2002 Neptune Festival Airshow

September 20-22, 2002

Airshow report written on September 24, 2002.

If there is one region of the United States that is known for military bases and warships, the Tidewater region of Virginia is the number one spot. NAS Oceana has been regarded as having one of the best airshows in the entire country. Think about it - where else would you see a multi-ship fleet flyby of Hornets and Tomcats? Where else would see an F-14 demo, an F/A-18 demo, and a CF-18 demo? Okay, I admit... other shows have had that before but it's rare nowadays. Last year's airshow was cancelled because of the terrorist attacks as it had originally been scheduled for September 21-23, 2001. The Snowbirds were the highlight for that show, and well, they wanted to perform there in 2002. So, I guess the Blue Angels and Snowbirds flip-flop years at Oceana and sometimes, both will be there one year. This was the case for 2002. I guess I did a lot of research in the past on this show without actually going to it!

I don't know how this year's show rates up to past shows, but it was a great one. NAS Oceana is a very nice base. There are several hangars on base littered with Hornets and Tomcats and the main ramp is huge. There are two runways that appear to make a right angle but I'm not sure if they intersect. There are also three parts to their airshow, held in conjunction with the annual Neptune Festival (hence the name of the show) held by the people of Virginia Beach. There is the Friday night Twilight Show, which I missed more than half of, the Saturday afternoon show at the base and the Beach Blast on Saturday night. I attended all three events and I'm glad I did!

There was a pretty decent static display consisting of a C-5A Galaxy from Westover ARB in Mass., an HC-130 Hercules from the US Coast Guard, a C-130 Hercules from Little Rock AFB in Arkansas, a Delta Airlines 727-200, two F-16 Falcons from the Wisconsin ANG, two F/A-18E Super Hornets from VFA-122 in NAS Lemoore in California, a CF-18 Hornet - probably from 4 Wing in Bagotville, Quebec. NAS Oceana had three CAG aircraft on display, an F/A-18 Hornet from VFA-131 which was painted with FDNY and Spirit of America markings, another Hornet from VFA-136, and an F-14D Super Tomcat from VF-3. Trainer aircraft consisted of a T-37 Tweet from Columbus AFB in Mississippi, two T-38s from Vance AFB in Oklahoma and Moody AFB in Georgia, two T-6A Texan IIs from Moody AFB, a T-1A Jayhawk from Randolph AFB in Texas, a T-45C Goshawk, three T-34 Mentors, and a sprinkling of T-6 Texan. Helicopters on display included an SH-3A Sea King, CH-124 Sea King (the Canadian version of the previous aircraft), OH-58 Kiowa, and an AH-64A Apache. More armor came from an F-15E Strike Eagle from Seymour-Johnson AFB in North Carolina. Other aircraft included a Learjet 25C and a small number of private aircraft.

On the hot ramp were the demo Hornets (US & Canadian), at least a dozen of F-14 Tomcats, at least six F/A-18 Hornets, the demo A-10s and F-16s, four T-28s, two F-4U Corsairs, a Skyraider, P-51D Mustang Crazy Horse, SNJ, Yak-18, C-45, UC-78 Bobcat, several L-birds, two L-39s, and the aerobatic performer's aircraft. Located on the other side of the field were the demo P-3C Orion, Fat Albert, B-25J Mitchell Panchito (who has been at EVERY SINGLE one of my six airshows this year!), a Fouga Magister painted in la Patroulle de France markings, WAVY-10's News Chopper, and the real Blue Angel #6 (more on that later). I had the chance to briefly tour the static displays Friday night and again Saturday. I even took some pictures Friday night - mostly the CAG Hornets and Tomcats.

