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The 2019 NAF El Centro Air Show


One of the first air shows of the year is held at Naval Air Facility El Centro in the Imperial Valley. In addition, NAF El Centro has long been the winter training home of the United States Navy Demonstration Team, the Blue Angels, who open their show schedule each year here.

The base has a celebration the night prior to the show that is open to the public which includes food, drinks, and live music. As darkness fell, Captain Brent Alfonso, Commanding Officer for NAF El Centro, formally introduced the 2019 Blue Angels Team to all in attendance. The night concluded with a stunning fireworks display.

The 49th annual airshow itself was held March 19, 2019. There were several static displays that you could walk through as well as plenty of booths selling air show memorabilia. The highlight on display was the U.S. Navy's new F-35C Lightning II.

In the air, show goers were treated to several civilian displays by both aerobatic aircraft as well as vintage warbirds. A U.S. Navy F/A-18C Hornet, from VFA-106 Gladiators, also made a few passes, the final of which was coordinated with the detonation of a wall of fire. The show concluded with the first demonstration of 2019 by the United States Navy Blue Angels.

With next year being the 50th anniversary of the show, I'm hoping the Navy pulls out all the stops for this important annual event.

I'd like to extend a special thank you to Kristopher Haugh and his Public Affairs team for their incredible hospitality once again this year. I look forward to seeing what's in store for 2020.




A few weeks ago I was heading south down NC-168 for a vacation in the Outer Banks of North Carolina when I decided to hang a right turn on 158 and head south do a quick side trip to Elizabeth City before I hit the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk. Elizabeth City is a pretty plain southern city but six miles to the southeast on the Pasquotank River is Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, the second largest Coast Guard aviation base in the United States. Actually called Elizabeth City Regional Airport (ECG / KECG), the airport is essentially a military base and officially owned by the US Coast Guard. The air station is one of the busiest in the USCG, operating missions as far away as Greenland, the Azores and even the Caribbean.

Currently CGAS Elizabeth City maintains and operates five HC-130J Super Hercules SAR aircraft and four MH-60T Jayhawk helicopters. In addition to its aviation mission, the Air Station houses: the Aviation Technical Training Center (ATTC) that trains enlisted Coast Guardsmen in aviation ratings; the Aviation Logistics Center (ALC) that does depot level maintenance on all fixed wing aircraft and Station Elizabeth City, the small boat search and rescue station on the River.

The Base Main Gate on Weeksville Road has three pristine Gate Guards: a Dassault-Falcon 20G HU-25 "Guardian" medium fixed-wing surveillance aircraft (the last retired in 2014 from CGAS Corpus Christi); a Grumman HU-16 "Albatross", a large twin-engine amphibious flying boat (the last retired from CGAS Cape Cod in 1983); and a Sikorsky-Agusta HH-3F (S-61R) "Pelican" medium-lift transport-SAR helicopter (retired in 1994).

Near the CGAS contract maintenance hangers to the south on the fence line along Consolidated Road were two USCG early HC-130 Hercs that have now become "Hanger Queens" that are now being systematically "cannabalized" for spare parts. Adjacent to the  nearby FBO ramp, also on Consolidated Road, were four dark olive drab Army Boeing-Vetrol CH-47F "Chinooks". Their use is unknown and there are no known Army Aviation Units based at ECG.

Besides the USCG-owned Air Logistics Center at the north end of the Base, the aircraft overhauler DRS Technologies recently built at the south ramp also along Consolidated Road over 200,000 square feet in two new massive hangers large enough to service simultaneously five HC-130J Hercules aircraft. Four additional large overhaul hangers are being planned to be built across the street with a connecting concrete taxiway already built to bring in large aircraft for servicing. It is not known if these will be for servicing military or commercial aircraft.

