OK, it’s September and you’re planning to head down to NAS Oceana in Virginia Beach for their big Air Show. There must be more to do than just driving down US-13 on the DelMarVa peninsula to get to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge by 6 PM. Well, actually there is a lot of fun stuff to do along the way before you hit the bridge, and a lot of it is aviation stuff, if you leave a little early and allow some recon time!
Your first IP after the Delaware Memorial Bridge will be to take that first exit for US-13 South and avoid I-95; that road is just too crazy. About three miles south of the DM Bridge on US-13 is the New Castle Airport. New Castle always had sporadic passenger service, with the last being Frontier Airlines with Airbus A-320 service to six cities. That ended in 2015 and now it’s a lot easier to park there, take a break and watch some airplanes. A good spotter location now is the lot at the south corner of the old terminal. A little further south used to be the location of a great WW2 restaurant called the “Air Transport Command Restaurant” near the end of runway 1 right on Route 13. The food was OK but right outside was a C-47 Dakota and a P-47 Thunderbolt and you sat right at the runway so there was plenty to watch… like the Mig-21 Fishbed (N1165) that is still kept in the nearby hangers. If you hit New Castle on a weekend, chances are good that you could see some action with the C-130 Hercs from the 166th Airlift Wing of the Delaware Air National Guard, based on the west side of the airport. The 166th operates 8 permanently assigned C-130-H2 Hercules transport aircraft as an operationally gained unit of the Air Mobility Command.
The New Castle Army Air Base opened in 1943 and had an interesting history in World War II, as assigned to the Air Corps Ferry Command facilitating movement of aircraft to overseas bases – relying on the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) for ferry pilots and even to tow targets for student gunners. There is a statue and an exhibit in the Terminal Building that honors the WASP women pilots. In the 1950’s the whole airport was actually called the “New Castle Air Force Base” and became a part of the Eastern Air Defense Force (EADF) of the Air Defense Command (ADC) and was assigned to the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, equipped with F-86 Sabre Jets on an air superiority mission. Later the Wing transitioned to F-94 Starfires with the 334th FIS. In 1952 the 334th was involved in a recorded UFO incident when its interceptors were scrambled out of New Castle AFB to intercept “unknown objects” detected flying over Washington. In honor of the 4th FIS / 394th FIS, there is a F-86 Sabre Jet Gate Guard at the Main Gate of the 166th AW DEANG Base. The plane is well preserved and has bright orange and black Commanders Stripes, “Cindee Lind 9th” nose art, s/n 53-1296, and was assigned to the 142nd TFS / 166th TFG. You can see it by turning west on to US-202 off of US-13 just before you hit the Dassault-Falcon Jet service hanger and then head for the Main Gate.
The next “aviation pit stop” on your road trip south on US-13 will be Dover Air Force Base and the Air Mobility Command Museum (AMCM). The AMCM is dedicated to military airlift and air refueling aircraft and the men and women who flew and maintained them. It has the largest and most complete collection of fully restored US military cargo and tanker aircraft in the Eastern US. It is right off of DE-1 / US-13 on DE-9, and is housed in a WW2 hanger right between two main runways at Dover. This makes it real easy to watch plenty of Dover air traffic from the Museum ramp. Dover is home to the 436th Airlift Wing of the AMC, known as the “Eagle Wing” and the AMC-gained 512th AW of the Air Force Reserve (AFRC), referred to as the “Liberty Wing”. Both now operate the C-17A Globemaster III and the C-5M Super Galaxy. The Museum has over thirty restored aircraft, with twenty-six on the outdoor ramp.
During the Cold War, Dover had a number of assigned interceptor squadrons, the last being the 95th FIS, active from July 1963 to January 1973. The 95th FIS was equipped with 16 F-106A “Delta Darts”. The Museum has the only surviving F-106 from the 95th stationed at Dover, s/n 59-0023, all fully restored. In 1973 all 16 of the F-106’s were transferred to the 177th FIG “Red Devils” up at Atlantic City NJANG Base. 59-0023 stayed at Atlantic City until 1985, after which it became a target drone at Eglin until the Museum acquired it in the late 90’s. The 95th FIS had eight runway Ready Alert Barns that were located right next to the Museum, until last year when they were torn down. Just to the east of the Museum are the concreted weapons bunkers and the larger underground Command Bunker that all still exist and are quite visible from the Museum Ramp, and could easily be activated if need be. I’m sure they were home to some nuclear weapons including the AIR-2A “Genie” air-to-air nuclear missile that was part of the armament of the F-106’s that were based at Dover.
In addition to the F-106, I have a couple of favorites here at the Museum: a) the VC-9C VIP DC-9 and b) C-124A Globemaster. The VC-9C (s/n 73-1682) is a beauty and is in magnificent shape with a gloss bare metal belly, a sky blue waist band and a white top just like “Air Force One”. In fact this aircraft served as “Air Force Two” from 1975 to 2011 as a part of the 89th MAW based at Andrews AFB. It carried Vice Presidents Walter Mondale, George H.W. Bush, Dan Quale, Al Gore, and Dick Chaney. It also carried First Ladies Rosalyn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, and even recently, Michelle Obama. On special trips to smaller airports when the President was on board, it became “Air Force One”.
The C-124A Globemaster (s/n 49-0258) was the Air Force’s first long range strategic airlifter and earned the nick name “Old Shakey” for obvious reasons. It was active from 1949 to 1974. This aircraft is the oldest surviving C-124A. This aircraft type was special to me because C-124’s were based at the Westchester County Airport near where I lived near White Plains, NY, with the 105th MAW of the NYANG. I used to spend Sunday afternoons watching these big guys do touch-and -goes in the mid 60’s when that airport was nice and simple with a Quonset Hut terminal and the only airline there was Mohawk Airlines with its Convair 440’s.