I did not get the chance to see the Friday night Twilight Show in its entirety and I did not videotape everything that was up in the air when I was there. I do know for a fact that I missed Sean Tucker, Patty Wagstaff, Jim LeRoy, a Heritage Flight photo op with Panchito, the Apache demo, and I caught Fat Albert while on the road. I love that night JATO demonstration. I'm beginning to wonder if the Snowbirds flew Friday as a twilight show performance but I don't think they did. I was lucky to get onto the base in time to load a tape and battery and shoot the F-14 Tomcat demonstration. It flew around 7:45 PM and it was getting dark. The F-14 demonstration is the main reason to go to any airshow that it performs a demonstration. It's also the one plane that steals the show from the other performers - even if it's a jet team like the Thunderbirds, Blue Angels, or Snowbirds! Also, the Tomcat demo at night is totally different than during the day. To enjoy a jet performance in total darkness (well, not total darkness), you need something other than the plane's red and green lights from the wings. Add afterburners and you get a sight and sound you would never forget! I have never seen anything like that before in my life and I was impressed as anything. The Tomcat performed several burner passes, a touch-and-go, and a few high speed passes - the first included a wall of fire and a ton of cheering coming from the crowd at Oceana about "...a beautiful sight to see in VA Beach, however, that's also a sight they're seeing in Afghanistan, every night." The Tomcat went on to perform at least two more burner passes. I forget how many afterwards because I did one of them and I didn't tape the rest. I really wanted to see the sight with my own eyes.

Bill Leff was up next with his beautiful Starfire night sky show. I saw Bill fly last weekend at Willow Grove and I thought his performance is one of the best night displays with a warbird. And I still think that way, too. I feel like I'm going to start reiterating things I say about performers that were at Willow Grove again but that's okay. The Red Devils did their night jump next. They jumped from an MH-53 which, I believe, was from NAVSTA Norfolk. Their performance at night includes each jumper covered in glowsticks and its almost like watching aliens coming from outer space (some young boy told me that at the beach on Saturday night). They even had three jumpers hook up with two on top of one - a formation they did not do at Langley. At Langley, they performed a "tri-by-side". When they land, the tradition of throwing the glowsticks into the crowd is done. It's too funny. Dan Buchanan flew his hang glider for his night performance. I saw him fly the motorized glider at Langley earlier this year and he puts on a beautiful display no matter if it's in the afternoon or at night. The twilight show closed out with a spectacular fireworks display from Pyrotecnico. They've put on the fireworks shows for Langley and Willow Grove and I still think their show at Willow Grove was the best. It needs to be a little longer no matter where you shoot fireworks. I couldn't comment on how good the show was since I didn't see the whole thing! But, what I did see was great! There was also a Vanessa Carlton concert at the conclusion of the show, but I did not attend it. I spent the rest of the night walking the static displays and hanging out near the hot ramp full of Tomcats.

Saturday's show started with a slew of warbirds taking to the air. Included in the warbird review were four T-28 Trojans flying in formation, a formation consisting of a T-6 Texan and a Yak-52, an F-4U Corsair, two L-39C Albatross, a Skyraider, and a C-45. One of the L-39's landed prematurely but that was okay. Allen Smith, who performed the week before at Willow Grove, flew the other L-39. I'm not sure who flew the first L-39 but it sure did have the coolest red, white, and blue paint job I've ever seen! The warbirds performed at least five passes each before breaking to land and setting up for the real airshow.

To open the airshow, a P-3C Orion from VP-30 in NAS Jacksonville, Florida took to the sky and set up for his demonstration. I had seen a P-3C Orion the week prior at Willow Grove and all that demonstration consisted of was one pass with the bomb bay doors open and a pyro bomb. It was very lame and I was hoping to see more. The Jacksonville guys actually put on a demonstration of the aircraft. As they were setting up for their demonstration, Sean Tucker took off and headed for the Atlantic Ocean to practice and an F-14 Tomcat from VF-101, the Grim Reapers, took off. It consisted of a high speed pass, a short field landing with backing up and short-field takeoff, a pass with one engine shut down, a pass with bomb bay doors

open and a minimum radius turn. It was a great demonstration showing the maneuverability of the plane. It could've used a dirty pass, though.

