2009 MCAS Miramar Airshow
San Diego, California
Airshow report written on October 8, 2009.
To the surprise of many (and especially within my family, who absolutely HATE when I go to ANY airshow), I decided to take a trip out west to go to Miramar. The main reasoning behind this trip was the lineup, which included two military jet teams and some civilian acts that I had seen in the past and some that I've never seen. I've also had an itch to go out west for at least one show during the 2009 season, and California seemed to be in my sights. It had been eight years since I was last in California (and part of that trip was for an airshow!) and the dates for this year's show fell at the right time for a trip and I found a package deal that I couldn't resist - though I question the flights I chose because they simply made no sense. A lot of people have been asking why Miramar was on the schedule. To be honest, it wasn't until the first week of September when I said that I'd definitely be going, since I had been tracking package quotes for a trip to San Diego. Once I saw that the Blue Angels and the Snowbirds would be attending, it solidified any kind of possibility of going.
I have actually been out to Miramar before (think 1999) and was looking forward to a return trip. There was only one hiccup on the entire trip - that being back at home - but the rest of the trip was, for the most part, smooth and uneventful. I went to the show with the mindset of bad weather, and I'll explain why. Out of all of the airshows I've traveled to during the 2009 season, only one show (Langley AFB) has had perfect weather for the entire weekend. I heard stories about at least one day at past Miramar shows being rainy and for the most part, interrupted by either a marine layer of fog or very low clouds. With that in mind, I expected to deal with those conditions all weekend. Anything better would just be a bonus. I got one day of perfect weather (Saturday), one day of beautiful-then cloudy weather (Friday), and one day of annoying clouds and high winds (Sunday). For the most part, all of the acts flew each day and we had three great days of flying.
As I said, there were a few acts at Miramar that I either have never seen before or had seen on my last trip out west. The Patriots Jet Team was the one team/performance that I was really looking forward to seeing. The Patriots are a staple at most west coast airshows and from what I've been told, put on a great show. I came to Miramar with the mindset that I was going to see an awesome performance by them, and that's exactly what I saw. The Patriots fly four L-39 Albatross aircraft that spit out red, white, and blue colored smoke in an act that is about twenty minutes long. The L-39 is not a loud jet by any means, but the four pilots on the team put it through its paces in a show that features stuff you don't see from the Thunderbirds or Blue Angels (tailslides, anyone?). There is almost always at least one jet in the airshow box at all times and with the help of their announcer Jon "Jughead" Counsell, combines for an exciting act that I look forward to seeing again and again. Oh yeah, they also flew during the twilight show. It was the same act, only the lighting made the act more dramatic. If anyone on the team sees this, you guys should come east at least once!
Another act I was looking forward to seeing was the MAGTF demonstration. I recall the MAGTF demo in 1999 being something along the lines of two KC-130s, three or four Hornets, two Hueys and Cobras, and a few CH-53s. This year's demonstration featured two KC-130J Hercules, two F/A-18C Hornets (VMFA-323), one F/A-18D Hornet (VMFA-121, I think), three CH-53s, three CH-46s, two Hueys, and two Cobras. Oh yeah - there were also two AV-8B Harriers! The demonstration was well choreographed and even featured a pair of light armored vehicles and a pair of M1A1 Abrams tanks. Sunday's MAGTF demo only featured one F/A-18C Hornet as a representative of the fixed-wing hardware because of the low clouds over and surrounding Miramar. It did take a lot away from the demonstration but it was still good nonetheless. One of the C-model Hornets experienced a problem in-flight on Friday and had to take a trap on Runway 24L. I don't recall what the problem was but I suspect it was landing gear related, since I heard the word "pins" mentioned. The Hornet trapped successfully and nothing more came out of it.
As I said, both the Blue Angels and Snowbirds were in attendance. Both teams flew high shows on Friday and Saturday and were both on their best game I've EVER seen - especially the Snowbirds on Friday. If you need further proof, watch the video and take a look at the Lag Back Cross. Both teams had some issues on both days, with one of the Blue Angels having to evacuate their aircraft upon the conclusion of the performance on Sunday. There was no real danger to the pilot or his back-seater, as it looked like a hot brake issue with the right main gear. The person standing near me claimed it was an engine fire, but there was no smoke coming from either engine and smoke coming from the brake area of the right main. On Saturday the Snowbirds experienced a long delay in the middle of their show, as Major Chris Bard, the lead pilot for the team, hit a bird at some point during their display. He landed successfully, grabbed a spare jet, and proceeded to continue on with the show. However, too much time was eaten up and the team could not complete their show. On Sunday, the Snowbirds were forced to fly a low show. The Blues, on the other hand, flew a rather strange display. The clouds were playing games with the team the entire span of their performance, and the team opened with a low show, transitioned to a high show, went to a flat show, then to a low show, and completed with a high show. I'll let the video speak for itself.
