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Reading World War II Weekend 2022

The 31st Anniversary of Reading WW II Weekend was welcomed with bright sun and warm weather; it was a perfect weekend for this popular air show and WW 2 military re-enactment. The three-day event began on Friday, June 3, and ended Sunday afternoon.

“The attendance this year was close to a record, the crowd estimates for the three day total were close to second of our all-time high”, said Greg Witmer, Airboss and Aircraft Coordinator. In fact it was quite evident from the number of vehicles in the parking lot that this show was well attended. That is especially good news for the Mid Atlantic Air Museum, host of the show, who suffered with a show cancellation in 2020 due to COVID.

While Reading WW 2 Weekend appeals to both military re-enactors with their various half-tracks, Sherman tanks and assorted vehicles, and mock battles that are exciting in their authentic portrayals, there is also the flying display and static aircraft displays. My interest was in the flying display and finding the right location to capture well-lit images of the aircraft in action. To that end I was lucky. I arrived Friday around 10:30 to capture good images of the aircraft that were giving rides as they took off north-west on runway 31. I have found that sometimes I can capture better images on the Friday show, weather permitting, when the plane rides, and show practice routines can yield very interesting images.

For those not familiar with the Reading WW 2 Weekend air show performance, the flying display begins on Saturday and Sunday at 12:00 noon, usually with paratroopers jumping from the Curtiss C-46 Tinker Belle, or a C-47, but that did not happen this year. Instead the show began with a parade of period aircraft taking off in a well thought out sequence according to their historical order. First were the pre-war basic training aircraft in the USAAC blue and yellow paint scheme of that period. These included the open cockpit Boeing Stearman PT-17 and Fairchild PT-19, PT-23 and PT-26 trainers that American and foreign aviation cadets learned to fly before advancing to fighters or bombers to prepare them for their wartime duties.

Next up were the Liaison aircraft that were used during WW 2 in various roles like artillery spotting, observation and command and control and also as unit hacks. These included a number of types beginning with Aeronca L-3 and L-16, Taylorcraft L-2 and Piper L-4 Grasshoppers all wearing authentic wartime paint schemes. These slow flying types flew one by one in a circuit dropping down low and climbing back to altitude, making several passes in front of the large group of spectators. Although these were not the fast moving fighters we all like to see they were still fun to watch.

Following the Liaison aircraft were the Texans; AT-6s and SNJs. For me just the sound of the powerful Wright, or Pratt & Whitney, radial engines of Texans is very nostalgic and reminiscent of the war time experience. Four Texans took off in flights of two and formed into different military formations for each pass they made, including a four ship, in trail, and other formations. It was Kevin Russo in his immaculate SNJ-6 with Pensacola markings that broke away from the formation, as the rest landed, that did an outstanding flight demonstration putting his SNJ through various routines, high speed passes, climbs and loops and the Cuban Eight. All with smoke trailing to further highlight his skilled performance.

P-63A, Kingcobra

For me the stars of the air show, and the main attraction, are the fighters. To see P-51 Mustangs, a P-40 Warhawk or Corsair fly, and to see the only flying Dauntless and Helldiver in the world fly is a special thing not to be taken for granted. And don’t forget the P-39 Aircobra and P-63 Kingcobra. In truth it’s only a matter of time before these 70 year old aircraft will no longer be able to fly and someday be grounded or placed in a museum never to see the sky again. Happily I was not disappointed. The Red Nose P-51D flown by Craig Hutain was a pleasure to see, and the roar of the Mustang’s powerful Packard Merlin engine was magic to hear as Hutain zoomed and climbed over the airfield. I was lucky to capture a few nice images of this performance. A surprise for me was to see for the first time the P-63 Kingcobra. I was amazed at its flying performance and how much it reminded me of the P-51. While the P-63 did not see combat with the USAAC it did serve in the training role. But significant numbers were supplied to the Soviet Air Force under the Lend-Lease Agreement and were successfully employed in the low-level ground attack role. This rare P-63A, serial 42-68941, flown by Mark Todd, was not delivered to the USAAC or Russia, but actually retained by its manufacturer, Bell, as a test aircraft with TEST prominently stenciled on its nose. It was acquired from storage by the CAF Dixie Wing at Falcon Field, Peachtree City, GA for restoration and on February 18, 2017 made its first flight. It was another rare bird at Reading.

