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The Peterson Air and Space Museum


Article and photos by Mike Colaner… edited to correct attributes.

The Peterson Air and Space Museum is one of twelve official United States Air Force Field Museums. The Field Museum is located upon Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the temporary home to the U.S. Space Command. The base shares the airfield with the adjacent Colorado Springs Municipal Airport. The Museum sits upon an 8.3-acre historic district and is on the U.S. National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places. Dating back more than 90 years, the Museum consists of the original Colorado Springs Airport Passenger Terminal, City Hanger, and Broadmoor Hanger.

The Museum was established and named for its namesake of the base, Army Air Forces First Lieutenant Edward J Peterson. Lieutenant Peterson was assigned to the 12th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron at the former Colorado Springs Army Air Base in June 1942. He later became the Operations Officer for the 14th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron, where he also served as the squadron’s test pilot. It was while serving as the squadron test pilot that he made the ultimate sacrifice. On Saturday, August 8th, 1942, Lieutenant Peterson took off on a routine test flight of a Lockheed P-38 Lightning following an engine change when the left engine failed, and he crashed.

Unfortunately, the Peterson Air and Space Museum is currently closed to the public due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, recently I was able to tour the facility as a special guest of Museum Director Gail Whalen, Assistant Director and Curator Jeffery Nash, and Stephen Brady of Peterson – Schriever Garrison Public Affairs Office. Although the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the Museum’s annual attendance of 20,000 visitors from visiting, Director Nash explained it had not been made for an idle time. The time has been used wisely for caring for and maintaining the Museum’s static displays, which have been receiving fresh paint and repairs from what he described as an “apocalyptic hailstorm” that struck in July of 2016.

Museum Director Jeffrey Nash explained that the U.S. Air Force Field Museums differ from the National Museum of the Air Force, which tells the U.S. Air Force’s entire history and heritage. Each Field Museum tells a unique and specific part of the Air Force story. Our story here is that of Peterson Air Force Base and the organizations that have been assigned here since its establishment in 1942. It also looks into the U.S. Space Force’s future heritage, Air Force Base Operations, Military Space Operations, and U.S. Air Force Space Command, the predecessor to what is today called the U.S Space Force.

The Peterson Air and Space Museum facility consists of three well-kept buildings, known as the City Hangar, Broadmoor Hangar, and Terminal Building. The City Hangar was constructed in 1928 and is the first permanent structure built at the Colorado Springs Airport. Today, this building serves as an exhibit facility along with the Terminal Building. The Broadmoor Hangar, built in 1934, is the third building of the facility and is an identical twin of the City Hangar. The Broadmoor Hotel and Resort originally built the Broadmoor Hangar for the exclusive use of their guests. Today, this hangar is used primarily for curatorial storage of the Museum’s artifacts and special collections not currently on public display.

We begin our tour at the Terminal Building, which is styled in Art Deco with stylized eagles found on either side of the main entrance and deltas along the roofline. Director Nash pointed out that these designs were typical for aviation-related buildings built during the 1930s and 1940s. The Museum’s Airpark, located behind the Terminal Hangar, is where the bulk of the aircraft collection is displayed. The Peterson Air and Space Museum collection consists of eighteen aircraft and five missiles on static display both here in the airpark and at different satellite displays throughout the base. Director Nash explained that the airpark was designed to be a walk through time. As visitors walk clockwise and tour each display, they learn the Air Defense of North America’s story during the Cold War. The airpark display begins with the first generation of United States Air Force (USAF) interceptors from the 1950s. After World War II, the United States’ greatest threat was an attack by the nuclear-capable Soviet Union long-range bombers. The U.S. defense establishment quickly realized that our air defenses against a Soviet attack were inadequate and needed aircraft specifically designed to intercept these Soviet bombers. The first generation of interceptors were designs adapted from basic fighter aircraft models. Director Nash explained how interceptors differ from fighters. Their specific mission was to find, identify, scare off, or shoot down aggressor aircraft, specifically Soviet bombers during the Cold War. Both the F-86 Sabre and F-94 Starfire were modified with radars and air to air weapons and pressed into service as interim interceptors until the first purpose-built interceptor; the F-89 Scorpion, was developed. The Peterson Air and Space Museum has examples of all three aircraft on display in the airpark.

The North American F-86L Sabre Dog displayed in the Museum’s Airpark is an upgraded variant of the USAF’s F-86D interceptor. The F-86D (originally designated the F-95A) only has a 25% commonality with the other Sabre variants. The Sabre Dog incorporated a larger fuselage, afterburning engine, distinctive nose radome, and an all-rocket armament carried in a retractable tray in the bottom of the fuselage. The F-86L was a single-seat aircraft that was unique in that other all-weather aircraft of the time required a two-person crew. A total of 981 F-86D’s were converted to the F-86L variant.

The Lockheed F-94 Starfire evolved from the P-80 design, the first American jet fighter to enter front line service. First flown in 1949, the F-94 was a two-seat interceptor used to defend the continental United States. The Starfire was the first all-weather jet interceptor to serve the USAF Air Defense Command. Like the F-86L, the Museum’s F-94C was equipped with only rockets. The F-94C had a relatively short service life. Entering service in 1956, the Starfires were withdrawn from service by 1959.

The Northrop F-89 Scorpion was the first purpose-built jet aircraft designed to locate, intercept and destroy enemy aircraft by day or night in all weather types to be operated by the USAF. Like the F-94 Starfire, the F-89 has a crew of two consisting of a pilot and radar operator. The J model on display in the Museum’s airpark could be armed with four AIM 4C Falcon missiles and an MB-1 Genie nuclear rocket. On July 19, 1957, the F-89J test-fired and successfully detonated an MB-1 (later AIR-2) ‘Genie’ rocket with a nuclear warhead over a Nevada test range. This was the first launch of an air-to-air rocket with a nuclear warhead. The F-89J was the first fighter-interceptor aircraft to carry nuclear armament. Director Nash explained the many development problems the F-89 had to overcome when it entered service in 1950. He explained that the F-89 is an interceptor and was not intended to dogfight with fighter aircraft. This is why its design is much larger than the aircraft of its time. Its fuselage size was to accommodate the twin engines. Additionally, the aircraft’s nose was required to be lengthened to lodge the radar and fire control system. The Scorpion was crewed by a pilot and a radar observer seated in tandem. Northrop produced one-thousand fifty (1,050) F-89’s for the USAF. The last F-89J was withdrawn from service with the Maine Air National Guard in 1969.

The Museum has just completed a major renovation, and exhibits reset in the City Hangar. As you enter the City Hangar, you are greeted with a magnificently restored Republic P-47N Thunderbolt. The P-47 was the largest and heaviest single-engine fighter aircraft of World War II. The P-47 was effective as an escort fighter and a fighter-bomber in both the European and Pacific theatres. It was noteworthy for its firepower and ability to resist battle damage and remain airworthy. Director Nash explained that the P-47N was the long-range version, equipped with a wider waistband and additional fuel tanks. The P-47N was primarily used in the Pacific theater during World War II because of its increased range. Besides B-29 escort duty, the P-47N could conduct ground attacks once it reached the Japanese home islands. Like most of our aircraft, this P-47 has a unique history, Director Nash explained. This P-47N was the fifteenth thousand four hundred sixty second (15,462) P-47 delivered. As such, it was only one hundred seventy-fourth (174) from the end of the production line and was built too late ever to see service in World War II. Instead, this Thunderbolt went directly to the Air National Guard, where it served until the mid-1950s. This P-47N first served with the Maine Air National Guard, the Pennsylvania Air National Guard before finishing its operational service with the Puerto Rico Air National Guard. When Director Nash began working with the Museum, this P-47N had already been a static display at three different installations before arriving here in 1970. Originally it was displayed outdoors on a stick where our Minuteman III Missile now stands. It was in rough shape, and in 2000 it was removed and brought over to the Museum for a five-year restoration project. The P-47N was restored to reflect its assignment with the 156th Fighter Squadron of the Puerto Rico Air National Guard.