Two miles south of ECG is the remains of Naval Air Station Weeksville, a WW2 lighter-than-air (LTA) airship and sea plane base that was in operation from 1941 to 1957. The US Navy built the facility for servicing air ship dirigibles conducting anti-submarine patrols off the US Atlantic Coast and coastal harbors. The original Navy contract for NAS Weeksville called for a 300,000 square foot steel hanger 960 feet long, 328 feet wide and 190 feet high with a helium storage and servicing facility, barracks and support for 228 men, a power plant, a large airship landing apron, sea plane ramps and a mobile mooring mast.

Due to US steel shortages at the start of WW2, a second yet larger 1,000 foot long Dirigible Hanger was built at NAS Weeksville but was instead made of all wood, which would later prove to be a very bad idea when the whole hanger later burned to the ground. That second Weeksville Hanger would become known as the world's largest wooden structure before its destruction by a fire. The dried out yellow pine contributed to a massive fire and it burned to the ground in 1995. The only things still remaining standing today are four 200 foot tall concrete stair towers that were at each corner of the hanger. The remaining steel dirigible hanger continued to have various uses until the TCOM Corporation moved in in 1985.

In the 1990s TCOM built and serviced display blimps similar the Goodyear Blimp. NASA's Project Echo inflated communication satellites were built and tested here. In the late 90s TCOM started building and testing aerostat surveillance and communication balloons for NSA, CIA and the Navy - large 200 foot tethered balloons used for visual and telecom security intercepts. The TCOM steel dirigible hanger can accommodate up to six fully inflated 71 meter aerostat balloons.

Adjacent to the 1,000 foot hanger is a 50,000 square foot ground systems manufacturing facility that has two 300 foot long bays with heavy duty overhead cranes to lift and rotate components during construction of the surveillance aerostats. Exterior ground wenches and mooring towers elevate the aerostats to very high heights for fixed testing. There is also a new 30,000 square foot Integrated Logistics Support Building next to the ground systems building. Another facility is six miles away for the manufacture and testing of smaller high flying aerostat surveillance balloons. These TCOM facilities in and around Weeksville and ECG have become the central East Coast hub for all government and commercial aerostat and airship / blimp maintenance and assembly activities including aerostat and airship manufacturing, assembly, flight testing, training, consulting, communications design, advances payload design and fully integrated modular mooring systems.

Later that day we were back on the road again heading east to the Outer Banks and Kitty Hawk, NC. ECG was a nice afternoon Divert.

New Hampshire’s Air National Guard Continues to Adapt to New Missions

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Final KC-135 of the NHANG departs from Pease ANGB (Ken Kula photo) The New Hampshire Air National Guard’s (NHANG) 133rd Air Refueling Squadron (ARS), part of the 157th Air Refueling Wing (ARW) has been in the air refueling business since 1975. That’s forty four years at the same job, transferring fuel to thirsty American and foreign military aircraft around the world. The squadron is part of New Hampshire’s only ANG flying unit.

  Short Wing History The phrase “All good things must come to an end” is widely attributed to English author Geoffrey Chaucer in a poem he wrote in the 1300s, quite a long time ago. Although a much shorter time period in history, during the past four or so decades the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker has been operated from the former Pease Air Force Base by the Air National Guard. Only weeks ago, the final KC-135R left its base in Portsmouth NH for a new home in Arizona. Although the KC-135 era has come to an end, the air refueling mission is going to continue for a while, as the Air Force’s new KC-46A Pegasus will give the 133rd a new mount to practice their trade.

P-51C Mustang, photo by unknown US Army/USAF photographer Early Beginnings The 133rd squadron has roots that begin during World War II, with lineage from squadrons that operated both bombers and fighters. The 383rd Bomb Squadron (Dive) became the 529th Fighter Squadron (Single Engine) and first flew North American A-36 Apaches and then P-51C Mustangs. After the war ended, the squadron was inactivated in early 1946. Reconstituted as the 133rd Fighter Squadron five months later, it fell under operational control of the newly-formed Air National Guard, in this case based in New Hampshire’s Grenier Field (now the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport). A number of piston-engined Republic F-47D fighters were operated, defending New Hampshire from air attack. In early 1951, the 133rd was federalized due to the Korean War’s needs, and continued its defense of New England. A year and a half later, it returned to State control and soon were re-equipped with F-51H interceptors around the end of the Korean War. In the middle of 1954, the jet age arrived in the form of F-94 Starfires, a radar-equipped interceptor. They contributed to the Northeastern U.S.’s defense with a daylight runway alert flight.