Continuing with an outstanding flight performance was the P-40M Warhawk painted in the Flying Tigers scheme, flown by Nick Ziroli. I must confess, I think this was the best looking aircraft at Reading this year. Ziroli’s flight demo was outstandng and followed a similar routine of Craig Hutain in the Mustang. Although painted in Flying Tigers markings, this P-40M was actually delivered to the RCAF and saw service in Canada’s Western Air Command. It was placed in surplus in 1946. The other fighters to perform were the FG-1D Corsair and P-39 Aircobra, as well as the SBD Dauntless and SB2C Helldiver dive bombers. All the while as the fighters and the bombers are flying, the WW 2 re-enactors are hard at work fighting their ground war, Sherman tanks and infantry engaged in an unseen enemy. All very exciting to see and hear with the loud sounds of the pyrotechnic explosions and billowing smoke as the planes fly overhead to provide a war-like visual and audible experience.

B-29A Fifi low pass at Reading WW 2 Weekend 2022

Finally it was time for the bombers. The three heavies, the B-29, B-24 and B-17, are a main attraction, along with a pair of B-25 Mitchell medium bombers. B-29 Fifi is a regular Reading visitor, watching it take off on runway 31 reminded me of an old Victory at Sea episode I saw many years ago featuring B-29s taking off from their base on Tinian Island in the Central Pacific for a mission over Japan. Its custom built Wright R-3350 engines singing in harmony as the big bomber effortlessly took to the air. With the current high cost of aviation gas I wondered how much it cost to taxi and fly several orbits over the field. The same is true for B-24 Diamond Lil and B-17 Yankee Lady, I don’t know what the combined fuel consumption is for the three heavy bombers, but it must be very substantial.

Diamond Lil and Yankee Lady are two truly beautiful airplanes. B-24s and B-17s suffered greatly in their raids over German during WW 2, but its seems the Flying Fortresses received most of the notoriety when featured in hit movies like Command Decision and Twelve O’clock High, both excellent movies and among my favorites. The three heavy bombers followed in trail making low passes over the field with their bomb bay doors open in a mock attack, and banking away to the east to set up for another pass. The sound of the combined 12 radial engines filling the air as the bombers thunder past is a special treat. The bombers landing signaled the end of the four hour flying show.

I look forward to next year to see what surprise visitors Reading will have to entertain us on the ground and flying overhead. Mark your calendars, that show is scheduled for the first weekend in June 2023.
For further information please visit the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s web site at http://www.maam.org and visit their Facebook page at: facebook.com/midatlanticairmuseum/

A pair of SNJs in formation climbs for altitude with a second pair in trail to join up for a four ship flying demonstration. The four Texans then flew over the airfield in various military formations to the delight of the eager spectators below.

B-24 Diamond Lil

Classified as a heavy bomber during WW 2, B-24 Liberators proved invaluable in both the European and Pacific Theaters due to their long range. Diamond Lil is an early production Liberator being the 25th built B-24 produced out of a total of 19, 267 of all variants. Diamond Lil is one of only two airworthy B-24s flying today.

B-29A Fifi low pass at Reading WW 2 Weekend 2022

The massive B-29 Fifi in a low pass during Reading’s World War 2 Weekend on Saturday June 4th, the 4 powerful custom built Wright R-3350 engines effortlessly power the heavy bomber in its flight routine. Fifi is a B-29A, USAF serial 44-62070 and built by Boeing in their large Renton Factory, located on the south shore of Lake Washington, southeast of Seattle.

The Goodyear built FG-1D Corsair, USN serial 92489, at Reading WW 2 Weekend. This FG-1D Corsair is a proud example of Corsairs built by Chance Vought, Goodyear and to a lesser degree by Brewster, to help meet the USN and USMC dire demands for the war in the South Pacific.  The unique bent wing design is to allow ground clearance for its large propeller.

Curtiss-Wright SB2C-5 Helldiver, the only flying example in the world.

This is the only flying example of an SB2C Helldiver in the world and is a regular performer at Reading.  It’s a pleasure to see this example of the carrier wars in the South Pacific still flying. Often referred to as the Big-Tailed Beast, among other names, it was a very effective carrier bomber during WW 2. Rides are available in the rear gunner’s seat for this Navy war veteran.

Nakajima B5N2 Kate, replica.

