2009 Joint Services Open House
Andrews AFB, Maryland
Airshow report written on May 21, 2009.
One of my shorter airshow trips every year is the Joint Services Open House at Andrews AFB. Having attended that show every year since 2004, I have seen the best and worst weather, and can now add that on with the 2009 event. I was going to be doing several things for the 2009 show that I hadn't done at Andrews in the past - be able to attend the DOD-only show on Friday, be able to get on base for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and go to a baseball game at least one of the days while I'm down there. The Washington Nationals have a brand new ballpark that is located in downtown DC, easily accessible by Metro via the Green Line. The Nationals were at home that weekend, playing the Philadelphia Phillies. I had learned about the Phillies coming to DC to play the Nats while I was watching the games on Saturday and Sunday, and figured that it'd be a great idea to squeeze in a Phillies game during the airshow weekend. I was hoping to go to the Saturday evening game (there was a doubleheader on Saturday), but was quickly talked into going to the Friday game instead, and that proved to be a great decision - except for one thing. The Phillies ended up winning the game 10-6, but in 12 innings, with the game ending at 11:35 pm. I would have not been able to make the Saturday evening game, as the airshow ran long, allowing all of the acts to take to the skies for reasons I will mention below.
As I hinted above, the weather was not the best for the weekend. Friday's show had an overcast layer that barely made it above 1,500 feet, meaning that all of the performers were to fly low or flat show performances. After the Thunderbirds flew, the sky opened up a bit, allowing for some higher shows by The Collaborators and Greg Poe, Sean Tucker, among others. Saturday's show started off with fog and a VERY low cloud deck, forcing the show to start about an hour later than planned. As a result, the Thunderbirds agreed to fly earlier (though only by a few minutes) and the show going on past 5 pm, allowing the A-10 and F-22 demonstrations to take place under higher ceilings. To give you an idea of how much the sky improved, the Thunderbirds attempted to fly some high show maneuvers, but settled in on a low show for the remainder of their performance. In addition to the A-10 and F-22, Dale "Snort" Snodgrass flew an aerobatic performance in Glamorous Gal, a P-51 Mustang owned by Chris Baranaskas (plus a Heritage Flight), and the E-Team Skydivers managed to make a jump with their 5,000ft2 American flag. Sunday's show featured rain in the morning, which tapered off, and a full lineup of performances by all of the performers and high shows from everyone - including the Thunderbirds. Even though it was still overcast, the clouds remained high enough for all of the performances to go off without a hitch.
Andrews was the first show I had seen an A-10 demonstration since 2007 - ironically the last time I saw an A-10 demo was at Andrews AFB in 2007! This is because the 23rd Fighter Group had been disbanded at Pope AFB, and because of BRAC, the 23rd FG was to move to Moody AFB in Georgia. As a result, there were only a handful of A-10 demos from the East Coast Demo Team during the 2007 airshow season. The demo team moved along with the entire wing, becoming the 23rd Wing, and the demo team stood back up for the 2009 airshow season. This year's demo pilot, Captain Johnnie "Dusty" Green, had given me a head's up on the fact that the demonstration profile had changed slightly. He was definitely correct, and I won't say what it is - just watch the videos. The A-10 demo has the option of pyrotechnics for the strafing passes and the bomb run pass, but as typical with Andrews, there was no pyro (in all of the years I've gone to Andrews, there has NEVER been pyro, and I've come to expect that). I will be seeing quite a few A-10 demonstrations from Dusty this year, and I suppose that number is to make up for no A-10s last year. I really don't have much to say about Zeke and the F-22 Raptor demonstration. All I will say is that I will let the videos do the talking, once they are all online. While Zeke flew a low show on Friday, it was a complete vapor-fest. Every which way Zeke turned or pulled, there was a cloud of vapor coming off the aircraft. Saturday and Sunday featured high shows by Zeke and the Raptor, but not nearly as much vapor trailing off the aircraft as was Friday.
The one act I was really looking forward to seeing was The Collaborators. The team is comprised of four aerobatic pilots, two flying Extra 300s, one flying an Edge 540, and Sean Tucker flying his Oracle Challenger. Sean flies the lead, with his son Eric and Ben Freelove flying off Sean's wings, and former Red Baron Squadron pilot Bill Stein flying the slot position. As a team, they put on one heck of a performance, with at least one airplane in front of the crowd at all times. I had been wanting to see this act since it debuted in 2007 (I think?) and it's about time it made its way to the east coast. Eric Tucker flew the Oracle Extra 300 while Ben Freelove flew an Extra 300 that was marked up in the markings of the Tutima Academy of Aeronautics, which is owned by Sean. Bill Stein even flew a solo performance on Friday and Saturday, and flies one of the most unique Edge 540s out on the airshow circuit. His Edge 540 has a special pant job applied throughout the entire aircraft which changes color depending on where you are watching it from and depending on the available light hitting the airplane. In other words, you could have two people looking at the airplane - one person about 100 feet away from the other, and if the lighting is just right, both would see a different color on the same part of the airplane. Sean, of course, flew his solo aerobatic display, and is still regarded as one of the finest aerobatic displays on the airshow circuit.
For Sunday's show, there were two rather large breaks in the action. Two C-130 Hercules from Dyess AFB performed a mass paradrop of members of the 82nd Airborne, and both aircraft landed at Andrews AFB to pick up and take the soldiers back to Fort Bragg. In addition, the C-130s (using the callsigns Hazard 63 and 64) had to hurry up and depart as a ramp freeze was put into effect. A rather large contingent of security forces lined the crowd line, and anyone who did not know what was based at Andrews AFB probably would have thought that there was a massive security breach on base. However, that was not the case, as several of the 89th Airlift Wing's aircraft were out on the hot ramp. President Barack Obama was scheduled to make a speech at the commencement at Notre Dame University in Indiana, and elected to depart during the Sunday show. We got a rare chance to see the VH-3D Sea Kings that make up the fleet that everyone knows as Marine One, in addition to the Boeing VC-25, which flew under the callsign of Air Force One. I was able to listen in to the tower frequency and hear Air Force One get cleared to take off as well as being handed off to the departure frequency. Behind Air Force One was a C-32 that flew under the callsign of SAM 91. I thought it was a bit strange seeing the C-32s fly for the first time and seeing them with winglets. Heck, seeing winglets on 757s is still a bit strange.
Overall, this year's show had a well-balanced lineup of aerobatics and military demonstrations. The lineup was smaller than past years, due to MCAS Beaufort (Blue Angels) and MCAS Cherry Point (Snowbirds) having their shows the same weekend as Andrews. The weather could have been better, and I'm afraid if I mention what I'm going to say here, it will hold true for the next several shows.
Military Demonstration Teams
US Army Golden Knights
Military Aircraft Demonstrations
82nd Airborne Paradrop
A-10 Thunderbolt II East Coast Demo Team
F/A-18F Super Hornet Demonstration - VFA-106
F-22 Raptor Demonstration
Aerobatic Performances, Warbird Performances, and Others
Red Bull Helicopter & Jumpers
Liberty Jump Team
USAF Heritage Flight
US Navy Legacy Flight
Warbirds Over Long Island (Static?)
Japanese Bomber (Static)
Quicksilver P-51D Mustang (Static)