to the beach and even did some announcing for the event, in particular during the Super Hornet's flybys. The one thing I've hated about the Beach Blast is that there are never any speakers over by the beach, which made it nearly impossible to hear what Rob was talking about. The first aircraft to make an appearance over the beach was the Michigan ANG C-130 Hercules, making a low pass over the water and climbing for altitude. The Michigan guys did the same thing in 2004, but that year they flew even lower than the crew in 2005. After he left the show area (this was a span of about ten to fifteen minutes), the Super Hornet came in from the west and made a pass over the beach and out to the ocean, lighting the afterburners as he reached the shore line. I'm not sure which squadron was flying but I'm pretty certain it was VFA-106. The Super Hornet made a long turn out over the ocean to make one more pass from the north to the south, down the shore line, with the afterburners on, and headed back to Oceana. I was really disappointed that the Super Hornet only made two burner passes as opposed to the Tomcat making eight passes in 2004, but I was told that the airshow director was only given approval for two passes. I made a joke about it saying the Super Hornet didn't have enough fuel remaining for any more burner passes!
After about another ten or so minutes, the C-130 appeared over the beachfront with what appeared to be roman candles out the back of the aircraft. The Black Daggers and the Canadian Sky Hawks had made an exit from the Hercules from about 6,000 feet. Each of the Black Daggers came down with what looked like roman candles strapped to one of their boots while in the descent. Following the Black Daggers down were members of the Canadian Sky Hawks, who didn't have any sort of nighttime special effects on the canopies or on the jumpers. They did manage to pull off some canopy relative work! All of the jumpers from both parachute teams came down under lots of cheering from everyone around the jump zone and on the beach and boardwalk.
As the night grew on and it got darker and darker, the C-130 came back one more time for one more jump run. This time the British Army Red Devils made their jump, and these were the guys everyone was waiting to see come down. Each of the Red Devils jumpers came down covered in about two hundred glow sticks each. About ten jumpers came in, with the last four jumpers forming a diamond formation, splitting the formation seconds before each jumper reached the beach, closing out the flying portion of the Beach Blast. What surprised me was how long it took all the kids around me to break past the roped off jump zone to make a bee-line for the jumpers to get a glow stick or two!
I had spent the rest of that night hanging out with performers and Fence Checkers alike until things drew a close at around 10:00 pm. I then headed over to hang out with my friends from the Willow Grove area, which took us onto the beach at around 12:45 in the morning, when the wind started to pick up and the rain started to come down. It started to rain like a Florida downpour around 1:00 in the morning, and I still had to get back to my hotel, which was near Route 13 and Route 60! I did get back to the hotel safely, got some rest, and got to Oceana bright and early on Sunday, spending the entire day taking pictures instead of shooting video, with varying results, since it was my first airshow with my new digital camera. The late night storm brought in wind gusts of over 60 miles an hour, ripping down tents and sending things flying everywhere on Oceana, but by the time I got on base at 7:30 that morning, it seemed like nothing happened! Two of the Skytypers' SNJs were damaged, and they were unable to fly that day. Low clouds on Sunday did prevent some vertical maneuvers in the Air Power Demonstration, but the rest of the show went on without any problems with the weather, and the Blue Angels got to fly their high show once again. The thought of seeing the last F-14 Tomcat demonstration didn't sink into my mind until I got on the road and in the middle of the Eastern Shore of Virginia (on Route 13 heading north). NAS Oceana put on the best airshow out of all my airshows that I attended in 2005, and at the same time, was also the saddest, considering it would be the last time I would see a Tomcat in the air at an airshow. With VF-31 slated to have their last flights about two weeks after the 2006 airshow, it is possible that there could be some F-14s flying in the 2006 show, but at this point in time, it is way too early to say anything. I would imagine there will be no Tomcats flying at the 2006 show, and even with that statement, I will be down there for the 2006 airshow.
Military Demonstration Teams
Tentative Military Demonstrations
Announcer: Rob Reider