The twilight show took place on Saturday, and featured an AV-8B Harrier demonstration, Sean Tucker, the Patriots, the Golden Knights, Fat Albert, Bill Leff, Bret Willat, Dan Buchanan, the Red Bull MiG, Steve Stavrakakis, the Shockwave Jet Truck, an F/A-18 Hornet, and a fireworks display that culminated with a wall of fire. I was a bit skeptical with the Hornet in the night show, since I'm used to a Super Hornet doing one and a half passes in afterburner at Oceana. However, one Hornet with a centerline fuel tank actually flew what I think came to seven or eight passes in afterburner. Its nighttime demonstration almost reminded me of when the Tomcat did nighttime afterburner passes, whether it be on base at NAS Oceana or on the beach in Virginia Beach. I really hope the Navy gets an idea from the Marines with regards to how to treat a Hornet or Super Hornet making passes at night. I've always been disappointed with the Super Hornet's actions at night and know to expect one, maybe two passes.
Finally, I want to make an honorable mention on the static displays. This may offend a few people, but I want you to know that this is coming from someone who was born and raised on the east coast and who RARELY gets to go west for ANY reason. I didn't go to Miramar for the static displays. Yes, I expected maybe one Super Hornet and an F-16 or two, but I didn't expect what actually showed up. From NAS Fallon in Nevada came two F-16Ns - both painted in aggressor brown - and two F-5s from VFC-13. One of the F-5s was in aggressor blue and the other was in aggressor brown. VFA-122 (Lemoore) brought over, from what I understand, is a brand new F/A-18F Super Hornet. This Super Hornet was painted in an aggressor brown paint job. I had NEVER heard of a Super Hornet painted up in a paint scheme that was other than the standard two-tone grey! All of the tenant Hornet squadrons at MCAS Miramar put out their CAG jets and in front of each jet, one could buy the respective squadron's gear. The same went for the rotary wing squadrons and one of the KC-130J squadrons.
I had expected the C-5 and KC-10 to come from Travis AFB, but only the C-5 was from Travis. To any other person, it would be any old C-5. It had the new white Travis band and once I saw the registration (68-0213), I knew I was seeing something different. It was one of the only two C-5Cs in the Air Force's inventory. When on the ground, one can distinguish a C-5C from an A- or B- model by looking at its rear cargo doors. On any other C-5, the rear doors are three pieces - the top piece, which slides up and back, and the two side parts that open outwards. The top piece on a C-model is part of the side pieces - only it is modified so that the side pieces are split in two. It sounds confusing, but it's probably best to look at a picture. In addition, the rear passenger compartment was removed so that larger pieces of cargo could be transported. Its major role has been transporting segments of rockets and even satellites for NASA. Both aircraft will become C-5M standard, but with the cargo modifications, I think they should be designated as C-5Ns. The KC-10 that I expected to come from Travis AFB was an aircraft that came from McGuire AFB. I had a chat with one of the pilots, who is a member of one of the two reserve squadrons, and I was delighted to see that a McGuire jet was represented. Many people said the static display at this year's show was weak, but from someone who has never seen the NSAWC jets or anything from VFC-13, I felt like a kid in a candy store.
Overall, I thought that this year's show was absolutely awesome. It's a shame that I wasn't able to bring to you the practice show (which was on Thursday), as I was not allowed to cover that show. Don't ask me why because I don't know - they didn't give me any reason. I took a trip up to LAX that day and absolutely enjoyed spotting out that way. A side trip on the drive back to San Diego included a stop at the Long Beach Airport. I was looking for a spot that people told me about, but I couldn't quite find it. I did, however, see two new C-17s (the third NATO jet and a jet for Charleston AFB), two C-17s parked on a ramp getting modifications, and got to see the building where all of the C-17s are built. I could now say I've seen where they are built, and it was the first time I ever came close to ANY active aircraft factory! I may return for another show... depending on the lineup. From an overall airshow lineup and experience standpoint, I'd definitely recommend you go out to MCAS Miramar. From a photographer's standpoint, I do not recommend a trip to Miramar. You've got the sun in your face for the entire day, as you face roughly south-southeast.
Military Demonstration Teams
US Navy Blue Angels
US Army Golden Knights
Military Aircraft Demonstration
AV-8B Harrier Demonstration
F-16 Fighting Falcon West Demo Team
Marine Air-Ground Task Force Demonstration
Aerobatic Performances, Warbird Performances, and Others
Shockwave Jet Truck
USAF Heritage Flight
Rob Reider & Sandy Sanders