The Great State of Texas Airshow 2022


As they say in the Southwest, everything is bigger in Texas, including its airshows. After a five-year hiatus, the Great State of Texas Airshow returned to Joint Base San Antonio – Randolph (JBSA-Randolph) on April 23-24, 2022. It is apparent from the turnout of over half a million spectators that the community missed it.

The airshow celebrated the 75th Anniversary of the United States Air Force (USAF) and the 80th Anniversary of Air Education and Training Command (AETC), predating the USAF as part of the U.S. Army Air Corps.

Now, I had not planned to attend this show but was following the social media feeds and was intrigued at what was shaping up. If they weren’t just putting a ‘wish list’ of static displays together (which they weren’t), then the static displays alone are worth the trip. I had to travel to the area for business, and when I say ‘the area,’ I mean four hours away in Dallas. This show was building something special, and I wanted to be a part of it. So without any media credentials, special privileges, or early access to the statics, I set off at 4 AM to enjoy this airshow.

Sunday’s temperature was perfect, a little too windy for parachute demonstrations, and the ever-changing skies conditions and sun position were tricky for photography but great for entertainment.

My first impressions were that this was one of the most well-organized events I have ever attended. The route was well marked with variable message boards. State, county, and local law enforcement were at the intersections to assist with the anticipated traffic. I arrived as the gates opened at 9 AM and still did not see everything on display that this airshow had to offer.

The Security Forces did a fantastic job with the Herculean task of screening the hundreds of thousands of guests each day and applied discretion wisely. Multiple access points to drive on the base meant no waiting in-line to park for those who arrived early. Once parked, everyone was directed through the screening points before being transported by one of the awaiting buses to the static display area.

The airshow box was along the west ramp of runway 15L-33R with plenty of grass areas for the spectators to relax on. Because of the layout of JBSA – Randolph, the statics were primarily displayed along a one-mile walk into the show area on the south ramp. A few statics were located north of the show center near the hot ramp.

I must applaud whoever put together this incredible collection of static aircraft. The active military static displays included the A-10, AC-130, AH-64, B-52, C-5, C-17, C-21, E-2, EC-45, F-15, F-16, F/A-18, F-22, F-35 HH-60, KC-46, KC-135, MV-22, T-1, T-6, T-38, TG-16 and UH-1.

Former military and civilian aircraft static displays included but were not limited to the A-20, A-26, AT-6, AT-37, B-17, B-25, B-29, C-47, P-40, P-51, P-63, T-6, and TF-51.

Among the static displays was one of the four Textron AirLand Scorpion prototypes. The Scorpion is a lightweight jet fighter designed as a low-cost alternative for the Air National Guard instead of the high-cost F-35. It was also considered for an interdiction role and jet trainer. The USAF passed on the aircraft, but foreign markets such as Columbia are currently evaluating it.

One of the great experiences about visiting an airshow in a different country region is getting exposure to other demonstrations, static displays, and units that attend. I was particularly drawn to the F-15 static display line, which included two F-15C Eagles, two F-15E Strike Eagles, and one-half of all F-15EX Eagle IIs.

Designed in 1972 and placed into service in 1976, the F-15 Eagle is an all-weather, extremely maneuverable, tactical fighter designed for air supremacy over the battlefield. The F-15 has an impressive and unmatched combat record of 104 – 0.

The F-15C Eagles (78-515 and 80-003) on static display were provided by the 114th F.S., Oregon ANG. F-15C (80-003) is a veteran of Desert Storm and displays the badge of an air to air kill it scored against an Iranian Air Force Mi-8 helicopter with an AIM-7M Sidewinder missile. F-15C (78-515) is in its final hours of active duty and scheduled to retire to the AMARC boneyard at Davis Monthan AFB, Arizona, in the coming weeks.

The F-15E Strike Eagle is a dual-role fighter designed to perform air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. An array of avionics and electronics systems gives the F-15E the capability to fight at low altitudes, day or night, and in all weather. Two F-15E Strike Eagles (88-1667 and 88-1707) of the 389th F.S., Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, were also on static display at the Great State of Texas Airshow. Unlike the F-15C, the Strike Eagle utilizes a crew of two, a pilot and a weapon systems officer. The F-15E can fight its way to a target over long ranges, destroy enemy ground positions, and fight out.

