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Looking Back – My Fort Drum Familiarization Trip

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Around the beginning of the new Millennium – that being 2000 to 2003 I believe, a familiarization program for FAA air traffic controllers was organized to observe Army and Air National Guard aviation operations at Fort Drum, New York. North of a Utica to Syracuse line on a map, there are multiple Military Operating Areas (MOAs) and a Restricted Area which contain targets for live firing of ammunition. Fort Drum is home to the Army’s 10th Mountain Division and has flying units contained within. New York Army and Air National Guard units use the facilities for training as well. Wheeler Sack Army Air Field (AAF), which serves the ranges, had its single runway lengthened to 10,000 feet in 1998, to serve large Air Force transports moving the 10th Mountain Division around the world.

The Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) is located in Nashua, NH. Nearby Boire Field airport is more than capable of flight operations of small to medium sized General Aviation aircraft, including jets and turboprops. Two supervisors at Boston Center were pilots for the Connecticut Air National Guard, and one of them set up a program that allowed a handful of air traffic control personnel to travel to the Army airport and observe flight training and weapons firing in person, a few times a year. One of the many functions that a Boston ARTCC controller accomplishes is to keep non-participating aircraft away from these live fire areas when they’re scheduled to be “hot”.

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The Connecticut Air National Guard’s 103rd Fighter Wing operated the A-10 Thunderbolt II at the time, but also had a Beech C-12 Super King Air assigned to it for National Guard duties. On a weekly basis, the twin turboprop would fly between the 103rd’s base at Bradley International Airport and Wheeler Sack AAF, ferrying personnel and supplies between the two. For training efficiency, the 103rd operated a Forward Operating Location (FOL) with personnel that could refuel and rearm A-10s at the Army airport. The A-10s would depart Bradley with practice munitions, get clearance into the Restricted Area and drop their ordinance, shoot their guns, and land at Wheeler Sack. The pilots would plan their next sorties while the FOL crew would turn the A-10s around, refueling and rearming them. Upon departure, the A-10s would perform more target practice before departing the area for home. This would save between an hour to an hour and a half of transit flying time between the consecutive sorties.

Space permitting, the C-12 King Air was made available for a shuttle from Nashua to, and back from Wheeler Sack. I was a Traffic Management Coordinator at Boston Center at the time, assisting with scheduling and communicating the Fort Drum range operation times. I got lucky enough to go on one such familiarization trip. We departed Nashua early on a Friday morning and our C-12 quickly arrived at Fort Drum. We went into the Operations building and toured the range control unit. I saw the airspace scheduling unit and observed how aircraft operating in the airspace could still avoid the live fire zones in the Restricted Area.

The day I went, a high ranking New York National Guard officer and delegation was also at Fort Drum for familiarization, so this would be a busy flying day for us to see. Helicopter operations were most of the flying we saw, but at one point several New York Air National Guard F-16 Fighting Falcons dropped Cluster Bomb Units (CBUs) on the range targets too. Although they didn’t use the range, I saw a B-52 from nearby Griffiss AFB flying just east of us as well.

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From the base operation building, the handful of us (about 7 or 8 people) split up and boarded a pair of Bell UH-1 Huey helicopters… part of a 4-ship formation that would carry us out to the actual ranges. It was late summer/early autumn, and we flew low across the forested landscape and arrived at a grass landing site. Greeted by uniformed soldiers, we were led down a short path and up a small hillock.

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Suddenly, we heard helicopter rotor noise, and a pair of UH-60 Black Hawks with howitzers slung underneath them popped up from our right. They flew directly in front of us, placed the cannons down some 50 yards or so away, and then settled to let soldiers dismount from the cabins. Within minutes, the soldiers had moved the cannons into their firing positions, unloaded boxes of ammunition, and had fired a few rounds of 105mm howitzer shells downrange. The Blackhawks quickly returned and picked up the soldiers and left.

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We went back to our UH-1s, and departed for another viewing site, looking at the same live fire range from a different location. We dismounted and watched as a trio of NYARNG AH-1 Cobras shot their cannons and Hellfire missiles on targets as an OH-58 Kiowa assisted with their targeting. At this point, although I had been allowed to use my camera during the trip, all of us were told to stop looking in our viewfinders and taking photos unless we had a special lens filter attached… the Hellfires launched were laser-guided and while I never saw a laser in operation, I followed orders!

