2004 NAS Oceana Regional
NAS Oceana, VA
September 24-26, 2004
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Airshow report written on
October 22, 2004.
The reason why it's taken me so long to write this airshow report is because I happen to be in a more prestigious university, rather than a community college where schoolwork isn't quite as intense as it is at a university. I had put as much time as I could in writing the airshow report, as well as grabbing the snaps, but the spare time that I was using for that was very sparse and not where I'd have liked it to be.
The Hampton Roads area in Virginia is known for its high military presence. The major cities in the region have at least one major military base - Langley AFB in Hampton, NAVSTA Norfolk (Chambers Field) in Norfolk, and NAS Oceana in Virginia Beach, to name a few. One could theoretically spend a week in the area, taking in all the sights and sounds from the beach in Virginia Beach all the way to Colonial Williamsburg or even Busch Gardens. Hampton Roads is fighter country, with the 1st Fighter Wing based at Langley AFB, flying F-15 Eagles (and soon to become the first operational base for the F/A-22 Raptor) and well over a dozen squadrons of Hornets and the remaining squadrons of Tomcats at NAS Oceana. NAS Oceana is one of the finest military bases in the country, which also hosts one of the best airshows in the country.
Since I am in college, heading down to NAS Oceana for their airshow would mean that I would have to skip a class or two, depending on which day I left. I ended up leaving late Thursday, knowing that yes, I would probably be missing class but it wouldn't be too much of a loss. The only loss would be missing my Friday class. The drive down to Virginia Beach took just over six hours - which should have been a little longer since I was really anxious to get down to the base. I was lucky enough to arrive in time to catch the Trojan Horsemen's T-28s arrive, along with a T-38 Talon and the Spirit of Delta 767-200 before heading onto base and putting my bags away at my hotel. Yes, I stayed on base and I will tell you, the only time a civillian would stay at the BOQ would be for the airshow. Even then, those folks staying there would only be the performers.
I had planned on waking up at 9:00 AM on Friday to head out on the flight line by 10, but my alarm clock went off about an hour earlier. I didn't have it set for 8 - the alarm I'm talking about is a flight of fighters (they sounded like Hornets) plus Allen Smith's L-39 Albatross taking off. I took care of a few things and ended up getting on the flight line around 9:30. I was expecting most of the static displays to arrive but about 90% had already arrived the day or two prior to the show. Friday was a full-blown practice show, with Frank Kingston Smith providing the announcing for the practice show, as well as the shows for the entire weekend when the public would be allowed on the base. All of the performers - civillian and military - went up and practiced for the media and invited guests, as well as those demonstrations and events like the fleet flyby and tactical air power demonstration.
The visible distinction in the lineup of NAS Oceana's airshow was the amount of Hornet demonstrations. Lined up on the schedule were three tactical demonstrations representing two branches of the Armed Forces and representing three different models of the Hornet, along with the Hornets that took part in the tactical air power demonstration and the fleet flyby. Unfortunately, the highlight of the show was to have been a flight demonstration by six US Navy Hornets from the Blue Angels demonstration team, but because of Hurricane Ivan's path of destruction - which didn't hit Pensacola, Florida head-on, it had done quite a lot of damage on and around the team's home base and surrounding communities. Ivan slammed into the US coast around September 16 and devastated major cities like Mobile, AL, Pensacola, FL, and as far east as Ft. Walton Beach, FL feeling the brunt of Ivan. Because of the devastation of the base and the homes of the officers and enlisted personnel on the team, Cmdr. Bartlett, Blue Angel #1, felt it was wise to stay home and help their families and friends pick up the pieces and "put two and two back together" before flying airshows again. That meant that their shows in Nantucket, MA and at NAS Oceana would have to be cancelled.
