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Late 1950’s Stewart Air Force Base Through Robert Finch’s Eyes

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Robert “Bob” Finch, is an aviation photographer and historian (and frequent contributor to this web site), who lived in New York State, north of New York City, during the 1950s.  Before he reached his teen years, his father gave him a film camera, and Bob began taking pictures of airplanes.  He still does it today, although he’s switched from slides and prints to digital images (haven’t most of us!). Stewart Air Force Base was an important Air Defense Command (ADC) facility during the 1950s, and luckily for us, Bob took his camera to a couple of air shows and open houses held during the last years of that decade.  All of these images are scanned from slides taken more than 50 years ago, many during the iconic Dayglo Blaze Orange years when aircraft wore bright colors to assist with visual identity.  These were the transition years between piston and jet power, and there were plenty of different interceptors, transports, trainers, and other special use aircraft on the air show ramp in Newburgh NY. Not only is the hardware interesting and found mainly in museums today, but the apparent openness of the aircraft and the clothing styles aren’t very common either. All photos copyright Robert Finch 

Warbirds on Display at Quonset’s Silver Anniversary Air Show

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The Rhode Island Air National Guard Open House and Air Show was held at the former NAS Quonset Point airport at the end of May, 2015. It was the 25th edition of the show since the annual event began in 1991. Following a familiar format, this year’s show featured several warbirds in the air and the Quonset Air Museum’s varied collection of retired military aircraft on the ground, which constituted the bulk of the show’s static display. Just a few non-museum aircraft rounded out the static park.

Aerial displays included Mark Murphy performing an aerobatic sequence in his P-51D Mustang Never Miss, while Jim Beasley joined Viper East in P-51D Bald Eagle for a Heritage Flight, and Greg Colyer flew his T-33 during his Ace Maker Air Shows display. Seven (presumably) retired Aero L-39C jet trainers equipped the civilian Breitling Jet Team too.

On the ground, the Quonset Air Museum offered a number of their aircraft on static display. From the 1940’s and 50’s, their collection included a fully restored TBM Avenger, the only surviving Curtiss Wright XF-15C , and a Douglas F3D Skyknight night fighter. From the Vietnam War forward, there were a number of retired aircraft parked on the ramp. The museum’s partially restored F-4A Phantom is basically complete. A pair of Douglas A-4M Skyhawks, an LTV A-7D Corsair II, a Sikorsky H-3 helicopter, and three Grumman aircraft: an A-6E Intruder, a rare C-1A COD with twin tails, and a F-14A Tomcat were all survivors from the 1960s and ’70s and displayed. A MiG-17 in Polish Air Force colors rounded out the exhibit. On an unfortunate side note, the Museum’s hangar incurred winter storm damage that has left it unusable, and their aircraft are currently stored outdoors for the foreseeable future until a new home is found.

Otherwise, a Siai Marchetti SF-260C painted in spurious Luke AFB training colors was an interesting addition, and the Rhode Island Army National Guard provided restored, non-flying examples of their previously operated helicopters – an OH-6 Cayuse, an Medivac painted UH-1 Iroquois and an AH-1 Cobra.

In all, the show offered a good gathering of some rare and exotic aircraft on the ground, and some current warbird favorites in the air.


The Royal Canadian Air Force Commemorates The “Few” In Style

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The Battle of Britain occurred 75 years ago, and numerous events to commemorate that epic battle are taking place around the world in 2015. Winston Churchill described the airmen that fought their German Luftwaffe foes as the “Few” in a famous speech. No. 1 Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force, a fighter unit flying Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires, participated in the Battle of Britain as a Commonwealth squadron. Slightly more than 100 Canadian pilots flew combat missions with No. 1 Squadron and other units, while several hundred more Canadians served on the ground keeping the aircraft repaired and serviceable during the months-long air campaign. Today’s Royal Canadian Air Force chose to honor the “Few” by painting their 2015 CF-18 Hornet Demonstration Team aircraft in a scheme reminiscent of a Battle of Britain era Hurricane of 1 Squadron. The design was created by veteran designer Jim Beliveau of the 4th Wing, at Cold Lake, Alberta. This was his 25th Demonstration Team design and painting project! The aircraft, serial number 188761, was sandblasted and painted by a team of 3 Wing technicians based at Bagotville Quebec. It captures the camouflage patterns on top of the aircraft, right down to the red guns patches along the leading edge of the wings. The vertical tails feature murals depicting Battle of Britain history, with Sir Winston Churchill, an unnamed Canadian fighter pilot, a Spitfire and the St. Paul’s Cathedral on one side. The other side depicts Battle of Britain ace F/L Gordon MacGregor, whose “YO H” (those of his regular mount during the Battle) letters are painted on the sides of the airplane, along with ME-109 and He-111 adversaries. The airframe – 188761 – has a relatively low amount of flight hours on it when compared to the rest of the CF-18 fleet. There’s an interesting reason for that, as Captain Denis Beaulieu explained at this year’s Quonset Air Show. This airframe has had a pair of ejections from it, and has been repaired and flown again… that’s right, twice! The first ejection occurred in Germany in 1987, the result of an aborted take-off. The wreckage sat in a hangar for a number of years, until it was rebuilt with wings from an Australian F/A-18 and a nose section originally destined for a C.15 Hornet for the Spanish Air Force. Operational again for a number of years, a pilot of 188761 encountered black ice on the runway upon landing at Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Directional control was lost, regained, and lost again as a second patch of ice affected the CF-18. The pilot ejected before the aircraft left the runway, and the jet ended up just slightly damaged. With a new ejection seat fitted, the Hornet resumed service a while later. With a pair of lengthy “down times” for maintenance, today’s Demonstration jet has fewer hours than most, if not all active CF-18s. This year’s demo Hornet pilot is Captain Denis “Cheech” Beaulieu, based at 3 Wing in Bagotville, Quebec. To be chosen for the yearly posting, there are a number of requirements that have to be met , even before the interview process begins. There is a minimum amount of flight hours needed; “Cheech” has more than 1,100 hours. Some pilots won’t apply for the position because it entails much contact with fans and media, or time away from family, he said. Obviously, he has what it takes, and talks enthusiastically about flying the CF-18. In press releases, he said that “This job gives me the opportunity to celebrate aviation with audiences all over, while flying the Hornet in way that few pilots get to fly. Best of all, I get to do this all with a team of highly talented professionals who work together to put on a great show.” Captain Beaulieu not only has the honor of presenting the CF-18 demonstration, but to carry the Battle of Britain Commemorative colors into the air every time he flies in 2015.