The U.S. Air Force took delivery of its first F-15EX Eagle II fighter in 2021. The original Eagle II program was intended to deliver 144 aircraft to replace their aging F-15Cs, which are currently in the Air National Guard. The F-15EX Eagle II (20-002) is the latest and greatest incarnation of the air-to-air variant, one of only two aircraft currently in the USAF. The Eagle II has an upgraded engine compared to the F-15C, D, and E models with the F110-GE-129. It is equipped with conformal fuel tanks, which gives the F-15EX an increased range over an F-15C/D equipped with two drop tanks. The Eagle II also has more hard point stations for a more significant weapon load and the latest digital cockpit and radar. Ironically the first ANG unit scheduled to receive the F-15EX is the 114th F.S. which brought the F-15C to the airshow.

I was still enjoying the fantastic static aircraft lineup when the airshow began with the Tora! Tora! Tora! Demonstration team Zero’s, Kate’s, and Val’s tribute aircraft raided the airfield as they did on December 7, 1941, in Oahu, Hawaii. Their full demo included the team’s own pyro-crew, Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, Curtiss P-36 Hawk, and P-40 Warhawk (appearing at only select shows), which represented the American response at Pearl Harbor.

As the Tora! Tora! Tora! Demonstration closed, and the official opening began with the National Anthem and a for ship F-16 flyover by JBSA-San Antonio’s 149th Fighter wing (F.W.).

The airshow would feature several more flyovers throughout the day, including the 12th Flying Training Wing (TFW) flyover of six aircraft, including T-1 Jayhawks, T-6 Texan IIs, and T-38 Talons. The bomber flyover features a B-25 Mitchell, B-17 Flying Fortress, and a B-52 Stratofortress trailing formation. And the Commemorative Air Force’s B-25 Mitchell in US Marine Corps’ PBJ-1 ‘Devil Dog’ patrol bomber colors, Boeing B-17′ Texas Raiders’ and the Beech JRB Expeditor’ Little Raider’ with pyro.

There were several more military aircraft demonstrations, including the US Marine Corps MV-22B’ Osprey’ demo by the VMM-364′ Purple Foxes’ and the U.S. Air Force C-17′ Globemaster III’ West Coast Demonstration Team from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

The F-35A Lightning II is the Air Force’s most advanced 5th generation ‘multi-role’ stealth fighter. The Commander of the 388TH F.W., Hill AFB, Utah, USAF Major Kristin “Beo” Wolfe, flew the Lightning II demo. From take-off to the end of the routine, the after-burning excitement of the maneuvers kept the crowd engaged. Major Wolfe then repositioned and joined with famed Dan Friedkin’s TF-51D Mustang ‘Bum Steer’ for the crowd favorite, Air Force Heritage Flight.

Locally, the Lewis Fighter Fleet of San Antonio, Texas, provided multiple aircraft for the airshow, including a Canadair CF-5D Freedom Fighter, also known as the CF-116. The CF-5D is a licensed version of the Northrop F-5 capable of speeds nearing Mach 1.3.

The F-5 Freedom Fighter design team wrapped a small, highly aerodynamic fighter around two compact General Electric J85 engines, focusing on performance and a low maintenance cost. Nicknamed the ‘Tinkertoy,’ the F-5 resembles Northrop’s T-38 Talon, the standard two-seat USAF twin-engine supersonic trainer. The F-5 series was primarily designed as a day air superiority fighter capable ground-attack platform.

The F-5 served as the starting point for Northrop’s YF-17 Cobra prototype, competing with the YF-16 Fighting Falcon in the Light Weight Fighter competition. After losing to the YF-16, Northrop continued to refine its design which evolved into the successful F/A-18 Hornet.

The Lewis Air Legends also brought the only air-worthy Douglas A-20 Havoc and their North American B-25J Mitchell to the airshow.

The A-20 Havoc was the Army Air Force’s most-produced attack aircraft of WW II, with over 7,400 being produced, of which only a few remain. The A-20 was a dependable attack, light bomber, and night fighter designed in 1938 for the U.S. Army Air Corps. However, it saw duty in all WWII theaters serving in the French, United Kingdom, and Soviet Air Forces. This small dependable bomber was called ‘Boston’ by the British and Commonwealth Air Forces but dubbed Havoc by the RAF Night Fighters.