So, without the Blue Angels, "Hornetfest", as I would probably have given as a theme to the lineup, was dramatically reduced, but the presence of Hornets was still abundant. The US Navy provided two Hornet demonstrations - an F/A-18C Hornet demonstration, flown by VFA-106 on Friday and Saturday and flown by VFA-87 on Sunday, as well as an F/A-18F Super Hornet demonstration flown by VFA-122. The third Hornet tactical demonstration came from the Canadian Air Force, with a CF-18A Hornet above the skies over Oceana after a one-year hiatus. While the Blue Angels couldn't make it, the stars of Oceana's airshow was definitely their based aircraft - the Hornets and the Tomcats. I had spent the early part of Friday meeting up with old friends and new friends, mainly those from the Fence Check Forums (pretty much representing California), along with shooting the aerial displays and the static displays. I did not shoot video of all of the performances because I had to take the time to get shots (video and still) of the static display and tour the Delta 767. I happened to shoot the majority of the Tomcat action before the public was allowed to enter NAS Oceana for a nighttime airshow.
The nighttime show started promptly at 5:00, at which the gates were thrown open to the public and the flying displays underway. This officially started the show and for most people attending, what would be one of the most action-packed weekends this year. The nighttime show on the base started out quiet, with the Skytypers taking to the skies. The Skytypers were up flying in the afternoon typing out messages across the sky, as it was practically clear during that part of the day. As the evening sun was setting, the T-6A Texan II East Coast Demo Team was the first tactical demonstration to take to the skies that evening. Captain Ed Martin had to fly the low show because scattered low clouds had started to invade Virginia Beach and threaten what would be an impressive twilight show. It seemed that when he was flying, the Texan II seemed quieter than usual, probably because I am used to the Allison turboprops of the Hawkeye when it flew its demonstration during the practice show. It was also during the Texan II's demonstration that the Skytypers had taxied to their spot on the hot ramp and shut down - in front of the crowd, which is where Dale Snodgrass, Allen Smith, Sean Tucker, Michael Goulian, and Gene Soucy had their respective show aircraft parked. The Texan II demo aircraft was also parked in front of the crowd.
After the Texan II demonstration, several aircraft took to the air for a photo mission. The photo ship, the B-25J Mitchell Panchito (which is a widely popular warbird on the airshow circuit around the east coast) took off first, along with a quartet of F-14 Tomcats - two representing VF-213 Black Lions (they took off in formation), one representing VF-11 Red Rippers, and the last representing VF-101 Grim Reapers (this Tomcat was a CAG and I believe its the same one that flew the demonstration earlier in the day, but I'm not 100% positive since VF-101 has two CAGs painted up in the same paint scheme). After all of the Tomcats departed, Captain "Super Dave" Pletz had the stage for the Canadian Hornet demonstration. It was one of three Hornet demonstrations one would see over the course of the weekend and the only one not represented by the Navy. Super Dave challenged his demonstration because of the low clouds and somehow managed to find a hole and punch through it and satisfy the demonstration. Nearly ¾ of the way through the performance, Dave usually gets on the PA and dedicates the demonstration to a specific group of people, and took the Friday evening performance to say hi to everyone at NAS Oceana who represented Fence Check, which is an online website that has reports from shows all over the world and events that aren't considered airshows. There is also a rather large message board where those members post pictures from various shows (and by the time I've gotten this written, there are a ton of pictures from Oceana's airshow from well over a dozen photographers from around the world and the pictures are absolutely spectacular!) as well as other topics in and around the aviation and photography subjects.
Okay, enough ad libbing and back to the airshow. After Super Dave landed, another tac demo took the stage - the A-10 Thunderbolt II. Captain Matt Kouchoukos flew the demonstration, which was a high show - much to my surprise, as I was thinking he would be flying the low show because of the cloud deck. He did pop in and out of the clouds during the vertical maneuvers but otherwise stayed under the cloud deck, as most of the A-10 demonstration is. It also seemed to be a shorter demonstration and following the performance, Kouchoukos had departed the area to set up for the Heritage Flight. The second aircraft for the Heritage Flight, the P-51D Mustang Crazy Horse, flown by Lee Lauderback, became airborne while Dale Snodgrass taxied by in the F-86 Sabre and the next tac demo was set to take the stage.