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After a few hours in and above Upstate New York, we flew back to the main airfield and ate lunch before boarding the C-12 for the flight home. There was one more surprise on the day though, and it happened after we departed. One of my favorite terms heard while controlling is the declaration of “MARSA” between two or more military aircraft. “Military Assumes Responsibility for Separation of Aircraft” (MARSA) means that pilots, or built-in procedures in a military flight plan, allow for separate aircraft to join together without the requirement of ATC providing standard separation between them. After the morning’s A-10 target practice, two jets were turned around at the FOL and departed just before our C-12. Somewhere near Utica I think, the A-10s must have called MARSA to ATC, and joined up in formation on our wing, giving us an idea of what formation flight was all about. Granted, the jets weren’t breathtakingly close to us, but we marveled at the sight of another aircraft in close proximity to another – something a controller seldom gets to see in person.

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Soon we landed at Nashua and our day of flying was done. What I took away from the trip included gained knowledge of how the process of scheduling and using airspace occurs from the Fort Drum personnel, helicopter operations, formation flights, and the mitigation of hazards like laser light.

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Looking back at it now, the Army and Army National Guard have retired all of their Bell UH-1 and AH-1 helicopters, and the 103rd Fighter Wing has lost their A-10s and C-12 as they are equipped with C-130 Hercules transports today. Additionally, the NY Air National Guard’s 174 Fighter Wing has retired their F-16s, replacing them with MQ-9A Reaper unmanned aircraft. The Air Force’s 416th Bomb Wing is decommissioned and the Griffiss AFB has been closed by a BRAC decision… their B-52Gs are all parked at the AMARG Boneyard or scrapped. So, this was quite a snapshot of operations from two decades ago, and air operations in the Northeastern US has almost totally changed, except for the fact that Fort Drum and Wheeler Sack AAF are still in operation.

 

Aerospace Museum of California

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The Aerospace Museum of California is located in Sacramento, at the former McClellan Air Force Base. Originally part of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, after the base closed due to a BRAC decision, the museum became a non-profit organization in 2001. In 2007, it moved from its previous location on the former air base to its current four and a half acre park.

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Today, the museum boasts a collection of 40 aircraft, a wide-ranging collection of aircraft engines, and an active STEM program that provides opportunities for local schools’ students to experience hands-on aviation activities.

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There are a number of rare, well restored aircraft, such as a Navy DASH 50, a Curtiss Wright B-14-B Speedwing, a Convair VC-131D transport and a pair of MiG jet fighters.

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California has a rich aviation legacy, and many aircraft and equipment that made in impact on the U.S.’s flight development are displayed here. Some of these displays are here; you can hover over the thumbnail for an ID, or click for a larger photo.

 

Dandy Randy – The Great Texas Airshow!

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Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph AFB, TX just hosted its airshow on April 23-24 2022 celebrating the 75th anniversary of the USAF and 80 years of Air Education and Training (naturally under the Army then). Randolph is a base with huge ramp space which they pleasantly populated with many static displays including some unique appearances.

There are two parallel runways, the flying show was on the west side (unfortunately looking into the sun, a repeat issue). The statics were placed on a huge ramp ninety degrees to the south of both runways, with a little bit running north on the west flightline. From the entrance from the major car park (I didn’t take the bus…..always question buses) to the last static display on the north edge of the west ramp was a mile long. The weather on both days was windy with clouds which led to low shows by the Thunderbirds. However, for the conditions, it was a solid performance of aerial flying! The static displays were outstanding!

Kent Pietsch in his Jelly Belly Stunt Plane, a 1942 Interstate Cadet. This is a more maneuverable aircraft that you would expect! It couldn’t be flown any better than with Mr. Pietsch at the controls.

12th FTW Composite 6-ship Flyby (2 xT-38s, T-1s, T-6s) (one pass only)

TORA! TORA! TORA! with pyro -always a grand production.

