My 2015 Air Show Finale Weekend

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The distance “as the crow flies” between NAS Pensacola and Moody AFB is just 280 miles. What a coincidence that this pair of military air bases would host the final large events of the 2015 North American air show season, being so close to each other. Two of the U.S.’s top military flight demonstration teams, the Navy’s Blue Angels and the Air Force’s Thunderbirds, would be just 20 minutes apart (by jet speed) on the same weekend, and within reach for me to attend both of their season’s finales. Better yet, Pensacola’s shows were scheduled for Friday and Saturday, while Moody’s shows were to be presented on Saturday and Sunday, giving me a bit of flexibility with my travel plans. Unfortunately for us (my wife, sister-in-law and me), foggy weather at Pensacola and rainy weather at Moody left my precise plans in disarray, but I still got to watch most of a full day of flying at each venue, and witnessed each team’s finale weekends.

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Arrival day for the Pensacola show is normally Thursday, but many aircraft arrived earlier that morning before I got to the show, and were already parked when I arrived at the field.  Most of the warbirds were already under the shade canopies that recently (past 3 years or so) were added to the sprawling Florida Panhandle ramp, although some that were flying in the show were parked near hangars away from the show line. A big bonus for any Pensacola air show – otherwise known as the Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show – is that the base is also home to the National Naval Aviation Museum.  That facility contributes a fair amount of pristinely-restored retired veteran aircraft to the static display, and many even look airworthy!  This is always a great warbird show as far as static displays go.  The nearby Museum displayed the only Vought F6U-1 Pirate in existence, as well as an A4D-1 Skyhawk, EA-3B Skyraider, and an F-14A Tomcat… all early versions of the aircraft types. There were a large group of warbirds that managed to fly in after morning fog burned off on Thursday too.  There were numerous World War II L-birds, including examples of Piper, Taylorcraft, and Aeronca liaison aircraft.  A Focke Wulf FW-149D trainer/liaison aircraft was pristine in German Air Force markings, as was a PT-23A trainer in silver Army Air Corps training colors.

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Warbirds in the air included a trio of routines that flew during the Friday daytime show.  “Doc” Serrato made a series of passes in his T-28C Trojan.  The Stearman Flight, consisting of a PT-17, N2S-4 and a VN2S-4, made formation passes too.  And the GEICO Skytypers flew their full routine, displaying air to air maneuvering skills of combat situations common to World War II.  Their SNJ-2s were similar to types stationed at NAS Pensacola during the Second World War too. The Skytypers alighted during the Friday evening air show as a bonus, but had to scrub their full performance as a bank of low clouds passed through the area at precisely the wrong time!

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With the best of intentions, we hit the road Saturday morning to arrive at Moody AFB in time for the flying to begin.  Unfortunately, a costly pair of errors… a balky GPS and my forgetfulness of the time zone change from Pensacola’s Central Time to Moody’s Eastern Time, cost us almost two hours, enough to miss about a third of the show on Saturday.

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Finally arriving mid-show, one of the first acts we watched was a bright yellow T-6 Texan just as it flew a final pass and landed.  Clouds were boiling up as we took in the static display but fortunately they never reached rain or lightning-producing levels for the rest of the afternoon.  Next warbird up was Greg Colyer in his Acemaker T-33, who even made a few additional bonus passes for the crowd at the end of his show, down low and fast training thick smoke.  The Commemorative Air Force’s FG-1D Corsair, went up for the final warbird presentation in the sky, although we had missed a P-51 Mustang, P-40 Warhawk  and F-86 Sabre demonstration because of our later than expected arrival.  On the ground, a trio of warbirds, A C-47, T-6 and B-17 were arrayed on the static ramp, open for inspection.  The B-17 Memphis Belle, presented by the Liberty Foundation, drew large crowds, not only because it is a rare bird but its broad wings could shade dozens of spectators.

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The C-47 was a real World War II veteran, flying dangerous missions during the D-Day invasion and Operation Market Garden.  Later, it was transferred to the Canadian Air Force, and after being declared surplus, was used as transportation by the crew of the Greenland Expedition Society, which recovered the P-38 Glacier Girl between 1989 and 1992. Later, it returned to Europe, and flew during a 50th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion commemoration, complete with a paratroop drop from the aircraft! Weather dealt both shows some challenges… Pensacola’s Saturday show changed their schedule to have the Blue Angels fly just after noon (a few hours earlier than their normal time slot), to (successfully) try to avoid forecast weather, and the Moody AFB show on Sunday was cancelled outright due to rain and windy conditions. I got lucky and saw the best weather conditions at both shows, saw the next-to the last Blue Angels and the final Thunderbirds routines of the 2015 season, and saw some interesting warbirds too.

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