As the P-3 landed, the barrage of aircraft to take part in the famous Fleet Flyby took off. Included were four CAG F-14 Tomcats and four Hornets as well as another Tomcat and Hornet which took off separately and finally the demo F/A-18 Hornet. The demo by the US Navy Hornet was the best Hornet demo I have ever seen; easily passing the one that flew at Willow Grove. The Golden Knights and Red Devils performed a mass exit showline spread from an MH-53 out of NAVSTA Norfolk. Three of the Golden Knights formed together to bring down the Virginia state flag while three Red Devils came down with the Union Jack, the national flag of the country of Great Britain. One Red Devil came down with the Stars and Stripes, with the national anthem sung by a local opera singer.

As all of the jumpers had landed and recovered their parachutes, a mass formation of Tomcats and Hornets roared by in the famous Fleet Flyby. Four Tomcats formed a tight diamond formation with two Hornets each hanging off the left and right wings of the formation to form a pentagon-like formation. I think there might have been some sort of tribute connected to that, but I'm not so sure. Immediately after the 8-plane formation left the show area, a Tomcat and a Hornet sneaked up on the crowd from the left at more than 700 miles an hour and set off a wall of fire. The Tomcat even broke the sound barrier while doing this! That pass really surprised me! As the smoke was lifting, Dale "Snort" Snodgrass took

an F-4U Corsair into the sky and as he left the area, the Apache came into the show site from behind the trees to perform its demonstration. Towards the start of the Apache's demonstration, two Tomcats from the Fleet Flyby came by and broke to land. The Apache demonstration is a very unique one but the Tomcats and Hornets made for some unique distractions! The Tomcat and Hornet came by and broke to land as another Tomcat also broke to land.

The Apache took a bow and gave the show area up to the CAG Tomcat that had the Commanding Officer of NAS Oceana on board. Two more Tomcats taxied by as Dale Snodgrass did an aerobatic performance in the F-4U Corsair. Dale loves to fly "on the deck" and he did just that with the Corsair and the F-86 Sabre at Oceana. As Dale was setting up to land, four Hornets came by in formation and broke in two different directions with a pyro bomb going off on the ground, signaling the start of the Navy Air Power demonstration. Two of the Hornets came back around from the right and did a strafing run on the showline, not quite a wall of fire but a line of fire. The other two Hornets came from behind and to the right and separated to perform two separate strafing runs, complete with pyro bombs. The first two Hornets came back from the left in very loose formation, rolling at the same time and breaking at another strafing run. The second set of Hornets followed suit, with pyro bombs set off at the same instant as they passed overhead. The first two Hornets landed as Dale Snodgrass' Corsair taxied by and parked with the other performer's aircraft. At that time, the two Tomcats came by in extremely loose formation with a tight turn and formation split with pyro bombs going off. Each Tomcat came from opposite ends of the flight line, rolled to deliver their firepower and cross at show center. Both Tomcats rejoined a loose formation, rolled inverted, and performed a strafing run with a line of fire pyro bomb. They then reformed and broke while a barrage of Hornets came down the flight line in front of the Blue Angels and Snowbirds aircraft. They then came back around from the left with tailhooks down and broke to land - the first pitching up and the second making a tight turn to break. All this was done with a squadron officer stepping off a Hornet signaling his last flight in the F/A-18 Hornet.

Bill Leff immediately took to the skies over NAS Oceana in his T-6 Texan. His daytime performance in the Texan is among one of the best in the country. His T-6 is also one of the most prettiest flying today as well. After Bill performed a few photo passes, the Shockwave Jet Truck came on by, behind the Snowbirds. Shockwave performed the fire show and showed off the burner pops and was here to race Bill once again. From my vantage point, it looked like Bill won the race but who knows. Shockwave reached a top speed of 247 mph on the run, which was a little slower than his dry run the previous night. Bill closed out his performance with a very low pass followed by a barrel roll before landing and giving the Canadian Snowbirds the stage.