The Museum is a great place to watch Dover C-17’s and C-5M’s, transient aircraft and visiting foreign aircraft that park right next to the Museum ramp. I have seen Hercs from Pakistan, Egypt, UK, Saudi Arabia and UAE. Also in September you can see a lot of foreign VIP aircraft in for the UN General Assembly Meetings in New York. It’s a good place to store some of the planes used for all the dignitaries that come to the UN in September. Last October I was lucky enough to be there when the Museum had their 50th Anniversary Party, when they had an active duty C-5M and a C-17 rolled up next to the museum line gate for public viewing and boarding — a nice mini-Air Show!!!
After you leave Dover AFB and head south again on US-13, there are some unusual gate guards to see. A few miles south of the Maryland line, where Route 113 meets US-13, on the east side of Route 13 is the “American Legion Worcester Post 93″ where there sits in its front driveway, a not so beautifully restored T-33A Lockheed Shooting Star with “Bangor Air Defense Sector” printed on its day-glow wing tip tanks, TR-650 is on its fuselage and 29650 and an Eagle Squadron patch on its tail. This is actually quite a rare bird because of where it came from. It’s still in its original war paint. The Bangor Air Defense Sector (BaADS) was established in 1957 and assumed control of the Eastern Air Defense Force units with a mission to provide air defense of Maine and most of Vermont and New Hampshire. Its last assignment was with the 26th Air Division of the Air Defense Command based out of Topsham AFB, ME. The Division also had fighters based at Ethan Allan AFB, VT; Presque Isle AFB, ME; Loring AFB, ME and Dow AFB, ME. At the height of the Cold War, the USAF had air bases everywhere, especially up north. None exist anymore. BaADS also had many local Radar Stations, a SAGE Air Combat Direction Center, a BOMARC Missile Site and was assigned F-94 Starfires and later F-102 Delta Daggers and F-106 Delta Darts. The unit was inactivated in 1966.
Again, heading south on US-13, right after you cross the VA line, turn left (east) on to Route 175. About 6 miles east you will come to the NASA Wallops Island Flight Facility, an ex-Naval Air Station that now supports the NASA Wallops Island Space Launch Center, about 10 miles to the southeast. Pull over and you may get to see some interesting transients here. Rumor has it that E-2C’s and C-2’s out of Chambers NAS do touch-and-goes here, as well as an occasional E-6B Mercury. Hang out – you never know what you might see here. The airfield also has over 20 major space radar dishes for tracking Wallops Island space launches. Right next to the NASA airfield, also on Route 175, is the NASA Visitor Center with about 10 special Sounding Rockets on display, plus some interesting NASA exhibits inside.
Further down US-13, when you get to Melfa, VA, turn right on to Parkway Road and head for the “Acomack County Airport”. Besides a brand new wood shingle terminal that looks like a new Outer Banks US Life Saving Station, it has a Navy A-4F Skyhawk Gate Guard from the VFC-12 “Fighting Omars” out of NAS Oceana (s/n 155036) and tail code “AF”, in its original low-viz colors. Its career started in 1966 with VA-125 “Rough Riders” and ended in 1992 with VFC-12 “Fighting Omars”, a composite Aggressor Unit based at NAS Oceana. This aircraft is on loan from the National Museum of Naval Aviation at NAS Pensacola, FL. This A-4F, as per a contract with the Navy, will soon be restored by the County Airport Commission with special volunteers and later moved one mile east to a new concrete pedestal mount at the US-13 intersection to be more easily seen by the public from the road, as requested by the Navy.
OK folks, now let’s saddle up and head for the Bridge. But before we hit the Bridge, there’s a couple of quick military sights to see: “Cape Charles” – west on Route 184, just before the Bridge… before there was even any bridge to Norfolk, cars and trains would have to cross the Bay by barge and ferry boat to get to the Little Creek US Navy Amphibious Base. There was a ferry slip actually located on base for the public to use, that hooked up to US-13 again at Norfolk. “Kiptopeke” – the ferry dock later moved in the late 50’s to here. There still are 10 concrete – yes, concrete – WW2 Liberty Ships right near the old ferry dock that were used as close-in breakwaters. And just across from the bridge toll booth is the Eastern Shore Wildlife Refuge, where, if you walk around a bit you will find some WW2 concrete gun emplacement bunkers. When you hit the Bridge, stop at the Rest Stop at the south tunnel – you might get lucky and see an aircraft carrier or a big LHD coming out of the Norfolk Navy Base and heading out to open waters.
If after all of this, and you still have time in Virginia Beach, go east on I-264 from I-64, get off at Colonial Road and follow the signs for NAS Oceana, and then park at the world-famous Railroad Tracks. Here you can watch the F/A-18 Hornets come in on landing patterns that are literally 50 feet on top of your head – really!! After you have lost your hearing from the jet noise, recover down at the Military Air Museum and the Fighter Factory about 10 miles southeast of Oceana on Princess Anne Road. Here Jerry Yagen keeps over 60 restored WW1 and WW2 warbirds, and they all fly!! This whole place is a separate story in itself with much going on here. There’s a big WW2 air show coming up on May 19th -21st this year and it’s worth a visit. OH YES, almost forgot – Now you can go over to NAS Oceana for their big air show in September, which was the whole purpose of this Road Trip Mission!!!
Happy Plane Chasing!!!