F-86L Sabre by unknown USAF photographer

During the 1950s, the 133rd was combined with two other New England units to form the 101st Fighter Group, and the 133rd was temporarily swallowed up by this larger group. This unit, eventually tasked with defending New England airspace, would became a full-sized Fighter Wing with units in multiple states. In 1958, the Starfires were traded in for radar equipped F-86D/L Sabres. Besides the fighters, trainer and support aircraft such as B-26, L-5 Sentinel, and even the ubiquitous C-47 were assigned to the unit.

C-124 via the 507ARW Public Affairs Office/USAF photo

Transport Years A big change came for the 133rd in early 1960 as it left the air defense business and was re-designated as the 133rd Air Transport Squadron under the Military Air Transport Service (MATS). The New Hampshire Air National Guard traded their defensive role (air defense) for a strategic transport role, moving freight and other cargo, plus troops and personnel. Overall command of the squadron was under the newly-designated 157th Air Transportation Group (ATG), forerunner of the NHANG’s current 157 Air Refueling Wing. Eight Boeing C-97 Stratofreighters continued to operate from Manchester’s Grenier Field, but their mission was expanded onto a worldwide stage. The Group was called to Active Duty during the initial stages of the Berlin Airlift, and early involvement in Southeast Asian conflicts too.

On January 1st 1966, MATS was replaced by the Military Airlift Command (MAC). The parent Group became the 157th Military Airlift Group and the 133rd was renamed as a Military Airlift Squadron. Soon after, the 157th and 133rd moved to the new Pease Air Force Base, in New Hampshire’s Seacoast region. The 157th and the 133rd were soon integrated with the 509th Bomb Wing on the base, and the Group’s new home was moved to the north end of the Air Base, where it still sit today. Early in 1966, the 133rd began flying supply missions to South Vietnam too. A year later, the C-97s were traded for Douglas C-124 Globemaster IIs. The double-decked transports flew missions around the world, including continued support of Vietnam operations, into the next decade.

In 1971, the 133rd was reequipped yet again with newer C-130A Hercules turboprop transports and the 133rd was designated as a Tactical Airlift Squadron. Although the cargo and passengers were somewhat similar to the C-97 and C-124 missions, the C-130 was on the cutting edge of tactical transport, and closer to the would-be battlefield. Low level navigation training flights were regularly accomplished at lower altitudes in training routes over New England, much closer to the ground than the trips in the strategic transports. And in another, somewhat radical change, the last C-47 was retired from the NHANG this same year.

KC-135A at a Pease AFB air show (Ken Kula photo)

Tanker Years A short four years later, the unit was re-designated in 1975 as a Strategic Air Command unit. Issued Boeing KC-135A Stratotankers and now known as the 133rd Air Refueling Squadron, it remained under the similarly-re-designated 157th Air Refueling Group. The National Guard Group was integrated into the 509th Bomb Wing, the main tenant of the Pease Air Force Base. It became only the second ANG flying unit to be integrated into a SAC Bomb Wing.

KC-135E at the Pease AFB (Ken Kula photo)

In 1984, the 133rd received rebuilt KC-135E tankers through a program to upgrade Air National Guard tankers nationwide.

The Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) recommended that the Air Force Base be closed, and the 509th Bomb Wing be moved. The Air National Guard part of the base remained for the NHANG to operate, otherwise the base was redeveloped into a civilian airport.