Also housed within the City Hanger is a rare satellite known as Project Vela. The museum has a Vela Hotel model on display. These were placed into orbit attached to a second Vela Hotel, together comprising an Advanced Vela satellite. The Vela Satellite was developed to monitor compliance with the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty, which prohibited all test detonations of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, outer space, and underwater.

The Vela Hotel satellites were designed to separate after launch and then placed into a 70,000 nautical mile-high orbit, placing them above the Van Allen radiation belts. Each of the satellites was placed on opposite sides of Earth to provide complete coverage of outer space. Their unique shape, called an icosahedron, has twenty equilateral triangle faces with twelve vertices.

While the Vela Hotel series of satellites never detected any weapons test in outer space, they did discover Gamma-Ray bursts, which are markers of collapsing stars and black holes. These discoveries enabled the mapping of the universe and augmented existing measuring light methods to identify deep space objects.

As we exited the City Hanger, we stopped at the CIM-10A BOMARC (BO for Boeing and MARC for Michigan Aeronautical Research Center) missile. The BOMARC was developed for the U.S. Air Force as a ground-launched interceptor missile designed to destroy enemy aircraft.

The BOMARC was the world’s first long-range SAM (Surface to Air Missile) equipped with the first pulse doppler aviation radar. Designed to be launched vertically by a rocket booster to high altitudes, the missile then turned horizontal, powered by the twin ramjets under the wings to a speed of Mach 2.5 to near the target. The BOMARC was guided from the ground in a lofted trajectory to within ten (10) miles of the target. A command would be given to the missile to dive, which triggered its radar target seeker to guide the missile to the intended target. The BOMARC employed a radar proximity fuse to detonate the warhead.

The U.S. Air Force initially sought to deploy the BOMARC at fifty-two (52) sites armed with one-hundred twenty (120) missiles each around major U.S. cities and industrial areas beginning in 1960. However, with the rapidly changing threat from manned bombers and rapidly developing technology, the BOMARC only saw eight (8) sites in the U.S. and two (2) in Canada become active. By 1972 the BOMARC’s were withdrawn from frontline service and converted to target drones. Few BOMARC missiles remain intact, with even fewer on public display.

My tour with Director Nash continued along to the Museum’s Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star, a subsonic jet trainer stationed with the 4600th Air Wing (later the 46th Aerospace Defense Wing and then the 46th Test Wing) at Peterson Field. The T-33 was used to simulate enemy intruders, pilot proficiency, and jet aircraft orientation to the Cadets at the nearby U.S. Air Force Academy. The Museum’s T-33 is displayed in the Air Defense Weapons Center’s markings at Tyndall Air Force Base in the 1970s.

Parked beside the T-33 is a U.S. Army M192 towed triple missile launcher equipped with three (3) Raytheon MIM-23 HAWK (Hunter All The Way Killer) missiles. The HAWK is a medium-range SAM designed to be mobile and a companion to the Western Electric MIM-14 NIKE Hercules missile. Entering service in 1959 with the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps in 1960. The HAWK was the forerunner and superseded in U.S. Army service by the Raytheon MIM-104 Patriot missile in 1994. The HAWK system used several radars, including a pulse acquisition radar for detecting high and medium altitude threats, a continuous wave acquisition radar for low-level threats, and a high-power illuminator to locate targets with the missile’s internal seeker. An Army Air Defense Command Post located away from the missile launcher sites controlled the missile targeting and firing. The Museum’s M192 and HAWK missiles are displayed in the markings of the 6th Battalion, 65th Air Defense Artillery, U.S. Army Air Defense Command. This unit was tasked with defending southern Florida during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. The HAWK continued active service with the U.S. Marine Corps until 2002. NASA developed the surplus HAWK missiles into the HAWK Sounding Rocket. The HAWK remains in service today with as many as seventeen (17) foreign nations.

Beside the HAWK is a Martin EB-57E Canberra, a two (2) seat Electronic Aggressor aircraft converted from the RB-57E Photo-Reconnaissance aircraft. These aircraft played the role of aggressors to train friendly air defense units in the art of electronic warfare. The EB-57 was modified with electronic countermeasures and radar jamming equipment. The rear cockpit was also modified for use by an Electronic Warfare Officer. On a typical mission, the EB-57 would imitate a hostile aircraft against U.S. and Canadian air defenses. Once the EB-57 was detected by radars and tracked, interceptor aircraft would be alerted, and missile trained on it for a simulated attack. Active-duty Air Force units initially conducted the EB-57 mission before eventually being migrated to selected units of the Air National Guard. The EB-57 mission was eventually replaced by active-duty Air Force units flying the General Dynamics EF-111A Raven, better known as the Spark-Vark. The Museum’s aircraft is displayed in the markings of the 17th Defense Systems Evaluation Squadron, based at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, during the 1970s. The EB-57s were eventually phased out of service in the 1980s.

The Museum’s aircraft collection centerpiece is the last operational U.S. Air Force Lockheed EC-121T Warning Star, currently being reconditioned. The EC-121T is a heavily modified C-121 Super Constellation placed into service in 1953 as an Airborne Early Warning and Control radar surveillance aircraft. The EC-121T served with both the U.S. Air Force and Navy. The EC-121T served with the Air Defense Command, flying patrols three hundred (300) miles off the U.S. coasts as an extension of the DEW (Distant Early Warning) Line. The Air Force ordered eighty-two (82) EC-121’s while twenty-two (22), such as the museums being converted from either fifteen (15) EC-121D or seven (7) EC-121H models. The EC-121 was the forerunner to the Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) aircraft and was phased out of Air Force service by 1978 and U.S. Navy service by 1982. The EC-121T features two (2) radomes. The dorsal (vertical) radome on top of the fuselage detected altitudes at a range of approximately one hundred (100) miles. The ventral (horizontal) radome located below the fuselage is the search radar with a three hundred sixty (360) degree view and a range of approximately two hundred fifty (250) miles. The Museum’s EC-121T Warning Star is a veteran of service in Vietnam. The aircraft is displayed in the markings of the 552nd AEWCS (Airborne Early Warning and Control Squadron) Wing of McClellan Air Force Base, California. The aircraft displays six (6) Outstanding Unit Awards (Silver and Bronze Oak Leaf’s) and a Valor Award for Vietnam service.

Flanking the EC-121 on either side are the Museum’s Nike missiles. The Nike program was named for the Greek Goddess of Victory. The Western Electric MIM-3 Nike Ajax was the world’s first operational guided SAM. The Nike Ajax is a supersonic medium to high altitude SAM capable of Mach 2.25 developed and deployed in 1954. The Nike Ajax was under the control of the U.S. Army Air Defense Command. At its peak deployment, there were nearly three hundred (300) missile sites. A ground based computer controlled the guidance system. The design was simplistic; one (1) radar beam tracked the target, and another guiding the missile on a collision course. When the missile was near the target, a radio signal detonated the three separate high explosive fragmentation warheads. The Ajax was phased out of active service by 1970 and replaced by the Nike Hercules missile.