USMC MV-22B Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron demo from VMM-354 “Purple Foxes”

The C-17 Globemaster III West Coast Demo Team from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA

F-35A Demo & TF-51 Heritage Flight (Bum Steer)

Bill Stein in the Edge 540

Rob Holland in the MX2

Kent Pietsch in the Cadet landing multiple times on the moving pickup truck.

Subsonex JSX-2 kit built mini-jet flown by Tom Larkin

CF-5D demo (Canadian paint scheme) flown by Jeffrey “JR” Rust

CJ-6 Demo Manchin flown by Rick “Thug” Kelly

Kent Pietsch and the Jelly Belly Dead Stick Demo – power out from 6K, many maneuvers and during landing, compensating for gusting winds, stops perfectly right in front of a lady holding her hand out to touch the spinner.

CAF B-17 “Texas Raiders”, BE-18/SNB (out of view), B-25 [PBJ Marine Devil Dog] and trailed at the end by a Barksdale B-52H.

P-40 Warhawk (Flying Tigers)

Shockwave Jet Truck driven by Chris Darnell while racing both inverted Bill Stein and Rob Holland (pictured) – fantastic event!

USAF Thunderbirds -#2 Thunderbird pilot Maj Ian Lee, when asked about the possibility of colored smoke remarked, “We tried it once, but it was really messy.”

Special highlights of the statics were:

A-20G Havoc– possibly the last one still in flying condition. The last aircraft were built in 1944. Lewis Air Legends’ Havoc is from San Antonio, acquired from the Lone Star Flight Museum.

B-29 “Doc” only one of two (the other is “Fifi”)

F-15EX OT 53rd Wing (test component) from Eglin AFB, FL

Textron Airland Scorpion jet. 4 Scorpions were produced, only 3 fly now. This is the 3rd flying prototype.

KC-135R from Altus AFB. OK with nice heritage markings tracing the 97th Bomb Group ‘Y’ letter triangle. For insight: https://www.altus.af.mil/News/Article/2242299/the-triangle-y-behind-mobilitys-hometown/

San Antonio 149FW/182FS F-16C with special camouflage heritage paint scheme

One of three T-6 Texan II local trainers with heritage paint schemes. More insight at: https://www.jbsa.mil/News/News/Article/2396923/wwii-legendary-aces-aircraft-lore-alive-and-well-at-12th-ftw-39th-fts/

   

 

Sigh… nose art differences of the times.

The full ramp:

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B-52H from the 2nd BW (3 active duty bomb sqdns: 11th, 20th and 96th) with the 20th BS “Buccaneers” (blue fin flash) tending the static aircraft. LA is the tail code for Active Duty. There is also the 307th BW (18 aircraft) from the Reserve side (BD tail code) with the 93rd Flying Training Unit (FTU) who works with the active duty 11thBS, the 343th BS combat squadron and the 345th BS who works with the B-1 Lancers 9th BS from active duty at Dyess. The Buccaneers kindly donated a couple of patches (their rubberized patch glows in the dark) for the article as they were instructed not to sell patches (very confusing as the F-35 demo team sold memorabilia as did classic bombers).
C-17 McChord
KC-46 Altus
AC-130W Hurlburt Fld
A-10 Moody
F-22 Eglin
F-15Es MO
F/A-18Es VFA-113 Stingers
F-35As LF
E-2D VAW-123 Screwtops
F-15Es MO
MV-22B VMM-354 “Purple Foxes”
TG-15As– USAF Academy glider
Bonanza
RV-7A -side-by-side seating, single prop
AT-37
TB-30 – French tandem basic trainer
A-26 – Invader Lady Liberty (the only American bomber to fly missions in three wars (WW II, Korea and Vietnam). Retired in 1972.
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HH-60
C-21 Cougar assigned to the 458th Airlift Sqdrn, Scott AFB, IL
C-47 “That’s All Brother”
AT-6 – Wolverine
P-39 Airacobra
B-25J – Rod Lewis Air Legends’ collection with Russian babe nose art
T-34 Mentor
P-63 Kingcobra
P-51D
T-6G – Texan
TF-51D
P-51
EC145 – Eurocopter
CJ-6 Manchin -like the one that flew
JSX003 – microjet
BE-18 Beech twin-prop flew with bomber presentation (possible substitute for the A-26)
T-38 Smurf
T-1 Jayhawk -local with heritage paint scheme
2x F-16Cs from 187FW/100FS, Dannelly Fld, ALANG (one with full red tail). Speaking with “Tazer”, they already have roughly half-a-dozen F-35 trained pilots – majority almost IP’s at Eglin, another flying with the 158FW, Burlington VTANG. It may take 1.5 yrs. to convert. Rumored some of their vipers could go to plus up Navy Aggressors.
BT-13 Valiant – tandem trainer