The Snowbirds had their engines running just after Bill Leff landed his T-6. For the better part of the narration, their announcer announced the first few lines of their performance in both English and French. I don't know anything in French but I knew it was French because that's the second language of Canada. The taxi sequence reminds me of the Lima Lima Flight Team's sequence after they land. At Oceana, they did a three-ship takeoff at different altitudes. I don't know if they do something different at other show sites since this is my first Snowbirds show. As they were taxiing, Lee Lauderback took off in his P-51D Mustang Crazy Horse. Lee did a semi-aerobatic routine before the Snowbirds took off. Lee then came back and performed a very low pass followed by a split-S and a loop, then a half-Cuban 8 and photo pass before landing.

The Snowbirds had set up over the Atlantic Ocean before coming into the show site to perform. Even though they were forced to fly their low show, this was probably the most beautiful display of formation flying that I have ever seen. You can't compare the Snowbirds against the Blue Angels or Thunderbirds because both U.S. teams fly with six jets while the Snowbirds fly with nine. I haven't seen the Red Arrows yet so I can't compare the Snowbirds to them. Their opening maneuver is a 9-plane wedge formation and it is a very unique maneuver. Their selections of music are also very fitting for the team, adding beauty to the performance. I have also never seen so many solo crossovers in my life! My favorite is the three jets coming towards the crowd and the one solo flies around the formation and all three cross at one point. If you haven't seen the Snowbirds before, I suggest you go out to a show and see them. They're not as loud as the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels but they are worth watching!

As the Snowbirds landed and shut down, the A-10 Warthog from Pope AFB in North Carolina took off to perform its demonstration. The A-10 demo is one of the most unique USAF demos in the sense that it starts from the air instead of an immediate takeoff routine. The pilot was Capt. Eric Jachimowicz and he always flies a great demo with the plane. I really don't have much to say about him other than he really didn't do a true photo pass. Dale Snodgrass in his F-86 Sabre, Lee Lauderback in his P-51D Mustang, and Capt. Ed Casey in his F-16 took off to join Capt. Jachimowicz in the rare four-ship Heritage Flight. Having four planes in a Heritage Flight is very unique in the sense that there's an interesting mix of airplane sound in the bunch. After the Heritage break, the P-51, F-86, and A-10 made a single "salute" pass before landing. Capt. Casey went on to set up for his performance. He flew for the F-16 Falcon East Coast Demo Team, based out of Shaw AFB in South Carolina. This F-16 demonstration is one of the wildest performances in Air Combat Command's arsenal of single-ship demos. Being a very humid day, there was a lot of vapor coming off the Viper throughout the entire demonstration.

It would seem like the civillians were left out of the show, but they weren't. Oceana had the very best lineup of civillian performers any show could ask for. Jim LeRoy went up at this time in the Bulldog. He is tied with Sean Tucker as far as my favorite civillian performer goes. He gets down REAL LOW with the Bulldog and utilizes a lot of maneuvers that were originally part of other performers' routines (a lot of them are from my other favorite performer!) and he adds a Bulldog touch to it. But, he does have some original maneuvers and his always-exciting double ribbon cut.

Another one of my favorite civillian performers took to the sky next - Dan Buchanan. Dan always seems to challenge one of the other performers to a ribbon-cutting deal in the air and this time, he asked Patty Wagstaff to do the job. It's a very exciting performance nonetheless and that's only one part of Dan's routine. The other part is a short hang glider performance with streamers hanging from the back, fireworks flying off the glider and an American flag from the top. It's very moving, especially at a time where patriotism we as Americans take for granted after the events that took place the year prior to the 2002 show. He uses music that Walt Disney World uses in their America portion of Epcot. Dan is an inspiration to anyone who has been paralyzed for life or confined to a wheelchair as he too is confined to a wheelchair.

The Golden Knights had their announcer jump from the C-31 to start their performance. A very fitting song was used as he came down from 10,500 feet. It turned out that the Golden Knights and Red Devils did another mass exit but not a showline spread. These jumpers sure put on a great combined show! The CF-18 Hornet East Coast Demo Team was up next and they performed an incredible demonstration, about equal to that of the Navy Hornet demo. The East Coast demo plane is painted up in the 60th anniversary of the Canadian armed forces and the plane has a huge maple leaf painted on the top of the fuselage and wings.