That next tac demo would be Major Bret "Slam" Anderson flying the F-15 Eagle. Unlike Turk (the A-10 driver), Slam could not fly his high show, since at least 50% of his high show involves vertical maneuvers. Slam put on a very good demonstration, taking advantage of the diminishing sunlight and the humidity in the air to produce some very nice vapor trails coming off the wingtips of the F-15. After Slam flew his demonstration, Dale Snodgrass took off in the Sabre to join up with Slam, Turk, and Lee Lauderback to fly the Heritage Flight. The evening's Heritage Flight was very nice considering the amount of light remaining in the day and it was a nice treat to see the formation the way it should have been earlier in the day, which was a three-ship because Snort could not get the F-86 started. It's interesting to note that he mentioned that it was the first time in all of the 2004 season that he had a problem with the aircraft. The formation made a total of four passes, with the final pass being a break to land from right echelon formation. The P-51, A-10, and F-15 landed on 5R while Snort came in low to start his performance as Slam was completing his rollout on 5R. Snort put on a great display, dodging the clouds as much as possible and giving out some unique photo ops with the sunlight rapidly going away. As Snort was flying his last maneuver, the four Tomcats that took part in the photo flight came by in a tight formation pass and broke to land. Snort proceeded to land on runway 5R while the Tomcats landed on 5R, following Snort as he rolled out on landing.
Sean Tucker was up next and Sean seemed to fly a modified performance than what he would normally fly during an afternoon performance. As Sean was flying, the four Tomcats that had just landed taxied by the crowd on the way to the fighter hot ramp. Sean flew a shortened performance, and I would have guessed it would be like a teaser without the triple ribbon cut, but he included the triple ribbon cut in the evening performance. As he was completing his act, Michael Goulian took to the air with his aircraft to set up for his aerobatic performance. Michael flew a shortened version of his performance but as in true Goulian style, it included most of his higher G maneuvers and high roll rate maneuvers than anything else. After Michael had finished flying, a break in the action was put into place so that the time frame would go from dusk to dark. To make the time frame fly by faster, the Trojan Horsemen, flying six T-28 Trojans, made several passes over the show area in different formations. The T-28s had exited the area for a little bit as the National Anthem was sung to officially kick off the nighttime portion of the airshow. The Trojan Horsemen proceeded back into Oceana with a formation break, followed by all six T-28s forming up for the rest of their display, before breaking off in two formations of three aircraft, when, in turn, broke to land.
As it got darker, a C-130 Hercules from the Michigan Air National Guard took off, carrying members of both the Navy Leap Frogs and the Army SOC Black Daggers for their nighttime jump. The guys from Selfridge ANGB, near Detroit, performed a low transition takeoff with immediate bank to the right to climb to altitude. As the C-130 departed the immediate area, Gene Soucy took off in the Showcat to set up for his nighttime performance while Dan Buchanan got a powered start in his hang glider for his nighttime display. Dan has a rotating beacon on his hang glider which helps track him in the sky, but when he throws the pyro switch on, the pyro is all you'd need to track him. His performance is definitely the quietest of all the performers that flew at night. Dan actually has a lot more fireworks flying off the hang glider since I last saw him fly at night!
Gene Soucy was up next. I have seen Gene fly in the past (he was at Dayton last year but could not fly because he did not have his aero medical waiver, so the last time I saw him fly was at Willow Grove in 1998) but have never seen his nighttime display. Gene throws a ton of pyro off both sets of wings of the Showcat, while producing a ton of noise and throwing the smoke system on during certain times of the performance. While flying the night show, the Showcat is referred to as the Firecat, and for good reason. Following Gene was one performer who I have been waiting to see fly a night show in a real long time - Bill Reesman. Bill was supposed to be flying at Andrews AFB and at Langley AFB this past year but for some strange reason, he wasn't at either show. Bill has the Red Bull MiG-17 Fresca, which is turned into the MiG Meteor at night. Bill flew a nice, short demonstration, keeping the pyrotechnics flying off the aircraft at all times. It also helps that the MiG-17 has an afterburner.
