Naval Air Station Patuxent River (KNHK / Trapnel Field) also known as NAS Pax River, is a United States Naval Air Station located in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Located on Chesapeake Bay, near the mouth of the Patuxent River, it is about one hour east of Andrews AFB. The big base is home to Headquarters, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), the U.S. Naval Test Pilots School, the Atlantic Test Range, and serves as a center for Test, Evaluation and Systems Acquisition to Naval Aviation of new and operational aircraft. Additional Commands include Air Test Wing Atlantic, and the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD). Its operational units include: Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VX-1); Scientific Development Squadron 1 / Naval Research Lab (VXS-1, Warlocks), Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 20 (VX-20, Force), Rotary Wing Test Squadron 21 (HX-21, Black Pack), and Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 (VX-23, Salty Dogs). Pax air shows have been noted for showing off special and unusual test aircraft decked out in bands of day-glow orange and special nose art, something you never get to see at other military air shows. That makes a Pax air show always special and unusual. 2016 was no exception!
The NAS Patuxent River “Air Expo 2016″ Air Show was held very late last year on October 29th and 30th, 2016. Maybe being late in the year made this major air show much more manageable, easier to get into, and much more fun. By Andrews AFB show standards, the crowds were relatively low, at about fifteen thousand, and most of those guys were late arrivals. When I got to the Main Gate at about 0800 there were only about ten cars in front of me. I can remember McGuire back in the 80’s, even if you got there at 5 AM, there were one hundred fifty cars in front of you waiting for the gate to open. Not so with Pax-16. This was easy!
But before we drive through the Main Gate, let’s recon the area just a bit. You never come to Pax unless you block out some time for the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum (PRNAM), just outside the Main Gate, on MD Route 235 where 246 intersects. First opened in 1978, the Pax River Naval Air Museum now spans three buildings (one brand new) and includes a flightline ramp consisting of one-of-a-kind historic aircraft associated with the Naval Flight Test Programs that have taken place at Pax over the years. PRNAM focuses on the research, development, test and evaluation programs at Pax – and besides unique artifacts, has over twenty-five one-of-a-kind test aircraft that you can walk right up to and touch if you want to. Most ramp aircraft are painted up in a band of day-glow orange on a white fuselage, typical of the test programs run at Pax and include: a NA-4M Skyhawk; an RA-5C Vigilante; an NA-6E Intruder; an NA-7A Corsair II, an F-4J Phantom II; an NF-6A (F4D) Skyray; a F9F-8B Cougar; an F-14A Tomcat; an NF/A-18A Hornet; an E-2B Hawkeye; an AH-1J Seacobra; a TH-1L Iroquois (Huey); an SH-2G Super Seasprite; a CH-53A Sea Stallion; an S-2D (S2F-3) Tracker; an S-3B Viking; a T-34B Turbo Mentor; a T-39D Sabreliner; an X-32B JSF STOVL demonstrator and a C-2A COD Greyhound.
Inside the brand new, design award – winning Pax Museum Building is a F-35C STOL Lightning II, a Curtiss A-1 Triad replica of the first Navy test aircraft, an X-47 UCAV drone, an SH-3A Sea King in pristine gloss grey, a 1965 QH-50 Gyrodyne DASH ASW drone anti- submarine helicopter, a USCG twin blade drone similar to a mini-VS-22 Osprey, a white half-scale JSF mockup; a Northrop-Grumman MQ-8B “Fire Scout” drone helo; a gloss white Northrop F-5E Tiger II with a horizontal orange band with “USNTPS” markings; and many other Pax historical artifacts. The place is worthy of a special visit.
If you want to see some real aircraft testing and you can’t get on base, try your luck visiting the Webster Field Test Annex, a near-by OLF of Pax about fifteen miles south at Kitts Point. From the Pax Main Gate, go south on Route 246, then east on Route 5 to St. Inigoes, then look for the little “Webster Field” sign on the right. After you have seen some touch-and-goes, go over to the “Ruddy Duck 2″ on nearby Piney Point, a quiet restaurant where the Pax pilots go to toast the sunset, so I hear. On Saturday night there was a “Air Show Block Party” at Leonardtown, about ten miles west of Pax on Route 4. They had a couple of bands going at the Town Park in Town. Pilots and Air Crews were signing autographs on show programs. Local pubs like “Rex” and the “Old Town Pub” in Leonardtown had a few Hornet Drivers having a few, and I hear some crews went to “The Ruddy Duck-1″ in nearby Solomon’s. Solomon’s, on the other side of the big Route 4 Bridge, has a neat Maritime Museum, and is near Pax as you depart the area after the show. Lots to do outside the fence!
