2008 Blue Angels Homecoming Airshow
November 14-15, 2008
NAS Pensacola, Florida
Airshow Report written on November 22, 2008.
Usually the end of the airshow season for me ends at a helicopter show just an hour from where I live. I had been wanting to end it at either Nellis AFB or NAS Pensacola for the last couple years, but have been unable to do so because of the costs to travel to either location. I had not originally planned on going to NAS Pensacola when I laid out my plans for 2008, but still considered it a possibility. One of the advantages for me to go to Pensacola was the fact that one of my friends happened to be stationed down there as part of his Navy training for his enlisted career, that of which needs not to be mentioned anywhere on here. I had planned on visiting him sometime before he got his orders, and figured Homecoming weekend would be the best time of the year. It got to the point that I was checking all of the various travel sites for the best deals for flying into Jacksonville, FL or New Orleans, LA. I ruled out Jacksonville because of the five hour drive between Pensacola and Jacksonville and then compared flights to New Orleans and even right into Pensacola. I found that it was actually CHEAPER to fly into Pensacola and then book a hotel rather than fly into New Orleans and book a hotel in New Orleans, and I decided to fly right into Pensacola.
I had high expectations on this trip. I wanted to check out the National Naval Aviation Museum, located right on NAS Pensacola, and expected it to have a collection similar to that like the Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH. I was very impressed with the museum and thoroughly enjoyed it and I can't wait to visit the museum at a later date. I was also expecting a world-class airshow, and got exactly that. In addition, I also got to see two performances I have never seen before as well as one performer I had not seen in almost ten years. I wasn't sure what to expect for a static display, but when it turned out to be a rather decently-sized static display, I was okay with that. Some of the static displays that stood out for me (besides what the museum had, which included a E-1B Tracer, VH-3 Sea King, and a PV-4 Privateer) were a KC-135R from the Kansas Air National Guard as well as a KC-10 Extender from McGuire AFB. I was hoping that one of my friends would fly the KC-10 down, since he is originally from Pensacola, but he was not able to get on that crew roster and also because the crew was from another reserve squadron. There were also a pair of T-38s from Beale AFB as well as a pair of Tornadoes from Holloman AFB. The Tornado has a very unique sound to it - one so unique that when I was leaving NAS Pensacola on Thursday and walking back to my car, I heard a very loud and very unusual noise and I had absolutely no idea what it was until I saw it was a Tornado.
There were a bunch of performers at NAS Pensacola that I had not seen in the past, and I will take time to talk about them rather than those I have seen many times in the past. Don't get me wrong - I've seen performers like Michael Goulian numerous times and I absolutely love his routine and am VERY good friends with him and his family, but I feel like it's rude if I mention him - or anyone - and can't think of something different to say that's also a good thing (and that made no sense!). To start things, there was a promotion in World Airshow News regarding a performer who staged a very elaborate marketing scheme this past season, letting everyone think about what Vertigo Airshows really is. Was it another act with an Extra or a modified Pitts? Was it a warbird with a jet engine strapped to it? Was it an aerobatic routine with a large transport? Vertigo Airshows is the new name for Bob Carlton's Silent Wings Airshows act, which features a modified Salto sailplane. The modification makes Bob's Salto a self-launching sailplane, which defeats the purpose of having a tow plane, and is powered by a small jet engine. The jet engine actually makes the Salto do things I cannot imagine can be done in a sailplane - one of which being taking off.
NAS Pensacola had a bevy of Extras - one from Michael Goulian, one from Jan Collmer, and one from David Martin. I had actually seen Jan Collmer fly in the past - I believe he was at MCAS Miramar back in 1999 but I don't remember what his aerobatic performance was like back then. I did enjoy his aerobatic performance, along with David's, even though they both had somewhat similar airframes. In fact, I thought there was a good feel for all three gentlemen's performances - Jan's being the more graceful routines with the Extra, while David Martin showed off an intense performance in an Extra 330SC, which is basically an Extra 300 with a much more powerful engine, and Michael Goulian's performance was more of a hard-charging, hardcore, in-your-face routine choreographed to a well-timed music score. I did enjoy seeing Jan for the first time in years and I did enjoy seeing David fly for the first time. Being sponsored by Breitling, I had thought David was from Europe, since Breitling seems to rule Europe, but in actuality, he is one of the members of the United States Aerobatic Team.
In addition, there were also performances by an E-2C Hawkeye, an F-15 Eagle, an F-16 Fighting Falcon, and an F/A-18F Super Hornet - all of which took advantage of the large amount of moisture in the air for practice day on Thursday as well as on Friday. PIE and Flag took turns flying demos in the Super Hornet during their three-day stay and LBJ flew back seat for every demo, which included a lot of vapor coming off the jet for their four performances on Thursday and Friday. The same can be said for Major George "Dog" Clifford and Captain Sam "Nuke" Joplin for the F-16 and F-15 demos, respectively. The Thursday practice show actually featured one of the very best F-16 demonstrations I had seen in a VERY long time, despite the fact that some low clouds were still in the immediate aerobatic box regions. There was the right combination of afterburner in the exact parts of the demonstration where it should be, coupled with a high show as well as a lot of moisture in the air at the time. The F-16 is not famous for vapor, but if atmospheric conditions are just right, it can produce vapor nearly equal to that of an F-22 Raptor. The same can be said for the F-15 Eagle, though it is not as prevalent as the F-16 or F-22 when it comes to vapor. The Super Hornet, on the other hand, is a different story. When conditions are just right, one is almost guaranteed to get vapor that is capable of making one's jaw drop. Friday evening's Super Hornet demonstration featured a lot of vapor as well as lighting conditions that were just right for one to see the afterburner shockwaves light up the sky, and for many of us, nearly blow out our eardrums (photo pass anyone?).