The C-130 that was carrying the two jump teams was inbound with the Leap Frogs being the first team to exit the Hercules. The Leap Frogs came down under freefall and 'chutes wearing pyrotechnics on their shoes. Surprisingly, the Leap Frogs also managed to perform some canopy relative work, even with the pyro emanating from their footwear. As soon as all of the Leap Frogs had landed, the C-130 was inbound again for the final pass for the Black Daggers. The Black Daggers did not have any pyrotechnics - but all of the jumpers were covered in about a hundred green glow sticks. I had overheard that the glow sticks are what the Army Special Operations soldiers wore as they did night jumps, but in all honesty, I don't believe it. The Black Daggers even managed to attempt one formation demonstrating canopy relative work and even managed to bring the formation in low prior to landing. As all of the jumpers landed, the C-130 came in and performed a short-field landing on 5R (or what looked like a short-field landing, but it probably wasn't, because 5R is 12,000 feet long).
The crown jewel of Oceana's nighttime show is a very rare demonstration of the F-14 Tomcat. The demonstration is nothing like what one is used to seeing during the daytime. The nighttime demonstration's emphasis is on afterburner, which lights up the sky very nicely! The Tomcat made two passes in burner before turning off the navigation lights and set up for the third pass - from behind the crowd, going into the vertical in full burner and continuing the demonstration. The fourth pass involved switching on the afterburner just left of show center before breaking into the pattern, where he would make a touch-and-go. He went on to make two more passes, with the last pass setting off a wall of fire. For the somewhat chilly night that it was, that wall of fire felt real good! The F-14 proceeded to land on 5R while fire crews put out the remaining grass fires.
After a brief downtime, the Shockwave Jet Truck was cranked up and taxiing down the showline, lighting the burners - which felt even better, since I did not have a coat of sweatshirt with me (I didn't think it would get that cool in Virginia Beach at that time of the year). As Kent Shockley was doing the burner pops, the extraordinary amount of smoke let out by the three engines turned immediate show left (where I was for the night) to having no visibility for about 30 seconds. Kent wasn't racing anyone, so it was a dry run and he managed to reach 264 miles per hour on the run before deploying the drag 'chutes and coming to a stop at the end of 23L. The show concluded with a pretty good fireworks display put on by Pyrotechnico. I'm beginning to think that Pyrotechnico coordinates and puts on almost every fireworks display at airshows around the east coast. Their display helped close out the Twilight Show for NAS Oceana and helped open up one of the finest weekend of flying one would get to see. Of course, a trip to the Officer's Club after the night show is a must, which is where I headed, since I didn't have to go very far after that.
I was up early on Saturday and was out on the flight line by 7:45 AM to shoot some of the statics and meet up with fellow ICASers and Fence Checkers as I was walking the displays. Large aircraft on display included a C-5A Galaxy from Westover ARB in MA, a KC-135R Stratotanker from McConnell AFB, a Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules from Elizabeth City in North Carolina, a P-3C Orion from NAS Jacksonville in Florida, Boeing 727-200F from FedEx, and a Boeing 767-200 from Delta Airlines (this was the Spirit of Delta - the aircraft that was actually purchased by Delta employees in the early 80's). Fighters included an A-10 Thunderbolt II from Barnes ANGB in MA, an F/A-18C Hornet from VFA-131 (this was a CAG), an F/A-18E Super Hornet and F/A-18F Super Hornet from the Gladiators (VFA-106), a pair of F-14D Tomcats - one CAG from VF-11 Red Rippers and the other was the famous Vandy-1, which was repainted from all gloss black to normal haze grey and underway and wearing CAG markings from VF-32 and VF-154 on either side of the aircraft. There was also a very very rare static display of an F/A-18A Hornet from the Blue Angels. Major Len Anderson (Blue Angel #5) actually had a problem with his jet while the team was on its way back to Pensacola because of Hurricane Ivan and he landed it at Oceana and took Fat Albert home. So, this was one of the rare chances to get up close to a Blue Angel jet...
Helicopters were not in short supply. Military helicopters included an SH-3 SeaKing, an MH-53 Sea Dragon from NAVSTA Norfolk, a pair of AH-64A Apaches from the North Carolina Army National Guard, and a UH-1 Huey modified to carry out the medevac role. One helicopter represented WAVY-TV in the Hampton Roads area and flew in for the show on Sunday. It was on display and made a pass or two on its arrival, getting crowd and static shots in the process. Other aircraft on display included a P-40 Warhawk, Supermarine Spitfire, OV-1 Mohawk, a modified Learjet 35 from L3 Communications, a modified Convair 540, a T-1A Jayhawk from Columbus AFB in Mississippi, a T-38 Talon from Randolph AFB in Texas, two EA-6B Prowlers - one representing VAQ-209 and the other representing VMAQ-3, a T-45 Goshawk from NAS Meridian in Mississippi, C-12 Huron from NAS Oceana, an upgraded E-2C Hawkeye with eight-bladed propellers, a T-34C Mentor representing VF-101, a mockup of the Lockheed F-35 JSF, a Yak-52 demonstrator, Piper J3 Cub, a display of unmanned air vehicles, what looked like a Tiger Moth, and a small private plane.