There are challenges with Randolph – with anything ‘size Texas’, it is very difficult to sufficiently cover the parked aircraft and also capture all the flying. The complaint isn’t laziness to walk at all, it’s trying to do justice with aircrew conversations and still get in place for the flying. And while the notice says the show ends at 5pm, security forces is already driving around happy to kick folks out at 435pm. An aircraft enthusiast point of view – if all this effort is made for the event, then a fan of aviation wants to appreciate every single bit of it! Therefore, I would recommend the statics be parked closer together towards the west.

If one is willing to miss some excellent flying and eat, it was a mistake here. It took three separate lines for a hot dog and Pepsi. You first had to find the specific line for a ticket just for the hot dog only. Then you had to get in another line to receive it. Then you had to get in another line for a ticket for a drink. Once you paid for the ticket, you continued in the same line for your soda – ridiculous! Last challenge at hand was the “no backpack” policy as published, potentially turning off attending photographers. I don’t know if it was fully enforced at all public entrances. With rows of cars being waved on base with no identification check, I should hope not (don’t want to get into diaper packs, purses, wagons bit).

In summary, it was a grand day to appreciate aviation – the span of historical aircraft representing the various eras of flight, the variety of airplanes that we have in inventory and in private hands, the showcasing of different platform abilities in flight etc.! It is a joy to have that action and insight brought to a friendly place of shared enthusiasts! While not a flyer, Shockwave brings a unique, ripp’in thrill as he raced aerobatic planes separate times down the runway. Afterburning Thunderbirds, vapor-puffing F-35, smoke-choked Rob Holland, a massive C-17 backing up down the runway and many others, it was a mighty airshow weekend to revel!

AVIATION ON THE WAY TO OCEANA

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Are you heading down to Oceana this September on US-13 south through DelMarVa? Hope so! It’s been a quiet two summers for plane chasers and our beloved air shows with most shut down because of the “Great Pandemic”. But if NAS Oceana stays on, and we do head south again, well, the drive really can be more interesting than just sitting at the traffic lights on 13 and avoiding those red light cameras they just added to most of the traffic lights. Or also watching out for those “Sheriff” cars when you get around Cape Charles VA area. But there is really is a lot of aviation stuff to see before you hit the big bridge to Norfolk.

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1) First Stop: New Castle Airport (ILG) in Delaware off US-13 right after you get off of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. New Castle Airport is the home of the 166th Airlift Wing (166AW / 142AS), Delaware Air NationL Guard, Air Mobility Command, with their eight Lockheed C-130H2-LM turboprop Hercules tactical cargo aircraft. The unit also has a beautifully restored F-86F-25-NH Sabre gate guard at the Main Gate. This DEANG base was quite a busy spot in the 2020 Presidential Campaign with Joe Biden living in nearby Wilmington with Biden and many VIP visitors coming and going. Even now you may get lucky and see Joe coming in on Air Force One (usually the C-32 / B-757) to stay at his Wilmington house for the weekend. The New Castle lot in front of the old Terminal used to be free; now they charge $3.00 for a short visit. When you park you can go to the south lot fence line that gives you a good view of any C-130 action, usually best on Duty Weekends. There used to be two MiG 21’s based across the runway and for a while, ten used grey Aero Vodochody L-39 Czech trainers that someone brought over. They’re gone.

