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MCAS El Toro 1990: Hey, I Remember That!

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Springtime in 1990; a large amount of military aviation history was about to be written about the Desert Shield and Desert Storm operations in the months ahead.  Many Marine aircraft were still in vintage (well, vintage nowadays) dark color schemes, in preparation for operations in Europe or the Pacific, not in a desert environment. Soon, airframes like the A-4 Skyhawk, F-4 Phantom, and OV-10 Bronco would be phased out either just prior to the Gulf War, or a few years after it. Specifically, the Marine RF-4Bs would be replaced by F/A-18D ATARS-equipped aircraft before the Gulf War.  The A-4M Skyhawk and F-4S Phantoms that were operated by Reserve squadrons and would be replaced by early model F/A-18 Hornets. The OV-10A and -D Broncos would serve during Desert Storm before being retired; replaced by more twin-seat F/A-18D Hornets. A lot of squadrons, many with storied histories, stood down as these aircraft left the inventory.

At West Coast Master Jet Station MCAS El Toro, the home squadrons of F/A-18 Hornets welcomed other Marine aviation assets like KC-130s, AV-8 Harriers, OV-10 Broncos, and numerous helicopters from nearby MCAS Tustin and Camp Pendleton, for a weekend of air show excitement.  Drawing more than half a million spectators at the event, a few of these aircraft types would be displayed for the last time before they were parked in the Boneyard.

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A large draw to this  show was the Marine Combined Arms demonstrations, where different types of aviation assets were brought together to show how the Marines used their varied types of planes and helicopters together.  From fast jet reconnaissance to scouts parachuting from OV-10s, to air refueling Harriers and Hornets behind a KC-130, the air was filled with the "sounds of freedom".  Booming pyrotechnics added to the realism and excitement.

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Non-Marine Corps aircraft included in the static display featured the California Air National Guard, Air Force, Navy and Army examples. Flight demonstrations included the F-14 Tomcat and F-16 Fighting Falcon, plus the Blue Angels.  Warbirds and civilian performers shared the stage too.  Even a few retired non flyable Marine aircraft were included in the large aircraft static display that was manned by enthusiastic crewmembers. During past and future shows, the Thunderbirds, Air Force F-15 Eagles and others were featured performers.

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MCAS El Toro would be shuttered in 1999, but not before some awesome air shows were held at the Orange County base.  This is the first of three El Toro air show reviews, with photos of some of the military and warbird participants at each one.  Here's a look back almost a quarter century ago, to southern California and its rich aviation heritage that was presented during the early 1990s.

Copperstate Fly-In 2015 Recap

2.jpg Photos and Article By Dale Moody Recap of Copperstate Fly-In from 24 October, 2015 A milestone for me was marked in 2015 by my 50th year of attending the EAA Fly-In Convention at Oshkosh, WI, now called AirVenture. (My first time was when it was held at Rockford, IL.) With this in mind, it could be argued that I would describe the recent Copperstate Fly-In in relative terms, but that wouldn't be fair. The Copperstate Fly-In at Casa Grande was very organized, while still maintaining a relaxed atmosphere of like-minded attendees, unlike AirVenture in some respects. I have so far been unable to learn any official figures on both the number of aircraft and/or spectators over the three day fly-in. I’ve been told by fly-in officials that the number of spectators Thursday and Friday may have been slightly lighter than 2014 while Saturday’s paid attendance was estimated to be at least on par with last year’s results of just over 7,000. I was also told that the number of aircraft on the ramp in 2014 was about 525, and my gut feel was for at least that many this year. The accompanying car show was expanded considerably this year. Having attended the Copperstate Fly-In every year for the past ten or twelve years, I feel safe in saying this year’s event was perhaps the best ever in the number and variety of aircraft—from homebuilts to warbirds and everything in between.

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.

Frank Ertl Visits PhanCon and AMARG

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Written by Ken Kula Frank Ertl travelled to Tucson Arizona during mid-October to partake in the festivities of the 2015 edition of PhanCon. Just what is a PhanCon? Well, according to the organization's web site, "PhanCon is an annual international gathering of folks who flew, maintained, supported, photographed, tracked, modeled, or just plain enjoyed the sound of freedom promoted by this premier fighter of the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's. Now celebrating over 50 years in action, the F-4 is still flying today in defense of many nations around the world, and while no longer on the front line in the US, she still serves an important role there too." Phancons are sponsored by the F-4 Phantom II Society. The event was held this year in sunny AZ, and included several trips onto the Davis-Monthan AFB grounds, including the sprawling 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group's "boneyard". Yes, there are still a number of Phantoms parked in the desert giving up parts, and the opportunity to walk among the remaining Phantoms parked in AMARG was indeed a draw for this year's convention. Although the regeneration of airframes for the QF-4 drone program has ended and the drones are slowly being depleted, there are still a number of Air Force-operated QF-4s flying in the U.S.. In fact, a pair of QF-4Es from New Mexico's Holloman AFB flew in for the event. Other trips for the participants were to the nearby Pima Air Museum, and to the Corona De Tucson American Legion where an F-4 painted in Thunderbird #4 colors is displayed.

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Two featured guests attended the convention this year. Bob Little, who was the pilot of the first flight of the F4H-1 Phantom on May 27th, 1958, was on hand. His experience with the McDonnell Douglas Corporation began as a flight test engineer and pilot. He later became the Program Manager for the F-4 program, and held other upper-level management positions in the company. Angelica “Angel” Pilato, Lt. Col. USAF (Ret.) Ph.D. is the author of “Angel's Truck Stop”: A Woman’s Love, Laughter, and Loss during the Vietnam War (A Memoir). Then-Captain Pilato managed the Udorn AFB Officer's Club for a time during the Vietnam War, which was nicknamed after her (thus the book's title). The F-4 Phantom figured prominently during that timeframe in Vietnam. Along with briefings about AMARG activity and Davis-Monthan AFB's operational tenants, the PhanCon attendees got to spend several hours walking amongst the F-4s and other stored aircraft.  Beautiful weather added to their excitement! Photos by Frank Ertl