Throughout the early morning, there were several aircraft that were in the air. Four of the T-28 Trojans from the Trojan Horsemen had gone up (one had taxied back for some unknown reason), along with a Lancair, an L-bird, and a T-34B Mentor giving rides. Allen Smith was also giving media rides in his L-39 up until the airshow was to kick off. The skies were relatively clear and the wind had died down quite a bit on Saturday, which was somewhat of a surprise since the remnants of Hurricane Jeanne would be on the way just a few days later. Also giving a ride or two was a Beech 18, which made a couple passes down runway 5R, along with Allen Smith and his media passenger. The T-28s had landed and a short while later, the batch of four came around once again to take off on runway 5R and begin their show. Gene Soucy got into his Showcat and moved it from the performer's hangar (near where VF-143's hangar is) to the flight line in front of the crowd, where the Skytypers, T-6A Texan II Demo Team, F4U Corsair, Sean Tucker, Michael Goulian, Dale Snodgrass, Lee Lauderback, and Allen Smith had their respective aircraft parked. Michael Goulian had also gone up to practice for about ten minutes. I did not shoot video of his practice as I was grabbing something to eat at the time but I did get the T-28s on takeoff, which were followed by Sean Tucker's early morning practice. Sean had to put up with some of those clouds that started to threaten the show, turning it from a high show to a low show, depending on where the clouds were oriented in relation to the airshow box. Sean's practice was essentially the majority of his maneuvers he would fly during the show thrown together in a different order than one would be used to. As he was practicing, Allen Smith taxied by - this time with no passenger, as it would appear he would be flying in the show a little later on in the morning.
The Trojan Horsemen were inbound and began their performance with four T-28s. The first pass was a diamond pass in review, with the slot pilot breaking formation so that the other three T-28s would perform formation flybys (including changing formations at show center and even a dirty pass) while the fourth would act as a solo aerobatic performer. The final pass by the Trojan Horsemen is the bomb burst, which is a nice flat bomb burst. Interestingly enough, that bomb burst helped the four Trojans to gain separation from one another to land on runway 5R. While the last T-28 was landing, Allen Smith was on the takeoff roll in his oh-so-familiar L-39 Albatross. Allen was limited to performing aileron rolls and barrel rolls in the L-39 because of the low cloud cover, which continued to linger on. What was a shame was that I haven't been able to get a good shot of the L-39 (during a photo pass) with a background that contains only blue sky. As Allen was performing, the Skytypers had fired up their six SNJ-2 Texans.
As Allen landed on runway 5L, Gene Soucy had taken to the sky in the Showcat. As I said for the nighttime show, it was my first time seeing Gene fly in many years. He flew a solo act with the Showcat and that biplane sure loves to make a ton of noise! To compare, the Showcat makes more noise in its performance than anyone with a Stearman (okay except the Red Barons) or a T-6 makes during an aerobatic performance. Gene kept the plane in real close to the crowd and flew vertical maneuvers that weren't very high off the ground. As soon as Gene landed - which he did in style, landing on one main wheel and switching to the other before landing on all threes, the Skytypers had taken off. The team seemed to put on a little better show than the last time I saw them, which was at Dover AFB and they also seemed to have turned up the revolutions on the engines to make that familiar sound that the T-6/SNJ is famous for. The Skytypers seemed to give very little spacing between each aircraft when they did the formation break to landing.