The Western Electric MIM-14 Nike Hercules missile is a supersonic medium to high altitude SAM developed from the Nike Ajax missile and deployed in 1958. The Hercules had greater range and speed than the Ajax, capable of Mach 3.65. The Hercules also employed an improved guidance system. The Hercules was deployed by the U.S. Army Air Defense Command to one hundred forty-five (145) missile sites to defend major U.S. cities and military installations during the Cold War. The Hercules could be armed with either an M17 high explosive conventional warhead or a W31 nuclear warhead capable of intercepting incoming bombers or ICBMs. The Hercules was phased out of active service in the U.S. by 1974 and in Europe by 1988.

As a close military ally of the United States, Canada played an integral part in NORAD and North American airspace defense. To recognize that important partnership, the Peterson Air and Space Museum has three fighter aircraft from the Royal Canadian Air Force on display. The Avro CF-100 Mark 5C Canuck was an all-weather jet fighter. The Canuck was designed to patrol the vast expanses of the Canadian north. The Mark 5C was a modified electronic warfare variant of the Canuck designed to fly higher than the previous models. This came at the cost of the removal of the eight .50-caliber machine guns. The Mark 5C was equipped with radar jammers and chaff dispensers instead. The cockpit in tandem seated a pilot and electronic warfare officer. The CF-100 is the only Canadian designed and manufactured fighter to enter mass production. A total of six hundred ninety-two (692) were built in several variants, including three hundred thirty-two (332) Mark 5C’s. The CF-100 was originally designed for only 2,000 flight hours. However, the Canuck was so incredibly well built, they actually lasted 20,000 flight hours and served the RCAF from 1952 until 1981. Further development of the CF-100 led to Avro designing the CF-105 Arrow. The Museum’s aircraft is in the 414th Electronic Warfare Squadron markings, based at Canadian Forces Base Uplands in Ontario during the late 1960s.

Alongside the Canuck is the McDonnell CF-101B Voodoo, a Canadian version of the F-101 that served with the U.S. Air Force Air Defense Command. The CF-101 is a long-range, all-weather interceptor. The Voodoo had an armament of 2 AIM 4D Falcon air to air missiles and 2 AIR-2A Genie unguided nuclear missiles that could be loaded externally or on a rotary launcher concealed in the aircraft’s belly. In 1961, the Canadian Government banned nuclear weapons, which created a problem in arming the CF-101 with the AIR-2A Genie. In 1963 a compromise was arranged where the AIR-2A Genies remained the United States’ property and only could be deployed through a joint agreement between the two nations and NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command). The aircraft on display began service with the USAF in 1959, then transferred to the CAF (Canadian Armed Forces) in 1970 before being phased out of service in 1984. The aircraft is displayed in the markings of the 409th “Nighthawk” Squadron stationed at Comox, British Columbia.

Next on display is a McDonnell Douglas CF-18 / CF-188 Hornet. The RCAF Hornet entered service in 1982 in air defense, air superiority, and tactical support roles. The CF-18 is similar to the U.S. Navy’s F/A-18A and B “Legacy” models. A total of 138 CF-18’s (98 single-seat and 40 dual-seat models) were built for Canada. Many U.S. Navy F/A-18 features such as the heavy-duty reinforced landing gear, arrestor hook, and folding wings were retained. McDonnell Douglas initially offered the Canadian Government a non-naval version of the Hornet known as the F/A-18L. The Canadian Government decided to stay with the naval version and make only two modifications. The CF-18 also received a night identification light to identify intercepted and identify aircraft positively at night. This spotlight is mounted in the gun loading door on the left side of the aircraft. Some CF-18’s have the light temporarily removed, but the window is always in place. The second change was the addition of a false canopy to the underside of the fuselage. The false canopy is painted on and is useful in a dogfight to confuse the enemy pilot about the Hornet’s orientation.

The Museum’s aircraft is adorned with a special paint scheme created by Jim Belliveau, the graphic designer for 410 Tactical Fighter (Operational Training) Squadron at 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta. Jim is well respected and admired for the specially themed RCAF CF-18 Demonstration Team aircraft he has created for years. Director Nash pointed out that each tail on the CF-18 is painted slightly different from the other side. The paintings depict the historical context of NORAD and the joint US and Canadian Air Defense Command. The right tail features a USAF E-3 Sentry, an RCAF CF-18 Hornet, and a Vermont ANG F-16 Fighting Falcon. The left tail features a Soviet Air Force Tu-95 Bear bomber, RCAF CF-101 Voodoo, and a USAF F-106 Delta Dart.

The last generation of interceptors on display is represented by perhaps the ultimate interceptor of all time, the Convair F-106 Delta Dart. Developed from the F-102 Delta Dagger and placed into service in 1959, the F-106 was the last dedicated interceptor aircraft used by the USAF, with 342 delivered to the USAF. The F-106 was capable of flying supersonic and reaching an altitude of 57,000 feet while remaining extremely maneuverable, capable of rolling 100 degrees per second. The F-106 set a world speed record of 1,525 MPH at an altitude of 40,500 feet. The F-106 was equipped with a Hughes MA-1 electronic guidance and weapons control system. After takeoff, the MA-1 was given the aircraft’s control to fly it to the proper altitude and attack attitude. The MA-1 could also fire the F-106’s missiles, break off the attack run and return the aircraft to the vicinity of its base, where the pilot would once again take over the controls and land the aircraft. The Museum’s aircraft is nearing completion of its refurbishment.

The USAF McDonnell Douglas F-15A Eagle served with four Tactical Air Command (TAC) fighter-interceptor squadrons providing air defense to the US. Although designed as a pure air superiority aircraft, it could deliver air-to-ground ordinance. The F-15 set eight world records, including the time-to-climb speed record in 1975. The F-15A replaced the F-106 Delta Dart in the interceptor role. By the 1990s, when TAC was deactivated, their Eagles were reassigned to the Air National Guard.

The USAF initially designated the McDonnell Douglas F-4C Phantom II as the F-110 Spectre. ‘Speed is Life’ was the Phantom pilot’s moniker. The Phantom is the holder of multiple world records, including an absolute world record average speed over a 20-mile long 2-way straight course of 1,606.342 mph. It also performed a zoom climb to a world record altitude of 98,557 feet. Capable of carrying missiles, rockets, bombs, and a 20 mm cannon pod, the Phantom was an excellent multirole platform. The Museum’s Phantom is displayed in the 57th Fighter Intercept Squadron’s markings, stationed at Keflavik Iceland.

Displayed next to the F-4 Phantom II is a USAF MD-3 Ground Power Unit commonly called start carts. The MD-3 was originally designed to provide the Boeing B-47 Stratojet Bomber with 28-volt DC 1500-amp, 115/220-volt, AC three-phase electrical service for ground operations and start-up. The MD-3 was powered by a Continental six-cylinder, 180 HP reciprocating engine, which drove its electrical generators. The MD-3 could also be used for other aircraft that had compatible power requirements.

Director Nash escorted me to four more static display aircraft nearby related to and cared for by the Museum. The first was the McDonnell Douglas F-101B Voodoo, displayed in the markings of the 13th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron of Glasgow Air Force Base in Montana in the mid-1960s.