Ian Groom took to the air next. He is the snap roll king in my book as he performed 50 snap rolls to start his performance! I believe the record is around 56 or 57... and he set that record, too. I'm not much of a fan of the rest of his performance since it's not as hardcore as Jim LeRoy or Sean Tucker but I do love the Su-31. The paint job on the plane reminds me of the bland fuselage paint job on most FedEX planes. I guess the plane and the snap rolls make up for the rest of his performance. His announcer is a woman and that makes things more interesting.

Dale Snodgrass took the AT&T F-86 Sabre in the air for his performance. The one thing you notice that he started his performance nearly dragging the right wing on the runway! That was the lowest I have ever seen him fly that plane! I love his routine. He gets down real low with the Sabre and real fast at the same time. It makes for some incredible photo opportunities as long as you don't get a jet team plane in front of Snort! Sean Tucker performed immediately after Snort landed and what can I say about him that I haven't said? He's the best of them all. He always has been and always will be. His performance is one I can never get tired of watching and is the only performance I actually have memorized! The one part of his performance I always enjoy is his triple ribbon cut. I was invited to hold one of the poles for Sunday's show but declined since I was going to head home that day anyway.

The best single ship demo of the day was up next. "Mango" and "Money", the latter of the two is actually from Medford, New Jersey - a five-minute drive from my house, put on one great F-14 Tomcat demonstration with one little problem. Their takeoff at Oceana was not as good as their takeoff at Dover. At Dover, they seemed to pull straight up but they eased it at Oceana. Their high speed passes were the best I've ever seen! The first high-speed pass even included a wall of fire! I'll tell you... I love Tomcat demos! As the F-14 crew was landing, Shockwave came back and challenged Jim LeRoy and Patty Wagstaff to a race. Patty actually raced him from inverted flight as Jim came from the opposite direction playing chicken with the Shockwave. Patty won, of course. She went on to perform her aerobatic routine and it isn't as hardcore as Sean Tucker's is, but the maneuvers she does amazes you because it's not a guy at the controls. Women, too, can fly, and that's why Patty flies. I love her performance. I loved it when I saw her in Lakehurst in 2001 and I still love it today.

The end of the day show was drawn for the Blue Angels. Fat Albert always tries to steal the show away by performing a JATO, or Jet-Assisted Take Off. He performed his high-speed flat pass and the short-field landing before giving it up to the six demo pilots. The Blue Angels performed their high show with a few changes from last year. The diamond doesn't loop anymore - it does a half-Cuban 8. The two solos take off together, with #5 still performing the dirty roll on takeoff and #6 performing the low transition takeoff, straight-up climb and split-S. The Blue Angels flew a flawless performance and I believe it was also one of the best performances I have ever seen them put on. They did a great job closing out Saturday afternoon's show.

The Beach Blast was next. The main performers there were an F-14 Tomcat demonstration, which put on one heck of a show for 50,000+ beachgoers, tourists, and the locals. I loved all those burner passes... man oh man... you have to see it in person to really enjoy it! The Golden Knights and Red Devils made a mass jump onto the beach from a NAVSTA Norfolk MH-53 and they got the biggest cheering and applause I have ever heard for any team or performer! Capt. Silvers, the CO of NAS Oceana, introduced all the Blues, Snowbirds, Golden Knights, and Red Devils before giving up the stage to a local band called Cornerstone. The members of all the teams, all the people that flew and put on the show mingled with the crowd and this was a great party. It was a great way to get to know everyone better, get autographs, and in many cases, pictures with the performers. I did watch several Red Devils playing catch with a little boy. It made me smile. What a great way to end my Virginia Beach experience. Yes, it may be a 5½-hour drive, but I will be back for every show they put on.

Overall Score: 10+

Disappointments:

 

What Oceana Did That Made It Unique:

Demonstration Teams

Military Demonstrations

Civillian Demonstrations

Announcer: Frank Kingston Smith