In addition to the above mentioned performances, the local Emerald Coast Skydivers made a jump each day (except Saturday) from their Twin Otter jump aircraft. The team is somewhat local, but actually based out of Alabama. The USO Parachute Team was also in attendance, and once again, I am still trying to figure out what they use as their jump aircraft. John Mohr brought his Stearman to NAS Pensacola, and I think he is becoming one of my favorite performers now, mainly because his act is such a amazing demonstration of energy management with a very underpowered aircraft. In addition to his solo act, he flew two more times - once as part of the Masters of Mayhem performance with Skip Stewart and Jeremy Fields driving the Super Shockwave Jet Truck - and with Roger Buis flying Otto the Helicopter in an attempt to transfer stuntman Todd Green from the Stearman to the helicopter. Joe Fagundes got a chance to race the Super Shockwave Jet Truck on Friday with his SNJ Texan, but not on Saturday, as the race was called off for safety reasons, which I will explain later. Frank Ryder flew the Cyclone, and for me, it was weird seeing Frank fly without the Oreck titles all over the Cyclone. I still enjoyed his performance, and was waiting to see if he made any changes to the performance because of the lack of Oreck titles, but there wasn't. There was also a flight of trainers, which featured a T-1A Jayhawk, a T-6A Texan II, a T-39 Sabreliner, and a T-45 Goshawk. Dale "Snort" Snodgrass brought along Little Witch, a P-51D Mustang, for a Heritage Flight with Nuke and Dog in the F-15 and F-16, respectively.
Dan McCue brought the Collings Foundation F4U Corsair for a Legacy Flight with the Super Hornet, which ended up being one plane short because of an accident that took place on Thursday. The Legacy Flight was supposed to include the FJ-4 Fury as well, but on Thursday, Dan McCue had not arrived at NAS Pensacola when the Super Hornet demonstration took place, so a Fury/Super Hornet Legacy Flight was flown. The Fury is owned by Dr. Rich Sugden, and was the first time I had actually seen it in flight. The final pass for the Legacy Flight, following the split, was to have the Super Hornet make a high speed photo pass over the Fury, which was landing on Runway 25L. Unfortunately, that did happen, but the Fury was involved in a belly landing after what appeared to be a failure of the landing gear to extend. Rich was not hurt in the incident, and from what I was told, the aircraft did not suffer as much damage as I had initially feared. It WILL definitely fly again.
The weather was a completely different story. I had seen weather forecasts calling for temperatures in the mid to upper 70s for Thursday and Friday, but for chances of showers and thunderstorms both days. It was VERY foggy on Thursday morning, which delayed the start of the practice show, but it turned out to be a VERY NICE day and eventually, the low clouds gave way to an absolutely clear sky. Friday's weather was supposed to be doom-and-gloom, with showers and thunderstorms all day and night, but the very threatening and very dark skies on Friday morning actually gave way to very clear skies for the entire day show, and an abbreviated night show due to some drizzle, which prevented the Super Shockwave Jet Truck from doing a dry run down Runway 25L. Saturday's weather was exactly as forecasted - cold, clear, and WINDY. I don't think the temperatures got past sixty degrees that day and the winds kept steady at almost fifteen knots the entire day. The Super Shockwave Jet Truck did not do a race with Joe Fagundes and did not do a run during the Masters of Mayhem, but did a formation pass with John Mohr and Skip Stewart to close out that performance. Surprisingly enough, Todd Green did attempt to transfer from the Stearman to the helicopter and the USO Parachute Team did do a parachute jump.
Finally, as the name of the show suggests, NAS Pensacola represents the final show of the season for the Blue Angels. Unfortunately, because of actions of two (now former) members of the team, the six-plane show was reduced to a five-plane show. However, that did not detract from the fact that the show the remaining members of the team put on was absolutely fantastic. I had seen their performance from the Kennedy Space Center the week prior (thanks to NASA TV), so I knew what to expect with only three planes in the diamond. The team was in top form the entire weekend, from the practice display on Thursday to both show days on Friday and Saturday. Fat Albert performed two JATO demonstrations that weekend - one on Friday night and one on Saturday. In fact, it should be mentioned that one of my friend's Navy buddies got to go flying in Fat Albert on Saturday and I have yet to hear his reaction to that flight (there is a very interesting story to how he was able to get a ride in 'Bert!). I do believe that this was the last time a JATO demonstration would ever be performed, as the supply of JATO bottles is either very close to being exhausted or already has been, as a result of Hurricane Ivan devastating all of Pensacola back in 2004.
Overall, I am VERY GLAD I finally made the trip down to NAS Pensacola. I do, however, have to make a return trip in either 2009 or 2010. I still want to go to Nellis AFB for Aviation Nation, but that show is usually the same weekend as Pensacola, and I think the lighting at Nellis AFB is not nearly as amazing as the lighting at NAS Pensacola.
Military Demonstration Teams
US Navy Blue Angels
Military Aircraft Demonstrations
E-2C Hawkeye Demonstration
F-15 Eagle West Coast Demo Team
F-16 Fighting Falcon East Coast Demo Team
F/A-18F Super Hornet Demonstration
Aerobatic Performances, Warbird Performances, and Others
Super Shockwave Jet Truck
USAF Heritage Flight
US Navy Legacy Flight