Next was a Convair F-102A Delta Dagger, the world’s first supersonic, all-weather jet interceptor, and the USAF’s first delta-wing aircraft. When the Air Force conceptualized the design in what was known as Project MX-1554, it decided that the design was to be built around a Fire Control System (FCS), which was to be designed first. The aircraft and FCS would work together as one weapon system. Once the F-102 intercepted an enemy aircraft, the Delta Dagger’s radar would guide it into position for the attack. The electronic fire control system fired the F-102’s air-to-air rockets and missiles from an internal weapons bay at the proper moment. Although designed for supersonic speed, the F-102 initially could not exceed Mach 0.98 and was limited to a ceiling of 48.000 feet. The early jet engines were underpowered, but the design itself was an issue. The F-102 suffered from ‘transonic drag,’ a phenomenon that occurs between Mach 0.72 and 1.0. The USAF threatened to cancel the contract for the F-102 unless Convair could get the aircraft to achieve supersonic flight. Convair engineers quickly made major redesigns to the F-102 by incorporating the recently discovered ‘area rule.’ The redesign began with lengthening the fuselage by 11 feet and pinching the fuselage’s midsection, giving it the ‘coke bottle’ shape. The canopy was narrowed, and the intakes were redesigned. The wings were made thinner and wider, with the leading edge being given a conical droop and a second inboard fence for improved low-speed handling. Equipped with a more powerful J57 engine, the remodeled F-102A achieved Mach 1.22 and a ceiling of 53,000 feet on its first flight. The Air Force was impressed and approved the production of the F-102A. Convair proposed an upgrade known as the F-102B, which eventually became the F-106. The Museum’s F-102A is displayed in the markings of the Air Defense Commands 4780 Air Defense Wing stationed at Perrin AFB Texas in the 1960s.

The aircraft on display is a Lockheed F-104C Starfighter. The Starfighter was a supersonic air superiority fighter utilized as both a tactical fighter-bomber and a day-night interceptor. The F-104 was pressed into production when both the F-102 and F-106 experienced production delays. The F-104 was not well suited for the interceptor mission lacking the range and payload of other available aircraft. Originally designed to be equipped with two wingtip AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, the F-104 quickly lost these in favor of external fuel tanks to improve its range. The Starfighter was limited to just an internal 20mm cannon and two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles carried on a special rack under the fuselage. The F-104 also suffered other developmental problems that led to several accidents and a bad reputation among pilots. As a result, the Air Force reduced the order from 722 F-104’s to 170. The F-104’s service in the USAF was short-lived, but the aircraft’s improved versions had a long service career with NATO nation air forces. Director Nash explained that the Museum’s F-104C has a unique history. This particular F-104 was originally displayed with a different paint scheme and another tail number. Researching the original tail number (56-0936), he established the aircraft’s history and identified it as a combat veteran of the Vietnam War. The aircraft was assigned to the 435th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base from 1967 – 1968. The Museum restored this aircraft to the correct tail number, coloring, and markings of the 435th TFS. Director Nash was able to identify a pilot that flew the aircraft during this time. USAF First Lieutenant Thomas Mahan was contacted and attended the unveiling of the refurbished aircraft.

The last stop on my tour with Director Nash was displaying a Boeing LGM-30 (L = Silo Launched, G = Surface Attack, M = Guided Missile, 30 = Minuteman III) Minuteman III Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). Minuteman III, normally on display, are all white. However, the one on display at Peterson is in ‘war colors’ and how an ICBM in a silo, ready for launch, would look. Approximately 1,000 Minuteman III ICBMs were deployed in the 1970s. Today, the Minuteman III remains the only land-based ICBM, with 400 deployed at Malmstrom AFB Montana, Minot AFB North Dakota, and F.E. Warren AFB Wyoming.

As I concluded my visit, Director Nash and I discussed how once the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, the general public is encouraged to visit the Museum. Those without a military ID must obtain a base visitor pass at the visitor center. The Museum has a process that requires those without military ID to call ahead a couple of days and give some information about themselves. The Museum then submits a request to the Security Forces to process a pass a visitor pass. Visitor information can be obtained and reviewed on the Museum’s website,

A special thank you to the Peterson Air and Space Museum’s Director Gail Whalen, Assistant Director and Curator Jeffery Nash, and Stephen Brady of Peterson – Schriever Garrison Public Affairs Office for allowing my visit for this feature. I also wish to thank Corey Beitler for his assistance in producing this article.

Remembering EAA AirVenture Oshkosh’s 2009 Warbirds


It was a very good year for warbirds on display at the EAA’s AirVenture Oshkosh in 2009. There were plenty of World War II fighters, a wide assortment of jets, some interesting observation/Forward Air Control aircraft, and some big transports too. The Canadian Warplane Heritage brought their Lancaster bomber, and a few more as well. 

Here’s a look back at just a fraction of the normal 400 or so warbirds which populate the EAA’s grounds each year. Since the 2020 event was cancelled, here’s hoping for a grand 2021 show… here’s an early shot of adrenaline for you warbird lovers!











































An Interview With Jared Isaacman


Always one who has been unafraid to challenge the standard business model, Jared Isaacman has taken his proven approach that he developed with his successful businesses and applied it to his jet teams and the Aerospace Defense Industry’s Draken International.

Known to those in aviation circles by his callsign ‘Rook,’ Jared Isaacman is much more than a pilot. He is a husband, father, outdoor adventurist, entrepreneur, philanthropist, CEO, aviation visionary, and enthusiast. That is just what we know of.

He once said Elon Musk is putting rockets in space and taking a colony to the moon. So when it comes to the cool factor, Draken International is probably the second coolest company in the world. It is an amazing business. I couldn’t agree more.

When Jared Isaacman agreed to sit down for an in-depth conversation and share his aviation experiences, I was worried that one week would not be sufficient to prepare to address all of his accomplishments over just his sixteen years of flying.

Thank you for taking the time to participate with me in something that I believe will be a little different and will be about your accomplishments, your perspectives, and your love of aviation.

Thanks for your interest. I am always happy to talk about airplanes.

For years, I have been following your story from the beginnings that I knew of with the Heavy Metal and Black Diamond Jet Teams, onto Draken International, and now onto your newest business venture with Shift4 Payments and your own private MiG 29UB.

I want to take it back to the very beginning, if I may. In my research, I have seen a few sources attribute you to be from Allentown, Pennsylvania. However, you are really from New Jersey, are you not?

Yes, I was born in New Jersey and moved to Pennsylvania when I was about six or seven years old. My flying career almost entirely originated out of Pennsylvania, where I learned to fly at the Allentown airport going all the way back to 2004.

Looking back at your accomplishments in the world of aviation in less than 20 years, it’s quite an astonishing list. From achieving your first flight to setting multiple world records. From forming and performing with your own jet demonstration team to creating the world’s premiere Red Air adversary squadron at Draken International. And now the latest acquisition of your own personal MiG 29. I don’t know of anybody else that has come close to paralleling those types of accomplishments in our lifetime. Is this just a normal pace for you, or does this also seem like quite a list of accomplishments to you?

I’m fortunate to be able to participate in all these unique adventures and opportunities. There are many very accomplished pilots in the world, test pilots, military aviators, and civilian pilots. All of them have done everything that I’ve done. I’m fortunate that I started a business that’s found quite a bit of success over the last 20 years, which has allowed me to participate in this kind of thing. I know I’ve been fortunate, and whenever we do things like the Black Diamond Jet Team, we donated every performance to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

The World Record flights were all to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. I definitely don’t think it’s so much as having the skills or training is as much as it is fortunate to be in this position.