The 157th ARG became a Wing in 1992 (Ken Kula photo) In 1992, the 157th became the 157th Air Refueling Wing, with the 133rd ARS as its flying unit. In 1993, the Wing received their KC-135Rs, the current version of the tanker aircraft after all KC-135A and –E airframes that were viable were refurbished with new turbofan engines. The Pacer CRAG program subsequently upgraded the navigation equipment and led to the end of the need of carrying a human navigator aboard the jet… this program ended in 2002.

133ARS KC-135R (Scott Zeno photo)

The 133rd ARS and their KC-135A/E/R mounts were involved with multiple conflicts in the Middle East, in Europe during the Bosnian and Yugoslavian conflicts, and off the Atlantic Coast as part of the Northeastern Tanker Task Force – serving military flights to Europe and beyond. By 2005, a full dozen KC-135Rs were operated by the 133rd, a larger number than regular squadrons, partly in response to the needs of the Northeast Tanker Task Force’s operations. Those operations increased in tempo after flying patrols overhead the United States were begun after the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11.

60th Anniversary of the NHANG artwork on a KC-135's tail (Ken Kula photo)

Wing personnel have earned numerous awards throughout its service, such as an Outstanding Unit Award and in 1997, the 157th’s crew won the Navigation trophy at SAC’s force-wide Giant Voice competition.

Boeing KC-46A Pegasus (USAF Photo by SrA Cody Dowell) The Present and Future On May 22, 2013, the Pease Air National Guard Base, with its 157 ARW and 133rd ARS, was selected as the preferred base for the new Boeing KC-46A Pegasus, a specialized commercial B767 variant. A dozen new KC-46s will be based at Pease, and a training mission form all future ANG Pegasus operators will be operated in New Hampshire.

Final NHANG KC-135 flight, 57-1419, sits ready to depart Portsmouth NH (Kevin Burke photo)

In preparation to this mission, on March 24, 2019 the last Stratotanker based at Pease - KC-135R aircraft 57-1419 – departed, ending a forty-four year association with Boeing’s KC-135.

Some of the attendees at the 157th's ivestiture ceremony (Scott Zeno photo)

The official Sunday afternoon ceremony marked the retirement of the KC-135 from the NHANG; it was attended by hundreds of former and current NHANG men and women, their families and friends, and dignitaries from the State and Federal Governments too.

Colonel John Pogorek (Scott Zeno photo)

An oral history of the unit was told by Colonel John Pogorek, Commander of the 157th ARW, and a “tribute video” published by the Public Affairs Office was seen by all. A history of the aircraft was also given.

Final NHANG KC-135R flight crew before departure (Scott Zeno photo)

The crew that would fly the last tanker out of Pease, led by Colonel Pogorek, was then given a ceremonial key to the aircraft by the 157th Maintenance Group; it would be passed to the next “keepers” of aircraft 57-1419 in Phoenix Arizona. Master Sergeant John Lennon, with thirty-five years of flying on KC-135s as a boom operator, was part of the crew too.

Lieutenant General L. Scott Rice (Scott Zeno photo)

In all, there were at least seven active and retired Generals in attendance. A keynote speaker was Lieutenant General L. Scott Rice, who is the Director of the Air National Guard at the Pentagon level. He also has connections to New England, including flying A-10s from Westfield Massachusetts and passing through the Pease AFB numerous times while flying Air Force F-111s.

Brigadier General Laurie Farris (Scott Zeno photo)

Another speaker was Brigadier General Laurie M. Farris, who was once a pilot and ultimately an instructor pilot with the 157th ARW; she spoke about how the KC-135 taught many young people responsibility and offered them a chance to grow as they performed duties with KC-135s. Now, the KC-135 era has ended and the KC-46 era has already begun.