If you like a little history, the 166th AW has a good story to tell. The 166th Hercs ramp is at the northwest end in back of the Tower, fairly visible with a good 10×50. The 166th AW has an interesting lineage: Opening in 1943, the “New Castle Army Air Base” primary mission in WW2 was to “Facilitate the movement of aircraft overseas for delivery to the British and Allies”. It became famous for its historic “Women’s Airforce Service Pilots” (WASPS) women’s test and ferry pilots during WW2. (There is a small display in the Terminal Building in honor of the mission of the WASP women pilots based here at New Castle.) In July 1946, the 328th Troop Carrier Squadron started up at New Castle with C-47 Dakota transports with an early tactical airlift mission. In September 1946 the new 142nd Squadron started up here with Republic F-47 “Thunderbolts” including two L-5’s and two AT-6 trainers. 1947 brought the addition of several more C-47’s and even a Martin B-26 “Marauder”; a busy base! In February 1951 the base was federalized for the Korean War and received Republic F-84C “Thunderjets”. In September 1951, the unit transitioned to the newer Lockheed F-94 “Starfire” jet interceptors and became the 142nd Fighter Interceptor Squadron under the Air Defense Command (ADC). In 1952 the base was an Air Guard base again and surprisingly reverted back to propeller-driven North American F-51H “Mustangs” and now designated as the 142nd Fighter-Bomber Squadron. Then in 1954 this unit received brand new Lockheed T-33 “Shooting. Stars” (the “T-Bird”) and new North American F-86A Sabre jet fighters. (There’s a restored F-86F Sabre now doing Guard Duty at the Main Gate.) In March 1962 a big change took place with the unit now becoming the “166th Transport Group” and receiving the large prop-engined Boeing C-97 “Strrofreighter” cargo planes. In May 1971 the unit became the 166th Tactical Airlift Group and converted to the brand new C-130A Hercules prop-jet breed of cargo aircraft now under TAC. On October 16, 1985, the 166AW started converting to eight brand new factory fresh C-130H Hercules. In 1995 it became the 166th Airlift Wing under the Air Mobility Command (AMC). And now, after 35 years with the C-130H, the 166th is now a prime candidate to receive the new C-130J Super Hercules as a replacement. Stay tuned!

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2) Second Stop: The Air Mobility Command (AMC) Museum at Dover Air Force Base, Dover, Delaware. It seems quite appropriate that as we leave the 166AW, an AMC DE Air Guard unit, we head down the street, relatively speaking, on a 40 minute drive south on US-13, to the AMC Museum, now publicly accessible at the south edge of Dover AFB. It’s easy getting here: go south on US-13, 13 become the new high speed DE-1. Go past Dover AFB and exit on to DE-9. The Air Museum is about one mile east on the left. Easy. The museum has almost 40 aircraft that in some way are associated with the the USAF Air Mobility Command. Most aircraft are outside and are beautifully restored and maintained. Some are in a restored WW2 hanger that includes offices, a library, storage, a gift shop, art exhibit mezzanine, a lunch area, and rest rooms. Adjacent to the display hanger is the restored Control Tower that used to serve the base years ago, Escorted tours to the top of the tower are available. The hanger has a restored B-17G Flying Fortress with a WW2 diorama display, a C-47 Skytrain, a CG-4A Troop Glider from WW2, a Kaman HH-43B Huskie rescue helicopter, a bi-wing PT-17 Kaydet trainer, a Laister-Kauffman TG-4A training glider, a BT-13 Valiant mono-wing trainer as well as other smaller displays. There’s a black and white T-37 “Tweet” trainer on a pedestal stand as you come in from the street. As you enter the museum parking lot, there is a ground level T-33 trainer on display. About 35 other planes are on outdoor ground level ramp display right next to the museum hanger. Outside there is also an engine display building and a restoration workshop building.

When you walk around the big planes, some of which might be open for walkthroughs, you’ll eventually bump into the massive C-5A Galaxy. You can’t miss it! Right next to the C-5A is a replica of a nuclear-tipped ICBM missile that was planned to be launched from the rear of a C-5 while the plane was in flight and at a high altitude. This actual C-5A was used in the testing of the missile launch capability of such lunch systems with this type of missile on display. Interesting story about this airplane: In October of 1974, this actual C-5 (69-0015) air-dropped a 86,000 pound ICBM like this one on display, from 20,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean to add one more option to the strategic missile inventory of the United States. In 1973, 69-0014 was the first factory new C-5A delivered to Dover AFB. It was retired to the AMC Museum in 2013 and repainted in the grey and white colors typical of all C-5’s in 1974.