Do you recall what in your lifetime sparked your love for aviation and flight?

I think it’s been there for as long as I can remember. I was probably like five years old, playing a Falcon 3.0 flight simulator on an old Atari computer that my brother built. Growing up, I went to Aviation Challenge Camp, which is like the fighter jet version of Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. As a kid, this has always been and part of my life.

It was back in 2004, it was still kind of the early days of my company, and I was living in the basement, working all the time and burning myself out. I was like, I have to get a hobby, I need something outside the office, and that’s why I said I’m going to take this from an interest in aviation to something I’m actually going to do. I started with five lessons, but it’s been with me my whole life.

When was your first flight lesson?

I was probably 21 at the time. As I said, I went to Aviation Challenge, where I was flying Cessna’s. When I was young, I was fortunate to get a P-51 ride, but my interest was always pretty good. I started flying lessons right here in Allentown. I took one lesson with a flight school Cessna 172, and then I hired my instructor. I bought a Cessna Turbo 182 from Textron, and I started flying right away. So, that’s where the journey began.

A few months after you bought the Cessna Turbo 182, you made quite a step up in performance and bought a Beechcraft Baron?

Yeah, if I look at my logbook, I had less than 150 hours of the single-engine piston. So, as soon as I got my private pilot license, I went right into the Baron. I got my commercial, instrument, and my multi-engine ratings in the Baron. I flew that for probably about 700 hours over a year and a half, and then I pretty much jumped to jets.

You graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Were you already involved with jet aircraft by then?

I think I was 27 or 28, so I had already been a pilot for some time when I went there. It was really so that I could have the option if I ever wanted to join the Air National Guard or the Air Force Reserve as a pilot I needed a College Degree.

In 2008 you made your first World Record attempt in a light jet; you and your Co-Pilot Doug Demko missed the mark by just one hour after long ground holds in India and Japan. You shattered the mark by over twenty-one hours on your second attempt, completing the route in sixty-one hours, fifty-one minutes. Do you recall your route, and did it start with the Northern Blue Spruce Route to Greenland?

We started in Morristown, New Jersey, in both attempts, and we went to Saint John’s, Canada. We actually skipped Greenland and went right to the Azores. This is where the routes started to differ between 08 and 09. I think we stopped in Madrid before hitting the Greek Islands, Luxor, and Oman. From there, we made our way to Qatar, Pakistan, and India, and this is where we had a lot of issues. Had we known, we would have chosen to go to Thailand, Brunei to Japan before Russia, and then onto Alaska, Reno, and home.

In 09, we went from a Citation Mustang to a Cessna CJ2, which is also in the same light jet weight class. However, CJ2 enabled us to eliminate many stops, specifically with Japan, India, and Pakistan. Those were all areas that we got really ground up in bureaucracy and such that slowed us down.

The Cessna in 09 allowed us still to go from Morristown, New Jersey to Canada and the Azores. However, this time we went right to Sardinia and onto Luxor. We then went to Oman and the Maldives. We went back to Thailand and could skip Brunei and go onto the Philippines. From there, we went to South Korea to Russia, and Alaska to Reno, Fargo, and home. We were able to cut out all the high-risk stops.

I imagine there is a tremendous amount of planning that goes into an around the world flight.

Yeah, because your time is being counted. So, if you get jammed up in turn order or even if the fuel trucks aren’t ready to go, that all counts against you. We had an observer from the National Aeronautic Institution on board to certify that we averaged 15 or 16 minutes on the ground at every stop. We would have two fuel trucks for either wing the moment we taxi in.

Any delay along the route could affect your next stop. All of the details, like the fuel and all of the paperwork, were handled in advance. Payments were made in advance, so as we were topping off, we were getting our flight plans clearance, taxing out, and blasting off.

You mentioned earlier about the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and I did notice that you are a Philanthropist. Is this correct that you raised over $100,000 on that World Record trip between pledges and donations?

I don’t remember the exact amount, but it was north of 100,000 dollars.

I have to compliment and thank you for all of your helping and giving back you have done for people who are in need. I have also read that you are involved in other events such as a charity poker tour and Pennies for Humanity.

I think tons of pilots from all walks of life could do everything that I’ve ever done in an airplane. I’m just lucky to be in that spot because the ball bounced my way a few times with a great business. So, whenever you undertake any adventure, it just has to be about more than just you. I always try to incorporate a good cause into any of these pictures.

In fact, I have one that’s coming up that I am really excited about. I can’t really talk about it, but in the next month and a half, there should be something interesting coming along that’s going to benefit a really worthwhile organization.

Around 2010 you struck up a friendship with Sean’ Stroker’ Gustafson. Is this who introduced you to flying military jets?

Yes, that is about the right time, but actually, I was flying ex-military aircraft from like 2008, 2009, and 2010. I was already flying the L-39 and the T-33. I got checked out in the Collings Foundation A-4 Skyhawk and took it to Oshkosh in 2010 as part of the Vietnam Heritage Flight. It was really cool that I was doing that kind of flying with Jerry’ Jive’ Kirby. He and Mike ‘Buick’ Eberhardt were my formation, aerobatic and military instructors. Both of them are really accomplished, military aviators.

Was this the beginning of the formation of the Heavy Metal Jet Team?

It was early 2010, where we said to each other; we already have a couple of L-39’s and a T-33. Why don’t we put a paint job on them and start an air show team? Then it became, why don’t we get a couple more and try to put together a Thunderbird caliber show. In the process, we just looked to the Thunderbirds for additional pilots to join our team.

We had Major Sean “Stroker” Gustafson, and then we got Major John’ Slick’ Baum, both of whom were Thunderbirds on the 2009 – 2010 teams. So, they committed to join the team right after they got out. They came right from the Thunderbirds, swapping F-16’s for L-39’s and that’s when my friendship with those two struck up.

We were getting the team off the ground and started training when Mike’ Buick’ Eberhardt came along. In there somewhere, Dale’ Snort’ Snodgrass and Jerry’ Jive’ Kirby created the Black Diamond. Buick was my instructor in the A-4 Skyhawk when I was flying the Collings Foundation bird. I was flying with ‘Buick’ two years before the air show team. He was just a natural, and when you’re building up the team, anyone you had a relationship with and can trust, we invited you to join us.

When did you start learning to do formation flying? Does it go back as far as your time with the Collings Foundation?

I learned how to fly formations before that in L-39’s and T-33’s in the 08 and 09 time period. I probably got checked out in the A-4 in late 09 when I went to Oshkosh in 2010. We took it along with the Phantom. I was flying L-39’s and T-33’s long before the A-4.

Formation flying is really a big step in complexity and performance, especially with a swept-wing jet. You definitely don’t jump right to that, at least on the civilian track. I had at least a year and a half of formation aerobatics flying the L- 39.

What is it like to fly the ‘Scooter’?

It’s an unbelievable airplane. It is a very simple airframe and design, just like an L-39. By that, I mean you wear the jet. Everybody says that it’s an incredibly tight cockpit, and you barely fit in it. It’s just like a little sports car. Heineman’s design is very simple. I’m lucky because I’ve gotten to fly the whole evolution of Skyhawks. I’ve flown all of the models with the J-65 engines, the ‘F’ models with J-50, the ‘J’ models with J-52’s, the ‘K’ model with the F-16 radar suite and HUD glass, and the ‘N’ model with the 408 motors with 20% more thrust. Those are like your rocket ships and is definitely one of my favorites to fly. The mighty scooter is still up there as a great adversary platform and definitely one of the favorites.