The key to KC-135 Stratotanker 57-1419 is passed from Colonel John Pogorek, to Arizona ANG personnel  (U.S. Air National Guard/Master Sgt. Kelly Deitloff) To recap the 133rd Fighter/Transport/ Refueling Squadron’s roles since the end of World War II, its planes and personnel provided air defense with piston and jet-powered fighters during the early Cold War Period, transport capacity in the strategic role with piston-powered freighters, then turboprop powered tactical air transport for a short period, and finally air refueling capabilities since the Vietnam War era. (A fantastic book to read deeper into the history of the unit and the New Hampshire Air National Guard is: Granite Wings: A History of the New Hampshire Air National Guard, 1947-1998).

Just  couple of the 157th ARW's receivers during the KC--135 years (Ken Kula photos)

With their legacy of seventy-three years of Air National Guard and active Air Force service bursting with notable accomplishments, the 157th ARW and the 133rd ARS begin writing another chapter with the KC-46A Pegasus. The first aircraft of a dozen planned for the 157th ARW is expected to arrive this autumn in New Hampshire, but construction of remodeled hangars, classrooms, a new simulator and other facilities have been in the works for over a year. I think that in this case, “All good things must come to an end”, could be replaced with the saying “From every ending comes a new beginning”, and I wouldn’t expect anything else but good things to continue.

D-Day Squadron Announces Final Schedule Ahead of Their Trans-Atlantic Flight

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Photo Credit: Patrick Albright, Ft Benning Public Affairs Office via D-Day Squadron  
  • Waterbury-Oxford Airport, CT (KOXC)
  • Suggested $10 donation per person. It will be paid to the volunteers who will be stationed at various airport access points and in the parking areas( Maps will be available soon).
  • Aircraft will be available for viewing, but likely not for tours as this is a working week for the crews.
  • The hours are 9:00 – 5:30. Access to the aircraft before and after those time will be prohibited because we won’t have ramp security in place.

Photo Credit: Patrick Albright, Ft Benning Public Affairs Office via D-Day Squadron  
  • 13-14 May
  • D-day Squadron C-47 aircraft assemble at Oxford, CT Airport (KOXC) for pre-crossing briefings, survival raft training, formation training flights and media flights.
  • 15 May (Wednesday)
  • 11:00 – 2:45 p.m. D-day Squadron fly-out to KBDL (Hartford, CT) and New England Air Museum for lunch.
  • 16 May (Thursday)
  • 8:30 a.m.  Official press welcome
  • 9:00 a.m.  Press conference. (Members of the media can register HERE)
  • 10:00 a.m.  Individual crew interviews
  • 11:00 a.m. Media flight(s)
  • Afternoon: crew training and formation training flights

Photo Credit: Via D-Day Squadron Media Kit  
  • 17 May (Friday)
  • All day: Crew training and formation practice flights.
  • 5:30 p.m.  D-day Squadron group photo (location TBD)
  • 6:00 p.m. Official D-day Squadron Kick-Off Dinner and Celebration, Oxford, CT Airport  (KOXC)  Reservations required:

Photo Credit: Patrick Albright, Ft Benning Public Affairs Office via D-Day Squadron  
  • 18 May (Saturday)
  • 0500 – 0700: Photography Workshop: Sunrise
  • Hudson River and Statue of Liberty Flyover: Lead Aircraft: Placid Lassie.
  • 0800: Flight Briefing
  • 1000: Start Engines
  • 1030-1100: Launch and assemble over OXC ( Elephant Walk)
  • Route of flight:  direct south from OXC, westbound along Long Island Sound, overhead LaGuardia and south along East River, northbound turn around Statue of Liberty and northbound along Hudson River.
  • Noon: Recovery at KOXC and Photography workshop
  • 0930: Arrival of Air Station Cape Cod HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft, to be on static display for public viewing until 4:00 p.m.
  • 1830 – 2030: Photography Workshop: Sunset (with reenactors)
  • 19 May (Sunday)
  • 0600: D-day Squadron Crew Weather Briefing
  • 0700:  D-day Squadron Departs for PQI and Goose Bay, Canada: Lead Aircraft: Placid Lassie.
  • Photography workshop: Departure