This Nakajima B5N2 Kate replica, complete with authentic looking torpedo, represents the Imperial Japanese Navy carrier based torpedo bombers used in the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The Kate replica was built for the 1970 hit movie “Tora, Tora, Tora”.

P-39Q Aircobra take off at Reading

Bell P-39Q Aircobras saw service in the South Pacific during WW 2. They were very effective in strafing and bombing Japanese forces during the island wars in the South Pacific, but due to the lack of a super charger it was limited to medium and low level attacks. P-39s served with the USAAF, RAF and Soviet Air Force.

P-40M, Warhawk, “The Jackie C” demo at Reading WW 2 Weekend. 4 June 2022

The Jacky C is another regular performer at WW 2 Weekend and is a favorite.  Painted in the markings of the historic Flying Tigers,  it was actually delivered to the RCAF in 1943 and was assigned to Canada’s Western Air Command, it was retired as surplus in 1946. In the capable hands of  Nick Ziroli,  he put on an outstanding flying display in this vintage warbird. Jacky C is part of the aircraft collection of The American Airpower Museum, Port Republic, NY.

P-63A Kingcobra, 42-68941, take off at Reading

This P-63A Kingcobra is an early production model manufactured for service in WW 2, but was retained by Bell Aircraft for testing and later transferred to NCAS (now NASA) Ames Research for further flight testing.  The large TEST applied to its nose is a true example of how the Kingcobra was painted at that time.  The Soviet Air Force was the primary operator of  the Kingcobra during WW 2. It is operated by the CAF’s Dixie Wing based at Falcon Field, Peachtree  City, GA.

One of the best looking B-25 Mitchells flying today is Panchito from the Delaware Aviation Museum, Georgetown, DE, seen here as it completes a low pass over the airfield. Take-off Time and Panchito both demonstrated low level bomb runs on Saturday and Sunday.

Take-off Time at Reading WW 2 Weekend 2022

Take-off Time followed Panchito in a low level bombing run starts its climb for another pass in front of the crowd of spectators on Saturday June 4th.

P-51D, Red Nose QP-G, climbing to start demo

Always a show favorite is the P-51 Mustang demonstration, and Craig Hutain, in the cockpit of Red Nose, clearly knows how to put the Mustang to work. Not only did Craig provide the crowd with an outstanding flight demonstration, he also flew paying customers who wanted to experience the undeniable thrill of a P-51 ride.

The Douglas SBD Dauntless Lady In Blue is an important reminder of the great sacrifices of the carrier based dive bomber crews who won the Battle of Midway.  Lady In Blue embraces the memory of the fallen heroes of that time as a flying tribute during her airshow performances. A chance to experience history with a flight in  the rear gunner seat is available before show time.

SNJ Texan Pensacola Kevin Russo in the cockpit of his SNJ painted in pre-WW 2 markings of NAS Pensacola, banks and climbs for altitude to begin his exciting flight demonstration in his immaculate SNJ-6 during the weekend long air show. His routine puts the Texan through loops and dives and high speed passes with smoke trailing for effect.

Show visitors can pay for backseat rides in the Mid-Atlantic Museum’s SNJ-4 painted in WW 2 USN’s Atlantic camouflage scheme adopted around 1944 with NATC (Patuxent River) tail markings.

Boeing Stearman, USAAC

During the pre-WW 2 years, many of America’s military pilots won their wings in Boeing’s ubiquitous PT-17.  Proud owner Ronald Gersten in the cockpit of his beautifully restored PT-17 is one of a group of trainer aircraft that lead off the flying show.

Curtiss-Wright SB2C-5 Helldiver, the only flying example in the world.

Another regular visitor at Reading WW 2 Weekend is the CAF Helldiver, captured here during its flight performance. This is only airworthy and flying Helldiver in the world. Credit must be given to the CAF for the excellent maintenance given to the aging aircraft in their care, many, like this Helldiver, are the only flying examples in the world.

A yellow Aeronca L-16 passes over head during the Liaison Aircraft flying performance portion of the air show. The L-16 is the militarized version derived from the Aeronca Champion Model 7 series. Though not a WW 2 veteran, the Champion served in substantial numbers during the Korean War in both the US Army and National Guard. Flying this L-16 is owner Keith Kaufman.

The Great State of Texas Airshow 2022

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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.

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.