In the early days with the Heavy Metal Jet Team, was there ever consideration given to flying another airframe, or was the L-39 the way to go if you want to fast-track the team?

We never considered another airframe for the diamond. You need to know that you must have five aircraft if you want to have a spare aircraft. There just aren’t five of any jet warbirds in the country.

We already owned two L-39’s by the time we started building up the team, and it was a very easy decision to buy three more. There was never a doubt that the L-39 was going to be the diamond aircraft. Our solos were MiG 17’s, and we already had a T-33.

We definitely spiced it up on the solo routine because you didn’t need as many aircraft, but we never looked at anything else for the diamond operators.

I was fortunate to see the team with both the T-33 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and the MiG 17’s at NAS Oceana VA, and I found both routines spectacular.

That Oceana Friday night show went down as far as from our perspective, as one of our best performances.

I remember the flying was perfect and the sky was just magnificent for that night show.

What do you remember about that first year with the team?

That was the greatest time of my life when we were out there on the show circuit in 2011. I certainly had the most fun I’ve ever had. A lot of fun memories, and it was a great team.

I attempted to total up all of the team’s performances in the four years you were together from 2011 to 2014. By my count, there were somewhere around 104 scheduled performances. Do you know if there is an official count?

I’ve always used the over 100 performances whenever I’ve described it, so it sounds like you’re right there. Most of the time, you get four performances per weekend. You have your practice day on a Friday arrival, and then you usually would launch again for a night show and the two-weekend shows.

I know my last show was in 2014 at Cherry Point, at least the public ones. We might have done a couple of other shows. I remember it because it was a high show, which I guess I tucked away in my memory as my last show.

I had the 2014 Lehigh Valley Air Show in Allentown, Pennsylvania, written down as your last show, but you think Cherry Point the last full show?

I recall Cherry point being the last high show we performed in May 2014. I do remember both of the Allentown shows, and I think they were both flat shows. The big issue may have been some cloud cover and that they couldn’t get their aerobatic box that was needed.

After the 2014 season, the team did some flybys for events such as the Indy 500, NFL games, and special events, but you never performed as a team again?

We did a little reunion, and it was just for us where we did the whole routine twice in June of 2016 in Lakeland, Florida.

I always wondered about the name change from the Heavy Metal Jet Team to the Black Diamond Jet Team and why it happened before the end of the air show season.

That was an internal thing where somebody went and copyrighted the name and forced the name change.

I’ve seen the list of all of the different types of aircraft you have piloted, from business jets to military aircraft but what I have never seen is the mention of a helicopter. Is there a reason for that?

Well, I think they are cool, and I’ve been a passenger in them, but I’ve never really had any interest in flying them. You just have all sorts of types of pilots, there’s a lot of fixed-wing guys that don’t want anything to do with helicopters, and there’s some that just go for the challenge. I’m probably more in the former than the latter camp. I have nothing against them. I just kind of prefer having wings and the ability to glide.

Is it true that you owned your own Saab J-35 Draken?

It is. That predated the Black Diamonds, and I got it probably in the 08 – 09 time period. I spent a couple of years trying to restore it, and then I just gave up. It’s probably on a stick somewhere, but I did keep the name for Draken international.

The Draken J-35 is just a great example of what I mean about there’s no part support. There’s no egress support for it, so you can’t upkeep the ejection seat motor. It was also like a one-off derivative of a J-79 engine, and there’s no support for it. You really are taking many unnecessary risks trying to operate those kinds of one-off platforms versus what I think is the right approach, which is how we get things done.

It seems your approach has been to bring aircraft over, take them apart, and go over them from top to bottom. In the end, when you reassemble them, you had made them safe and essentially better than they were when they were new.

No doubt, you have to because the decks were stacked against us from the start. Nobody wanted our service in the beginning.

The Air Force was like, we have T-38’s, and they do just fine. They didn’t want to certify these kinds of aircraft we were using. There were just so many issues and then the idea that it was over for us if anything went wrong.

We didn’t have a customer who was highly dependent on our service that the ATAC (Airborne Tactical Advantage Company) guys had. They had accomplished an awful lot in their time, but they certainly had setbacks where things didn’t go well. They’ve had accidents, fatalities and we had no room for error like that because we were not established.

So, the criteria we were using when selecting our aircraft was it has to be safe, sustainable, and incredible. Safe, meaning we had to be able to upkeep all the systems on it as good as it was in military service. Sustainable in that we can’t run out of parts. We have to be able to maintain a stable supply chain. Incredible, in that it’s got to be able to replicate the bad guys because if you’re just metal in the sky and you can’t shoot back, and you can’t react, then the Air Force is better off going up and fighting airliners.

That was our criteria, safe, sustainable, incredible and those are the only type of aircraft we have purchased.

How sustainable is the A-4 pipeline?

When we purchased those aircraft, and you’ll find this in every fleet we ever bought, we get more than the airplanes. We get everything that goes along with them. We had nearly 100 shipping containers from New Zealand. We had the entire New Zealand Air Forces spares and support inventory. Then we had all of the Australian Navy’s spares in support inventory as well.

At that the time we made that New Zealand A-4 deal in 2011, the Israeli Air Force, Singaporean Air Force, Brazilians, and the Argentinians were all still flying the A-4. So, we felt comfortable that other military operators in the world, on top of that huge inventory we bought, are how we ensure that they would be safe, sustainable, and incredible.

It is the same story for the Dassault F-1 Mirages we purchased.

Even the MiG-21’s we bought, even though we never operated them, there was never an issue from the supply chain perspective. We bought the MiG-21’s for such a reasonable price from Poland, and we paid like a quarter of a million dollars for thirty jets. It probably cost us another quarter of a million for shipping. They would have been great. They have been very safe, but the customer really didn’t have an interest in a MiG-21 adversary.

You donated a MiG-21 airframe to the National Naval Aviation Museum to tell the story of Desert Storm. Was this one of the spares that Draken had obtained?

We didn’t need it at the time, so ultimately, to clear space in the hangar because we needed it, we just started donating them.

Recently it has been in the news that you purchased your own MiG-29.

First off, I have to clear something up. I actually bought it like 18 months ago. I’ve never been on social media, so I recently joined up, and after flying it, I tweeted out a picture, and all this attention came along with it.

This is the former Ukrainian Air Force MiG-29 that was owned and restored by Paul Allen?

Yes, it is a MiG-29 UB model from Paul Allen’s estate.

In terms of operating the MiG-29, next to the L-39, I’d say it’s the safest, most stable fighter aircraft I’ve ever flown. You have two engines, and it’s a fourth-generation platform, so you know obviously a lot of lessons learned in fighter jet design have been incorporated into it.

I was very lucky obviously to buy it from Paul Allen’s Estate, who was a man that had a great appreciation for aviation and spared no expense with maintaining this aircraft. I couldn’t have been better positioned to be in an optimal position to learn the aircraft and operate it. It is incredibly safe; it has two engine reliability right from the start, something I have never had in any ex-military aircraft.

How do you maintain a MiG-29? Is it much different than any other jet aircraft, or is it very similar to your other aircraft?

It’s different, it is not easy, and it is not the same as other aircraft. Paul Allen had owned this aircraft for a long time before me so, and he had already trained maintenance technicians. He already established a supply chain back into Europe, so I benefited from all his groundwork.