Amazingly, as you walk into the outdoor plane display ramp from the parking lot, the first plane you walk past is the McDonnell- Douglas VC-9C (73-1682) VIP Vice Presidential transport plane painted in the traditional, Jackie Kennedy designed sky blue and white colors of the 89th AW that work out of Andrews AFB. It was used by America’s First Ladies as well as the VP’s and occasionally POTUS when he needed to fly into a smaller airport, for which trips it was designated as “Air Force One”. It did have the special coms necessary to be AF-1. This aircraft was operational from 1975 to 2011. Amazingly, It had only 16,300 flying hours, not much by airlift standards.

Besides the VC-9C, there are some other new aircraft on outdoor display. For a while the Museum was the caretaker of a Soviet Antonov An-2 bi-wing single engine transport in green and brown military camouflage. Unfortunately it was recalled by another museum that is its rightful owner, a sad loss. The red-tail Fairchild C-119G “Flying Boxcar” has been here for a while and was delivered to Dover in 1991. It served with the RCAF as 22118 and subsequently flew as a US fire air-tanker as N3559. It never served in the USAF but when restored as a “G” was given a fake USAF Serial No. 51-2881. (Don’t tell anyone!)

A recent new arrival is the silver C-119. This 119 was built as a C-119B and is currently painted as it was when it dropped M2 Treadway bridge sections to the Marines at the Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War in 1951. Subsequently the aircraft was modified to the C-119C standard with dual nose landing gear tires and vertical stabilizer dorsal fins. This aircraft was in storage at Edwards AFB prior to its arrival here at the AMC Museum. And the newest addition to the Museum and currently finishing up a complete rebuild here on the ramp, is the KB-50J Tanker. It was originally built as a B-50 bomber and modified by Hayes Aircraft into its current KB-50J configuration in the 1950’s. This iaircraft was on display at McDill AFB in Florida prior to being recently moved to the Museum. [I thank Eric S. Czerwinski, Deputy Director of the Air Mobility Command Museum, Dover AFB, DE, for providing the above detailed information on the recent arrivals to the AMC Museum.]

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3) Third Stop: The Delaware Aviation Museum at the Delaware Coastal Airport (GED) in Georgetown, DE, about one hour south of Dover. When you leave the Dover Museum, get back on DE-1 and head south. Down a few miles it becomes US-113. Near Georgetown, go left on US-9 east for about 3 miles, then right on “Airport Road”, to, Yes, the Airport, (Or, just set your GPS!) The Air Museum has only about six planes but it is the home base to our “Ol Friend” — “Panchito”, probably the most famous B-25J Mitchell bomber this side of the Mississippi. They keep it, maintain it and train crew members for it here for their beloved “Panchito”.

This B-25 had a crazy history: After WW2 ended, the present B-25J (44-30734)“Panchito” had a number of assignments until March 1954 when it was transferred to the NY-ANG 102nd Radar Calibration Flight, working out of Westchester County Airport in White Plains, NY. Then it went to 137th FIS-ANG at Charlestown, AFB, SC. In 1957 it went to the 115th FIS-ANG at Van Nuys, CA. Finally this aircraft ended its nomadic military career in May 1958 when it was sent to the Boneyard and classified as surplus. In the 1960’s it had some strange civilian missions: first as a forest service tanker, then as an orange grove sprayer and finally as a mosquito bomber, when it was known as “Big Bertha” in bombing those poor mosquitos, reportedly at ten feet off the ground! In 1978 it went to the “Super Sonic Transport Museum” in St. Cloud, Florida. After the Museum went bankrupt, the plane was acquired by the famous warbird restorer Tom Reilly and he moved the bomber to Orlando and restored it back to its original “J” configuration, completing the conversion in 1958. It now had its famous “Panchito” nose art from the 39th BS, 41st BG of the 7th Air Force in WW2 restored. Then it went to new owners in Texas, then to Geneseo, then to the Valiant Air Command in Titusville, FL in the late 1990’s. Finally…Finally…this now beautifully restored B-25J was purchased in 1997 by Larry Kelly of the Delaware Air Museum. Kelly was trained to fly Panchito by Tom Reilly, the original restorer, and Kelly became its first pilot flying out of Delaware. Panchito became an east coast air show regular after 1998 and through continuous loving and painstaking maintenance and crew training, the plane now remains our favorite warbird seen at a lot of east coast air shows. The first show locally this year for Panchito will be the Dover AFB Air Show, then Jones Beach, then Reading for sure! Want a ride? Sure, for a few hundred dollars!