2015 Great New England Air Show

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Warbirds at the 2015 Westover ARB/Great New England Air Show The sky over western Massachusetts, at the foot of the Berkshires, filled with the sights and sounds of the Great New England Air Show in mid May, 2015.  The show celebrated three quarters of a century of aviation history and security that the Westover Air Reserve Base has provided for the people of the Pioneer Valley and New England.  Over those 75 years, Westover’s missions have changed numerous times, and may change again in the not-too-distant future. A sparkling flying display was assembled for the weekend.  Some interesting warbird activity was part of the show;  the loudest one wasn’t a warbird in the true definition of the term.  Commemorating a truly historical event, the Royal Canadian Air Force’s CF-18 Hornet Demonstration Team supplied their specially decorated aircraft in a 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain paint scheme.  The jet is painted in No. 1 Squadron (RCAF) colors, which was active during the Battle of Britain.  Around a hundred Canadians flew in combat during the campaign, and hundreds more kept their Hurricanes and Spitfires  repaired and serviceable.  These men were part of Winston Churchill’s “Few” . The Geico Skytypers in their SNJ-2s led a handful of warbirds into the air, which included a dissimilar four-ship formation with the American Airpower Museum’s B-25 Mitchell Miss Hap and FG-1D Corsair Skyboss, Charles Lynch’s TBM-3U Avenger She’s the Boss, and Mark Murphy’s P-51D Never Miss.  The Heritage flight contained the F-22 and Jim Beasley in his P-51D Bald Eagle. On the ground, some big planes of the warbird community turned out to take part in the celebration.  The B-17G Yankee Lady joined Second Chance, a true World War II C-47 veteran, and Spooky, an AC-47 gunship.  A Grumman HU-16 Albatross joined a few smaller planes – training and liaison aircraft, and a Bell 47, similar to the made-famous-by-TV MASH helicopter. The base began operations in 1940, named after Major General Oscar Westover who died in a plane crash in 1938.  During World War II, the facility provided training to B-17 and B-24 heavy bomber crews and anti-submarine patrols along the Atlantic coast.  After the war, it’s strategic location close to Europe led to it being re-tasked as a transportation hub.  It provided logistical support for C-54 and C-47 aircraft operating in would later be known as the Berlin Airlift.  From 1955 through 1974, Westover’s key geographic location made it a prime B-52 and KC-135 base for the Strategic Air Command.  Around the same time, interceptor operations for the Air Defense Command, in defense of the Northeastern U.S., saw many front line jet fighters in the air; F-84, F-86, F-89, F-102 and F-104 jets once called Westover home. After those aircraft left, the base reverted to transport operations again, under the command of the Air Force Reserve.  C-123K, C-130 tactical, and C-5A strategic transports have all moved on, but the current 16 C-5B Galaxies of the Patriot Wing serve both within the U.S. and around the globe.  On the horizon, things may change at the western Massachusetts base again.  Plans are to cut in half the number of planes based here, from 16 to 8.  The C-5Bs will be upgraded to C-5M Super Galaxies, and additional maintenance operations of the Air Force Reserve’s C-5 fleet may be accomplished at the base.  Additionally, the base is one of four finalists in a competition for the basing of the Air Force Reserve’s new KC-46A tanker/transport. Close to 375,000 spectators attended the weekend-long air show.  They received a taste of the past through the warbirds that gathered for the 75th anniversary of the base, both in the air and on the ground. A big thank you comes from the staff to the Public Affairs Office staff at Westover ARB for great access to cover this show!