This is not a plane that can fly 300 hours a year like an L-39. You need a team of people to launch it, and there are a lot of advanced systems. It is a fourth-generation fighter aircraft, and when things break, you’re just not going to have all the same stuff on the shelf you have with other aircraft. But you know all of that is worth it to be able to fly such an extraordinary aircraft.

I have read that John Sessions did a remarkable job of restoring it.

It’s the nicest MiG-29 in the world.

John Sessions had reported that it had a total of five hundred-seventy hours on the airframe, and only sixty of those hours were after his restoration.

Yeah, it was not many hours at all under Paul’s ownership, but everything you just said sounds correct.

The MiG-29 is capable of a top speed of Mach 2.25. Are you ever going to be able to take advantage of that?

I don’t know if it’ll get that. Many fighter jets have top speeds that the airframe can never get to unless you pointed it straight at the ground. Even the F-15 Eagle, to hit its maximum speed, they had to strip off the paint and clean off every bit of drag on it. It’s really hard to do that, but mine is in its cleanest form. There are no tanks or pylons on it. I operate it in Montana, which is often chilly, so I do have great performance. There will be opportunities, whether it’s supporting some class or student pilots.

I was reminded of the passing of Chuck Yeager this past week, and my question to you is, what is it like to fly Mach and break the sound barrier?

Very anti-climactic. I think you’d probably hear that from almost any pilot. It is not like the movie The Right Stuff. The plane isn’t shaking, and the nuts and bolts are not falling off or gauges cracking. It just happens, you don’t hear anything. It’s actually very benign in the MiG-29.

Now in the A-4 Skyhawk, even though it’s not an afterburning aircraft, you can go supersonic in it. We have done that at Draken during some research and development flights with the Department of Defense. I’ve gotten the A-4 to very high subsonic speeds. Some of our pilots did get the Skyhawk supersonic by pointing their noses down at the ground.

The A-4 has some interesting characteristics when going supersonic. Again, it’s nothing like the movie The Right Stuff, no gauges are shattering, but you will see the nose wondering as it goes through the transonic range before going supersonic. The MiG-29 exhibits none of those characteristics. It just happens.

There is word spreading around among aviation enthusiasts that you’re planning on taking your MiG-29 out to some air shows. Is that in the works?

Yeah, my day job keeps me incredibly busy at Shift4 Payments, but I hope that next year for the world to be a healthier place, and I can find the time. It won’t be anything like 45 shows, nothing like the good old days, but I definitely want to share the aircraft with other aviation enthusiasts.

Is there still an aircraft type that you still want to pilot and have not been able to as of yet?

Yes, the F-16. As I mentioned before, I was a Falcon 3.0 flight simulator kid, so I’ve always wanted to fly that jet. I would say that and the Flanker SU-27 family that shares my interest.

I will miss the L-159, that’s Draken’s primary workhorse. It looks like an L- 39, but it’s very much different. It has twice as much thrust with modern radar and an all-hydraulic control system. It is a very westernized aircraft. I actually flew the first delivery flight of the L-159 into the United States.

Not being part of Draken anymore, I’ll miss flying that airplane. Hopefully, I’ll get some opportunities again in the future. But in terms of stuff that I haven’t flown that I’d love to see happen someday, I think the F-16 and SU-27 would both be up there.

My closing question has to do with something I read that was attributed to you. Many people dream of ‘what if.’ However, your ideas don’t seem to have a glass ceiling that stops you at ‘what if.’ Is it a fair assessment that your drive to push through that based on your belief that everyone has a “useful fatigue life”?

My brother was the one who conveyed much of that. I would never have said it like that. That’s obviously over the top aviation terminology. I would have definitely said it a little bit differently because I don’t think the average person can relate to fatigue life and how many hours you have lived.

I do try and take advantage of whatever opportunities are presented to me. I believe in the concept that we only get one chance on this planet. You just want to be able to make the most of it. If you can, and I’m trying, do some good along the way. I actually very much believe that.

A very special thank you to Jared Isaacman for his time and for sharing his personal collection of photographs for this article.

All photos courtesy Jared Isaacman, except where noted.

An Incomplete Review of the Train Wreck That Was 2020

The tumultuous year of 2020 has ended, leaving many dreams shattered, lives changed forever, and the aviation world a very different place than it was just one year ago. The so-called global pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus has led to nationwide quarantines, mass commercial passenger reservation cancellations and corresponding airline flight eliminations – changing many fortunes in commercial airline operations. Reductions in staffing, including customer service employees, cockpit and cabin crews, and even air traffic controllers have been caused by both illness or lack of demand as commercial aviation ridership plummets. General aviation, business aviation and the air show industry have seem big impacts too, but not as bad as the airlines have.

Here are some of the changes we’ve noticed in aviation during the past year – some that were barely on our radar, if at all, while others which were expected, but expedited by the change of world events in 2020. News headlines rage about unemployment, income losses, and fear of flying and being exposed to an unseen killer virus. But, there have been silver linings and positive changes within the year too.

First of all, a big issue… the demise of passenger carrying Airbus A-380 and Boeing B-747 jumbo jets was accelerated. Being big wasn’t a great trait in 2020, as passenger loads on mainline routes dropped by upwards of 75% in most cases. Passenger flights using these less economical 4 engined jumbo jets disappeared faster than many airlines’ long range plans had targeted, due to reduced ridership. More economical twin jets have burst upon the scene in the past few years; the A-350-1000 XWB and the Boeing 787-10 became the long haul jumbos of choice for many airlines of 2020, winning with their improved economics. New versions of the smaller A-321 are now used on more long and thin-traffic routes. The Boeing 737 MAX will also be more visible on these routes this year too.

On the other hand, freighters in the B-747 and Antonov 124/225 fleets were welcomed as their volume was filled before their maximum payload weight was reached carrying lightweight personal protective equipment (PPE) from one continent to another. Passenger jets such as the B-767, A-330 and smaller Boeings and Airbuses were adapted to carry freight, sometimes with their passenger seats removed.

The U.S. military carried their fair share of medical supplies too; scanner enthusiast Daniel O. Myers wrote: “… the military did the same, throughout- CONUS and around the world. I monitored a flight of “EASY” USMC Transport Squadron (VMR) from Belle Chasse, LA to KWRI [McGuire AFB, New Jersey]. There were also REACH flights into Pease, NH in support of Boston. I’m sure there many others… “

Aviation has played an important part in expediting the movement of critically needed medical supplies, which includes new vaccines recently.

Regional airlines Compass Airlines and Trans States Airlines have shut down, many more U.S. and international airlines have filed for bankruptcy. Names include LATAM (Chile), Virgin Australia, South African Airways, Avianca (Columbia), FLyBe (U.K.), Miami Air International (U.S.) and RavnAir (Alaska) have all declared bankruptcy, and more will have been added to this list by the end of 2020. A few of these companies haven’t stopped flying yet, as alternative arrangements are being pursued.

With the cancellation of more than half of the world’s passenger flights, the shipping space for routine mail and small package – which usually were flown in the bellies of scheduled airline operations – was lost. On-line shopping depends on surface and air shipping, which led airfreight haulers such as FedEx and UPS to enforced delivery date deadlines near Christmas as the space aboard hundreds of their planes was already filled weeks before the holiday.

While passenger airlines were losing money and requesting government subsidies, the air freight business seemed to be at least holding its own.


The 50-seat Regional Jet is fast disappearing due to economics. The last MD-88s operated by Delta Airlines have been parked; American Airlines grounded their long-serving MD-80 fleet earlier. Delta has retired their earlier B-777s and British Airways and Qantas Airlines have parked their B-747s as well, to name a few of the older airliner models being pulled from service.