Their B-25J’ Russian Ta Get Ya’ is presented in an authentic Russian paint scheme to commemorate the 862 B-25s sent to Russia through the United States WWII lend-lease program.

There was ground pounding action provided by Chris Darnell and the all-new ‘Shockwave’ Jet Truck. Shockwave is the Guinness Book world record holder for the fastest jet truck at 376 MPH. Shockwave is equipped with three J34-48 Pratt & Whitney Jet Engines initially used to power the U.S. Navy’s T2 Buckeye jet trainer.

The show featured several races between Shockwave and Aerobatic Champion Rob Holland and his one-of-a-kind, all-carbon-fiber MXS-RH masterpiece. Rob Holland continually buzzed Shockwave and the pyro crews before racing Chris Darnell down the show line.

How great of a talent is Rob Holland? He is so good at aerobatics that the airshow coordinators know to have him do teasers leading up to his headline opening slot just before the Thunderbirds. I equate watching Rob Holland fly to being in the presence of a living legend. Rob is one of the most decorated, respected, and innovative aerobatic pilots and airshow performers today. Flying the MXS-RH, an all carbon fiber, competition–ready, single-seat aerobatic airplane designed and built by MX Aircraft, Rob brings an unrivaled performance to airshows across North America, thrilling millions of spectators with his dynamic and breathtaking display. He is a record-setting winner of eight consecutive U.S. National Aerobatic Championships, Four-time world Freestyle Aerobatic Championships, and the International Council of Airshows (ICAS) prestigious Art Scholl Award for Showmanship, the highest honor any airshow pilot can receive. Rob has distinguished himself by blazing a trail of innovation, developing maneuvers never before seen at an airshow.

Rob Holland’s mantra is, “Fly Good, Don’t Suck!” His performance was just that. Rob Holland returned with Bill Stein in his Edge 540 for a second performance and a drag race rematch with Shockwave.

Kent Pietsch kicked off his 2022 show season with his ‘Jelly Belly’ sponsored Interstate Cadet. While most aerobatic performers have one basic program, Kent executes three storied acts that leave spectators mesmerized. These include a dead-stick (turning the engine off) routine from 6,000 feet and a rooftop landing on a moving truck! However, Kent is best known for a comedy act that features a detached aileron (wing flap) and a mesmerizing wingtip-scraping pass down the runway that you must see to believe. When Kent is at the controls of his plane, it is impossible not to watch him perform.

Kent loves to fly, but the audience is always his number-one priority. “If you can’t entertain, you have no business being out there,” he said. “The gratification is in knowing that people are enjoying themselves.” Kent’s humble nature and willingness to interact with fans make him a crowd favorite wherever he performs.

Tom Larkins SubSonex Mini-Jet is an Experimental Jet aircraft that comes as a kit from the Sonex factory in Oshkosh, WI. It weighs 500 lbs, goes up to 300 mph, and is fully aerobatic. This particular aircraft was the first kit ever sold and flown, and Tom has been flying it for approximately 4 years. As beautiful as the jet is, there is no paint on it. It is completely wrapped in a vinyl covering, similar to a show car.

San Antonio’s own Rick’ Thug’ Kelly flew a demonstration in his 1968 Chinese Nanchang CJ6 aircraft. The CJ6 proved to be a maneuverable aircraft with its massive air brake adorned with his callsign Thug. The CJ6 is commonly mistaken for a Russian YAK-18 trainer on which it is based but vastly improved.

One of the bonuses to attending a Sunday airshow is seeing some of the static display aircraft depart the airshow before the headliners take to the skies.

I especially enjoyed the scream of the Cessna AT-37′ Tweet’ engines as it taxied along the show line.

Then it was time for the headliners, the USAF Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds performed their low show due to the cloud base, but nobody seemed to mind. The team revamped its performance last year to increase the action in front of the crowds.

As the crowds began to work back to the buses, many people opted to walk back to their vehicles and avoid the lines. The airshow organizers were working golf carts for those with disabilities or needing a ride. They offered water and encouragement to those who made the nearly two-mile walk. I found it an incredible experience crossing the normally active runway and getting a look at the ‘piano keys’ blackened with tire rubber.

Was there more I didn’t mention or get to see? Plenty, but that comes with everything being bigger in Texas! Thanks for a great time JBSA-Randolph.

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