But wait, there was an air show still to go to, actually a big air show with about sixty airplanes and not too many people breaking down the fences to get in. Nice and easy at 0800. No “Le Mans Start” at all. So I was pretty close to being lead car in. This time they took us around the scenic route to get to “Show Center” parking. Our line of slow moving cars went through a long divert through active taxiways, aprons, ramps and even runways, past quite a few fighters, tankers, C-130’s, and other support aircraft. I wish I could have stopped to take some pictures with the two hundred fifty, but there was very tight security and no one was allowed to stop or even slow down until we got to the show parking area. When I parked I was ten cars away from the controlled entry to get to the flightline. The first airplanes were positioned really close at about one hundred feet from where my car was parked and this was general parking! Such a deal !
At 0830 the few that got there early had the ramp to themselves; just a few hundred plane chasers and they were unobtrusively well scattered. I headed for the Hot Ramp, and it was surprisingly pretty much opened to the public, at least at 0830. The Hot Ramp included: the Warrior Flight Team with two L-39’s with “Vandy-1″, the Navy “Black Bunny” piloted by Mark “Crunchy” Burgess and “Roman-86″, the Navy black and white Red Star aggressor piloted by Bill “Pirate” Mills; a UK FA.2 Sea Harrier Warbird piloted by former Marine test pilot Lt. Col. (Ret.) Art Nalls; a twin-tailed De-Havilland DH-100 Vampire jet piloted by Jerry Conley; the USAF F-22 Raptor Demo Team out of Langley, AFB, VA, from the 27th FS (“FF”); the Navy F-18 Hornet Demo Team out of NAS Oceana with two F/A-18C’s from VFA-106 “Gladiators”; the GEICO Skytypers out of Republic Airport, LI, NY, with six WW2 T-6A Texans; a Navy blue T-28B Trojan Warbird piloted by Joe Edwards; a Yak-52TW “Roman Mistress” in tan Aggressor cammo with a red star piloted by Charlie “V+12″ VandenBossche; a red bi-wing Pitts Special stunt plane piloted by Clemens Kuhlig; a white home-built single wing custom-built “Javelin” stunt plane piloted by Trevor Rafferty from Hamilton Ontario Canada; a dark blue mono-wing MXS stunt plane piloted by Scott Francis; the super-quiet and graceful white Sailplane Glider piloted by the world-famous Manfred Radius; and the well-known B-25J “Panchito” of the Delaware Aviation Museum out of the Delaware Coastal Airport in Georgetown, DE.
I’ve always been impressed with the bios of the pilots that go up and risk their lives to put on a good show for us plane chasers at an air show. One such pilot is Charlie VandenBossche and his Yak-52TW: Charlie “V+12″ VandenBossche is a former USAF bomber pilot whose service includes the 28th Bomb Squadron at McConnell AFB and the 37th Bomb Squadron at Ellsworth AFB piloting the Rockwell B-1B Lancer “Bone” bomber, duty at RAF Fairford in the UK, USAF Weapons Schools at the 53rd Wing, the 188th Wing of the Arkansas Air National Guard, and finally duty at Andrews AFB and the Pentagon in DC. After 22 years of service, Charlie retired and now works on the F-35 Integrated Test and Evaluation Team right here at Pax River. In his free time Charlie flies with Nalls Aviation (the FA.2 “Sea Harrier” Team). Charlie is currently flying a 1939 Piper “Cub”, an L-39 “Albatross”, his Yak-53TW and a Cessna C-182.
The Static Line at Pax was a huge squared-off oval that provided a lot of ramp space for the planes. As you came in to the flightline at the single main gate, once you cleared the security screening, off to the right was a roped off F/A-18F CAG Bird, all decked out in blue-grey CAG colors of VX-23 “Salty Dogs” with “Strike Test – Lead the Fleet” logo. It was reserved for a later “Man Vs. Jumbo Jet” rope pull with strong man Mark Kirsch. Yeah, he managed to pull the Hornet about ten feet!! A better test would have been if he could have pulled a fully-fueled KC-10A Tanker!! Next Time!!