The other five warbirds at the Georgetown Museum are: the spotted Aeronca L-16B that is similar to the L-3 and is called the “Grasshopper”; the polished bare metal twin-engined Cessna UC-78 “Bobcat”; the yellow DeHavilland Canada DH-82 “Tiger Moth”, an open cockpit bi-plane; the silver metal mono-wing DHC-1 “Chipmonk” and finally the mostly all white Cessna L-19 / 0-1 “Bird Dog” Army light observation plane similar to the L-3, looking like the current C-172. It’s a very informal operation in the repair and display hanger and usually the crew will let you walk around as long as you don’t bump into Panchito’s props!

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4) Fourth Stop: American Legion Post 93, Pocomoke, MD (T-33A / F-94B):  As you leave the Georgetown Airport, follow US-9 southwest to get back on to US-13 south. Just south of Pocomoke City, on the corner of US-113 and US-13, you will see a fighter jet in front of an American Legion. Turn left into US-113, go about 1,000 feet  and take the first left, then an immediate left again on to By-Pass Road. Go about 500 feet to the dead end and you will be at the American Legion clubhouse building. At the front door you will see a strangely painted T-33A “Shooting Star” trainer that looks like a F-94B “Starfire” all-weather interceptor in all its original beaten up weathered glory. On quick observation, it looks like a Maine F-94B because:  the position of the wing tanks are on the wing end centerline (the F-80C interceptor, the fighter version of the T-33, had the tanks attached under the end of the wing); it has capped machine gun ports on the nose; it has wing tanks that say “Bangor Air Defense Sector” and there is an Air Defense Command patch on the tail. Therefore it looks like a F-94B Starfire that would have been assigned 132nd FIS based at Dow AFB, ME, in the Cold War in the early 1950’s. (Dow AFB became the Bangor ANGB in later years, now home of the 101st ARW). And Yes, Lockheed did develop the F-94 directly from the TF-80C that evolved from the P-80 / T-33 family. BUT, if it looks like a duck, it may NOT be a duck! Our Ken Kula noted some revealing facts on this bird: the serial number painted on the tail matches that of a T-33A one; an F-94 has a different radome in the nose and it has an early kind of afterburner shroud in the tail; in fact Bangor ADC used T-33’s as radar targets and training in the 50s and 60s and Mexican T-33’s actually had guns (called AT-33’s) for ground attack. [Is this an ex-Mexican ground pounder?] AND even RoadsideAmerica.com noted that “This T-33A Shooting Star served in the air defense of Maine during the Cold War. It subsequently spent years  parked outside of the  Montgomery Air Park in Gaithersburg, MD, before moving to here  [Pocomoke American Legion] in 2000. OK, it’s really a T-33A.

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5) Fifth Stop: NASA Wallops Island Flight Facility. OK, get back on 13 south and a few miles past the MD / VA line, turn left on to VA-175 east and after about 6 miles you will come to the NASA Wallops Flight Facility (WAL) runway approach. A half a mile away is the NASA Visitors Center with some interesting exhibits about the rocket launches from Wallops Island. Go up to the viewing area on the roof and you can just make out the NASA Launch Complex about 5 miles away on the coast to the southeast. To the west right in front of the Visitors Center is the airport complex that supports NASA space activities here. Adjacent is Navy housing and the Navy Aegis BMD Systems Research Facility. This airport is also noted for its C-2A COD and E-2C Hawkeye simulated practice carrier landings for planes and crews out of NAS Chambers Field in Norfolk. This is known as “Field Carrier Landing Practice” (FCLP). The long runway has a carrier “Optical Landing System” (OLS) light panel in place for practice carrier landings. The OLS is also known as the “Meatball” or commonly known as the “Ball”. (LSO orders – “Call the Ball.”) There is also a Flight Deck outline on the practice runway. The field also supports the “Over-The-Beach” airshow held yearly at nearby Ocean City, MD. Most show aircraft stage out of Wallops and head east to Show Center at the beach. Most of the time the airport is quiet. However a recent satellite shot showed the ramp busy with five E-2C’s, five C-2’s, two P-3’s, and a C-130. So I guess it can get busy here if you hit it right. Outside of the Visitors Center are a number of historic rockets that were launched from Wallops Island for research purposes for NASA. Another interesting thing is that near the runways are about 25 radar dishes of various sizes that are used for rocket telemetry and trajectory tracking, all easily seen from the rooftop viewing area.