Hundreds of airliners were declared surplus during the year. U.S. airports such as Mojave and Victorville California, Pinal Airpark in Arizona, Alice Springs Australia, Teruel Airport in Spain, and the Kembel-Costwold Airport in the U.K. all hold acres of aircraft. Some of those airframes will fly again, but many are destined for parting-out or scrapping.

2020 really stunk. It was not an easy year as we have lost people, jobs, freedoms and sacrificed the things we like to do. I am happy to say goodbye. I am fortunate to be an essential employee of Aviation so I never stopped working as others lost their jobs. As for Air Shows, so many were cancelled, including the first one in Yuma as I disembarked a plane in Arizona. I am thankful that by August, socially distant shows began to happen and we saw some great things. It worked but I hope it is not the new normal. In 2021, I look forward to some normalcy but that will not happen right away pending mass vaccinations. I expect more early season Air Show cancellations and choose to be optimistic for improvement by late summer. By the end of 2021, we will look back, count our blessings, and hopefully, live our best lives because 2020 proved that nothing is for granted. Shawn Byers

Airshows, once the exciting gathering of aviators, aviators and airplanes, may have changed forever too. Drive-in air shows, with fewer cars parked in socially distant-sized rectangles, allowed for great viewing next to runways for flying displays, at shows like Airshow London (Ontario) and Wings Over Houston (Texas). Static displays were all but nonexistent though. This seems to be one of the few ways to continue to allow air shows to operate with crowd constraints.

From an aviation standpoint, I’m glad 2020 is over. Watching the airshows fall one by one off of the 2020 schedule was just a slow torture. Not being able to see the Blue Angels one last time in Legacy Hornet was definitely a letdown as well. My hope for 2021 is that all the performers and shows will be able to perform as scheduled with fans being able to gather once again and enjoy the roar of jets and props once more. Mike Colaner

For me, the most disappointing aspect of 2020 was so many airshows being canceled. It was also frustrating to see my local airport, Lehigh Valley International Airport, lose a large amount of the growth they have experienced in recent years in both revenue and passenger traffic as regional airlines took a huge hit in 2020. For me, the worst part of 2020 aviation was was the Snowbirds crash which cost Captain Jennifer Casey her life, especially since the Snowbirds were trying simply to conduct a goodwill tour of Canada to boost the spirits of frontline workers and people like the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds were doing with the America Strong flyovers. As I always like to be positive, the most positive aspect of 2020 for me aviation wise was being able to contribute to the team with my 747 article and some photographs. I am honored to be a part of this group and have already received a lot of great feedback from many of the veteran members of this team. I’m looking forward to seeing airshows and aviation events resume in 2021 and being able to cover them as an aviation photojournalist for my own newsletter, “Distelfink Airlines”, and also continue to contribute photographs and articles to and the partner sites. I am also looking forward to being able to see all my aviation photography and airshow friends in person again at events. Corey Beitler

For me, the most disappointing facet of 2020 was having air shows so close to home that had to be canceled. As the season went along, we were constantly checking the internet and watching these shows – one by one – “crash and burn.” The most frustrating was the Atlantic City, NJ beach show. In my opinion, there was no need to cancel that show, especially since Ocean City, MD, (a similar venue) successfully took place. However, looking on the bright side, we saw the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds fly together in a nationwide tribute to front-line health care workers and First Responders, On July 4th, those of us on the east coast, got to witness twenty-one high-performance military aircraft in a multi-city flyby. Both of these brought aerial events to people that would probably never attend an air show. In Newburgh, NY we attended our first ever “drive-in” air show. From that aspect, 2020 was historic and memorable. Dan Myers

On a high note, the USAF Thunderbirds and the Navy’s Blue Angels flew jointly-choreographed flyovers during the North American spring months to support frontline healthcare workers early on during the pandemic, and the USAF sent other flyover missions along various routes around the 4th of July in the U.S.

The Canadian Air Forces Snowbirds began a similar series of flights under the name of Operation Inspiration, but the flybys were sadly halted after one of their jets crashed and killed Captain Jennifer Casey, their Public Affairs Officer who was a passenger in the aircraft.

Large trade shows like the 2020 Farnborough and 2021 Paris Air Show have been cancelled. The 2020 EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin was cancelled too, as was the 2020 Sun N Fun event in Florida. Already, a few 2021 air show venues have announced the cancellation of their events. For many air show buffs, not hearing the raw sounds or feeling the rumbles of engines in person has soured their thoughts about 2020, but discussions about 2021’s air show offerings have already sparked renewed interest… hope springs eternal among them!

General aviation and business flight hours haven’t been affected as much as commercial flight hours. With the cancellation of so many large-aircraft airline flights, smaller jet and prop aircraft are allowing many journeys that require critical timing and alternate destinations affordable and available. In fact, some busy markets have recovered to pre-COVID levels, or even surpassed previous years’ traffic. Charters, fractional ownership and outright purchase of business and general aviation aircraft have filled the gap when airline operators curtailed operations.

2020 will go down as a year in which anything Aviation related will not soon forget, although we may want to. As we enter 2021, we hope that all aspects of the industry including airlines, manufacturers, and airshows alike will bounce back and stabilize. It may not be the “old” normal we remember them, but in the “new” normal that we will need to get accustomed to. Scott Jankowski

The grounding saga of the Boeing B-737 MAX aircraft seems to be just about over, as the FAA and other worldwide state aviation authorities have recertified the twinjet to carry passengers again. An almost 20 month-long grounding of the type was lifted in December, 2020.

Unfortunately for me 2020 was a miserable year, one that I will never forget, as I lost both my parents to Covid-19 back in April. Coming to terms with the harsh reality I was eager to try and occupy myself with anything that could take my mind off of the loss. Thankfully there were a few events during the shortened airshow season that provided some relief for me. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the flybys honoring our hero health-care workers and first responders. Drive-in air shows of which at first I was skeptical of as far as safety and content turned out to be a much welcomed substitute for full on air shows in this challenging year where so many shows were outright cancelled. Lastly, even though the weather forced the cancellation of the Arsenal of Democracy flyby in Washington DC, the practice days leading up to the event provided a chance to reconnect with friends and get back to the hobby we all enjoy. I have hopes that we can see some return to normalcy in 2021. I do want to thank Ken Kula and Joe Kates for taking care of the business and administrative end of the site. Without your contributions none of this would be possible. Howard German

Aviation will be hard-pressed to make up for lost ground in the next few years, Boeing reports they expect a three year period before pre-COVID air traffic and air passenger levels return. IATA expects a 2024 return.

Business travelers have had to adjust to video conferencing and many find it a less-expensive and suitable alternative to business travel by air (and other means too). Just as the “new” methods of email and the Internet doomed air shuttles between the Boston-New York-Washington DC markets years ago, the COVID restrictions have shown that there are less expensive and shorter time-consuming ways to be productive today (read: work from home…). Few people foresaw the turbulence that unfolded in 2020. Could it happen again? I believe most of us will now say “never say never again”. Aviation as a whole seems to have weathered the storm, albeit in an uncomfortable manner. Some segments are improving towards reaching our old “normal” levels of activity again. Other segments will have to adapt to a new normal – whatever that will be. Ken Kula

As aviation supporters and enthusiasts, please know that we here at, and salute you all who make aviation part of your lives, and wish you a safe and prosperous 2021!