After all six SNJ-2s were on the ground, the task of positioning fighters on runways 5L and 5R continued. The first two aircraft to take off were a pair of F-14D Tomcats from VF-213 Black Lions taking off from 5R, followed by an F-14B Tomcat from VF-11 Red Rippers taking off on 5L, with another pair of Black Lions performing a section takeoff on 5R with the first Red Rippers Tomcat rotating on 5L. They were followed by a second F-14B Tomcat from the Red Rippers taking off on 5L. Following the six Tomcats were a pair of F/A-18C Hornets from VFA-106 Gladiators taking off on 5L and a pair of F/A-18C Hornets from VFA-131 Wildcats taking off on 5R at the same time, performing a section takeoff. As the Hornets departed, another F-14D Tomcat from VF-101 Grim Reapers (Gunfighter 163, which happened to be a CAG) took off from 5R, who was followed closely by an F/A-18C Hornet from VFA-87 Golden Warriors taking off from 5R, pulling into the vertical, and repositioning to exit the show area for the time being. If you counted correctly, seven F-14 Tomcats and five F/A-18 Hornets were launched within a four minute window.
The Skytypers had taxied past my position and began to march towards their spot along the flight line when the E-2C Hawkeye demonstration aircraft was inbound. VAW-123 Screwtops out of NAVSTA Norfolk provided the demonstration aircraft and the crew put on an interesting demonstration. I had never seen an E-2 demonstration before until coming down to Oceana and I was impressed by how loud it is and how maneuverable it is. The Hawkeye is rarely seen on the airshow circuit - whether you're talking about flying displays or static displays, as there aren't very many that aren't deployed on the various aircraft carriers around the world. The demonstration consisted of a high speed pass, followed by a carrier approach and short-field landing, a short takeoff, a minimum radius turn, and a photo pass. I believe the E-2 is also powered by the same type of engines that power the C-130E/H, which would probably attribute to the sound.
After the E-2 left, the only helicopter based at NAS Oceana came by for a farewell demonstration. Oceana has one SH-3 Sea King assigned to the base primarily for search and rescue operations and the crew came out and made a pass, followed by a mock search and rescue demonstration with a rescue swimmer. The crew (I believe the pilot was a woman) also demonstrated helicopter flight by flying sideways and concluded with a slow speed photo pass and salute from the crew on board. As he left, an MH-53 Sea Dragon was inbound at about 10,000 feet with the two jump teams present at Oceana's airshow - the Navy's Leap Frogs and the US Army Special Operations Command Black Daggers - performing a mass jump. Members of the Black Daggers performed a bomb burst while the Leap Frogs "hung out", if you will, as the Black Daggers were doing their stuff. Several members of both teams managed to lock on a couple formations of canopy relative work while the national anthem was sung and the US flag was being brought down by one of the Leap Frogs.
One of the highlights of the NAS Oceana Airshow is a tactical aircraft flyover of the based fighters. In past years, it was a mixed formation of Hornets and Tomcats. For example, in 1999, 2000, and 2002, it was a mix of four Hornets and four Tomcats in different formation positions. In 2003, the formation was four Hornets and two Tomcats occupying the "solo" positions of the delta formation. In 2004, the formations were split. The first formation consisted of six F-14 Tomcats, with the lead, left wing, right wing, and slot positions occupied by Tomcats from the Black Lions (VF-213) and the solo positions occupied by the two Red Rippers (VF-11). The second formation included four F/A-18 Hornets, with the lead and slot positions occupied by the Gladiators (VFA-106) and the left and right wing positions occupied by the Wildcats (VFA-131). Just as the Hornet formation was leaving the show area, the fifth Hornet (VFA-87 Golden Warriors) snuck in low at about Mach .96 and pulled into the vertical, generating a small vapor cone in the process. Almost immediately behind him was the seventh F-14 Tomcat (VF-101 Grim Reapers) in a profile high speed sneak pass, accompanied by a wall of fire from Rich's Incredible Pyro.