To the left of the gate as you walked in was an assortment of cool aircraft: two dark grey Strike Eagles from the 4th Fighter Wing up from Seymour Johnson AFB; a Marine VS-22A Osprey from Pax Test HX-21; an F/A-18C from VX-23 Strike Test 402; an F/A-18C from VX-23 Strike Test 100; a Navy MH-60R Seahawk helo with inert Hellfire missiles; a UH-1Y Super Huey “Venom” from HX-21; a Marine AH-1W Super Cobra helo from HX-21; a Marine AH-1Z “Viper” from HX-21; a Navy white and orange NU-1B single engine tail-dragger STOL “Otter”(a derivative of the DHC-3 Otter); a Navy Test T-38 Talon; a USAF T-6B Texan II; and a Navy TPS Eurocopter UH-72A “Lakota” helo from Airbus North America… it’s a version of the commercial EC145 helo. To the left of all this test metal there was a small stretch of of local food vendors representing some of the best high-end restaurants here in St. Mary’s County; kind of “Restaurant Week” for a Saturday afternoon. The special food was very tasty!!
At the far west ramp down by Fire and Crash was gaggle of more unusual birds: a 1955 white with red band T-28B Trojan Warbird with VA-122 markings owned by the Warbird Museum of Virginia based at the Richmond Executive Airport; a silver 1948 L-17A Ryan “Navion” in USAF colors; two yellow Piper “Cubs”; seven local EAA light aircraft on flight school display; a fully restored ex-USCG Grumman “Albatross”; an active Navy C-2A COD Greyhound from VX-20; a local P-3C Orion from the on-Base Naval Research Labs (RL tail code). (Sadly, this aircraft was just sent to the Boneyard in February, 2017); a 2003 USCG HC-130J up from Elizabeth City in that fabulous white with red nose band Coast Guard color scheme, and finally a private crop duster and a silver P-51 Mustang Warbird. I think this works out to well over 50 a/c – not bad for a late show!
Starting at 1000, Pax put a nice 5 hour flying show together. First up was a Pax MH-60 jump helo with the US Army Special Operations Command Parachute Demo Team “Black Daggers” on board along with Scott Francis and his MXS doing circles round the lone jumper for the National Anthem flag drop. Next, Clemens Kuhlig and Scott Francis did a nice 2-ship stunt show. The “Black Daggers” full team show was next with them doing HALO team jump and right behind was Trevor Rafferty doing a nice stunt show with his white Javelin that he actually built in his garage at home over a five year span. Joe Anderson, an ex-F4 pilot, took his L-39 Albatross up next for a few laps. Charlie VandenBossche, a local who works right here at Pax, did a nice job in his Aggressor colored Yak-52TW.
The DH-100 twin-tiled RAF Vampire jet was next; hard to believe that thing had a plywood fuselage. Joe Edwards took his dark blue Navy T-28 Trojan up next and raced a brand new 2017 Lamborghini car. I think the car beat him! Our old friend “Panchito” did a few loud low turns around the field. Then he gave way to the Manfred Radius glider show. Now I know why the crop duster was here; it was his tow plane that got him up to his 5,800 foot release point. As always, the Warrior Flight Team’s 2-ship L-39’s did a nice tight show and paved the way for the 6-ship GEICO Skytypers from Long Island doing their simulated air combat routine with their T-6’s, always a great act. Clemens Kuhlig next did a second display with his red home-built Pitts S-1S. Scott Francis was right behind him with a nice stunt show with his blue MXS. The Blues were supposed to end the Pax show, but they were ordered to cancel their attendance for mandatory “Crew Rest” due to an accident earlier in the season. But we got the next best thing for a Show Finale at Pax — the F/A-18 Hornet and F-22 Raptor Demo Teams! The F/A-18C from VFA-106 “Gladiators”, out of Oceana, was first out with Lt. Scott “McGruber” Lyndall on the stick. Loud and fast – what everybody loves!! The “Black Daggers” next give our ear drums a break with a full team HALO jump from Angels 10. The F-22 Raptor out of Langley gave an unbelievable performance with controlled thrust vectoring to make that 5th-generation fighter literally hang in the air and rotate on its own tail ! Finally, the P-51 Mustang joined up with the Raptor to give a final concluding patriotic “Heritage Flight” performance. The crowd loved it and cheered them on for the final split breakaway pass. Really “Sierra Hotel”!
Thank you Pax for a great final air show for the 2016 season!!
March 19, 2017