The Wallops Island Flight Facility was previously known Naval Auxiliary Air Station Chincotegue until acquired by NASA in 1959 to support space launch operations. The ANAS here started in 1941 after German subs torpedoed two merchant ships right off the coast here. It became an anti-sub warfare base. Nearby Accomack ANAS was also created for ASW patrols and is now the Accomack Airport. The Navy formally established the ANAS Chincotegue in 1943 and various Navy ASW planes were based here. Great Story: It was reported that one young pilot being trained here, the future President George Herbert Walker Bush, got into trouble for “buzzing” the house of a young woman he had met at a dance! Cool Guy!

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6) Sixth Stop: The A-4F “Skyhawks” Gate Guard at Accomack Airport. OK, back on US-13 again heading south. About 40 minutes south, just past the Eastern Shore Community College, make a right on to Parkway Street and after a mile you will arrive at the Accomack County Airport (MEV) where in front of their new rustic looking Terminal Building sits a beautiful and recently restored Douglas A-4F “Skyhawk” jet on ground level. The plane was previously owned by VFC-12 “Fighting Omars”, sometimes now called “Ambush”, their call-sign, a reserve composite Aggressor Squadron out of Oceana. For a long time VFC-12 had a light blue spotted camouflage. In late 2012, the old camo was replaced with the Russian Su-35 Flanker Prototype 2 “Arctic Splinter” camouflage when the unit transitioned to the F/A-18+. This A-4F Accomack Gate Guard was brought to the airport in 1995 in the traditional light grey low-viz color with “VFC-12” on the fuselage. And there it sat for years until Capt. James Metcalfe USN Ret., was visiting the airport about three years ago and noticed the deteriorating paint on the A-4F on display here. Its real owner, the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL, was also aware of its deteriorating condition. Capt. Metcalfe reached out to the Skipper of VFC-12 at NAS Oceana, Commander Royal (Rip) Gordon and XO, Commander Matt Renzell, who thought the aircraft repainting was a worthy project and assigned a crew to paint the A-4F at Accomack. The color was to be the current Arctic Splinter aggressor colors typical of the camo colors now on the operational aircraft of VFC-12 at Oceana. The Naval Museum approved the required Scope of Work Proposal. The Oceana paint crew brought the A-4F up to date and gave it the current VFC-12 Arctic Splinter color pattern. The updated camo colors include straight edge grey, white and charcoal shapes that immediately identifies it as a VFC-12 Aggressor as a Russian enemy fighter. The jet looks pretty cool in its new colors! Go see it!

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7) Seventh Stop: The “Sand Pits”, the well-know observation area parking lot for watching F/A-18E-F landing approach patterns at NAS Oceana. Get back on US-13 south, cross the 22 mile long Chesapeake Bridge and Tunnel, a beautiful ride, head for I-264 East towards Virginia Beach, exit at First Colony Road, turn right, it becomes Oceana Blvd., and then a quick left turn into the little parking lot by the abandoned tracks that for years has been called “The Sand Pits” by aviation shooters. (The name? There’s a DPW lot nearby with a big sand pile!). If the wind is blowing from the west, the Super-Hornets will be landing from the east in from the ocean, into the wind, over the hotels, and on to runway 23-R and 23-L, 50 feet on top of your heads. It makes for a great afternoon. You’ll probably meet some other Hornet Lovers there shooting and watching the the F/A-18’s landing pattern.

8) OK, Dismissed. Go have a beer at Rudee’s on the Inlet and get ready for the Oceana Air Show. Hope you enjoyed the Ride South! See you on the Ramp!

Bill Sarama
3/20/22