As the Tomcat left the area, the Golden Warriors F/A-18 Hornet came back around from the left for a minimum radius turn around the area that was set off by the wall of fire. It set the stage for the upcoming air power demonstration. The two Hornets from the Gladiators, callsigns Roman 1 and Roman 2, popped in from the right to smother NAS Oceana on a strafing run, one behind the other. Behind Roman 1 & 2 were Wildcat 1 & 2 in tight formation, coming by with a more serious strafing run and breaking formation slightly to gain distance between one another. As Wildcat 1 and Wildcat 2 exited the immediate show area, Roman 1 and Roman 2 popped in from the left in a tighter formation to perform a lay-down attack on the base. As the Gladiators exited, Wildcat 1 proceeded to perform a lay-down attack on the base, followed by Wildcat 2, with a separation of a couple miles between the two Hornets. As the Hornets left, two F-14D Tomcats from VF-213 Black Lions approached low and fast from the right and broke hard, performing a section level lay-down. Lion 1 and Lion 2 each took opposite ends of the base to approach the target area from opposite ends of the show area and perform opposing lay-downs attacks on the base. Both Lions rejoined heading out to show right. Approaching 45º to the right, Lions 1 & 2 pitched up and rolled to perform strafing runs on Oceana prior to departing to set up for their next attack. Approaching from the left, the Lions came in low and hot for a cluster bomb level lay-down. It would be their last attack on the base as they headed out to make one more high speed pass - with tailhooks down - before landing on 5L and 5R.
As the first two Black Lions were on their landing roll, the four Hornets that took part in the Air Power Demo came around from the left in diamond formation and performed a rather unique formation break. The left wing and right wing Hornets broke away in their respective directions while the lead and slot broke away in an opposing break, enabling the Hornets to utilize runways 5L and 5R. As the last two Hornets of the group landed, the Grim Reapers F-14D and the Golden Warriors F/A-18 Hornet approached - both at high speed, with the Hornet breaking left and the Tomcat breaking right to land on 5L and 5R, respectively. As they were landing, the last two Tomcats representing the Black Lions came in at high speed and broke to land in the same fashion as the Grim Reaper and the Golden Warrior. The final two Tomcats, the Red Rippers, followed behind the Black Lions while the aircraft started marching down the taxiway.
As the Tomcats and Hornets started to taxi down the runway, the T-6A Texan II demonstration aircraft took to the sky to begin its demonstration. The Texan II represented the second of eight single-ship tactical demonstrations on the Oceana Airshow lineup. Captain Martin's performance was limited to a low show, which seemed much shorter than any of the previous Texan II demonstrations I had seen. He also seemed to fly it further away from the crowd than at Andrews AFB, and it was also much quieter, mainly because the sounds of Tomcats and Hornets helped drown out the little turboprop on the Texan II. After Captain Martin landed, Lee Lauderback took to the air with the P-51D Mustang Crazy Horse. Lee flew an aerobatic performance that seemed to be mirrored off of Dale Snodgrass' P-51 demonstration, with most of the flypasts being very low off the ground, in the same fashion that Snort flies the P-51 at an airshow (and trust me when I say that because Snort can make any airplane fly real good, whether its a Corsair, Mustang, Sabre, and I suppose I can add the Tomcat to that list as well).
In traditional Oceana Airshow style, the second the current act lands, the next act is ready to get off the ground. One of the rare trio of demonstrations that NAS Oceana played host to were three different F-18 Hornet demonstrations. Representing the third of eight single-ship tactical demonstrations was a CF-18 Hornet from the Canadian Air Force. Oceana was the last airshow for the CF-18 Demo Team and the demonstration pilot, Captain "Super Dave" Pletz, and Super Dave had a little challenge for his performance. At one end of the show area, he was able to fly the high show, while at the other extreme, he had to fly the low show. He also managed to find a blue hole in the sky and punch through it whenever and wherever possible. For instance, he was not able to fly the Cuban Eight after the dirty roll on takeoff, but he did manage to pull off the square loop with no problem. Oh, and, Super Dave did manage to pull off some major wingtip vapor and conic vapor!
After Super Dave landed, it was time for Dan Buchanan to take to the air in his hang glider. Unfortunately, Dan pulled an "oops" by accidentally releasing the tow line way too early, forcing him to land and be rescheduled on the lineup. It gave Super Dave a chance to taxi by the crowd without anything in the air, which was very nice. As he was taxiing by, it was time for the fourth single-ship tactical demonstration to commence, this time being an A-10 Thunderbolt II demonstration, representing the East Coast Demo Team out of Pope AFB, NC. Captain Matt "Turk" Kouchoukos was limited to flying the low show portion of the demonstration, eliminating the Cuban Eight and the vertical climb from his performance. The low show was actually pretty good and it included a lot of wingtip vortices coming off the aircraft.
Turk landed on runway 5L as a C-130 Hercules from the Michigan Air National Guard was cleared for takeoff on 5R. Outside of watching Fat Albert over the last several years, the MI ANG managed to put on one of the most impressive non-JATO takeoffs from a C-130 I've ever seen. The crew kept the Hercules on a low transition and pulled back and banked hard right while climbing, treating the plane as if it were a fighter. As they cleared the area, Gene Soucy had the Showcat on the runway and in the air in no time, with Teresa Stokes on the right wing of the Showcat. In my opinion, they are the second best wingwalking act in the airshow industry (the first happens to be Jimmy and Kyle Franklin because they use a jet-powered bi-plane which most people probably never heard of---sarcasm). Gene does, at times, pull back the power on the radial engine so that Teresa can safely move about the aircraft, but when she's secure, the Showcat makes music.
Kent Shockley had made a challenge to Gene and Teresa to a race with the ShockwaveJet Truck. Kent had positioned the Shockwave to do burner pops at show left and at show right, while dumping and burning fuel between the two areas. After the second set of burner pops, Kent taxied out to the taxiway, dumping & burning fuel as Gene and Teresa flew not to far from the Shockwave. By that vantage point, you could tell that the two vehicles shared the same paint job, but in reality, they didn't. As the two went out towards show right to set up for the race, Teresa Stokes actually got on the wingwalking rig to get the best view of the race in the world! The Shockwave won, reaching a speed of 274 miles per hour - even while switching off the burners and putting them back on!
As Gene and Teresa landed on 5L, the support trailer headed down to the end of 5R/23L to recover the Shockwave as Dan Buchanan got airborne without any problems. It seemed that Dan had started his performance at a lower altitude than the last time I saw him, which was also at Oceana in 2002. Dan's performance was also one of the quieter aerial demonstrations of the day, performing between two acts that had jet engines in them (Shockwave and a MiG). Speaking of MiGs, Bill Reesman was on the takeoff roll with the Red Bull MiG-17. Bill was supposed to be at Andrews AFB and at Langley AFB this past year but for some unusual circumstances, he wasn't there. To make things more interesting, he happened to be at Oceana and Eric Beard, who was supposed to be at Oceana as well, wasn't there. Eric had a reason - he could not get past a cold front, which was hanging in the middle of the country (thankfully!). Bill flies one of my favorite jet acts in the airshow industry - probably tied with Snort in the Sabre - and he put on a great show which seemed longer, compared to other aerobatic performances.
After Bill landed, the C-130 that took off earlier was inbound for a drop. On board the Hercules were members of the Leap Frogs parachute team. The Frogs jumped from around 8,000 feet, performed a bomb burst, splitting it to perform some canopy relative work before landing at show center. The Leap Frogs don't perform at as many airshows as the Golden Knights or the Canadian Sky Hawks, but when they do, they put on a great show. As the last few jumpers made their way in, the Hercules was making steep turns out towards runways 14L/32R and 14R/32L before landing on runway 14L. As soon as the last Leap Frog jumper landed, it was time for the fifth single-ship tactical demonstration to take place. It would be an F/A-18C Hornet demonstration from VFA-87, the Golden Warriors. It was nice to see another squadron other than the fleet replacement squadron fly the Hornet demonstration. I didn't catch the pilot's name but I do know his callsign was Mongo. Just like Super Dave, Mongo had to fly a dual show, flying the high show portion of the demonstration towards show right and the low show portion towards show left.
Already in the air, Michael Goulian was the next performer to take the stage. Mike has a new selection of music added to his performance, which seemed much better than at Rhode Island. During part of his performance, he has a voiceover done talking about himself, his life, and his love for flying, which was different, to say the least. The only problem with him is with the plane. It has one awesome paint job but with a camcorder, being able to focus on all of the different gyrations in color can get a little messy, even with manual focus selected on infinity. After Mike landed, Lee Lauderback took off in the P-51D Mustang Crazy Horse along with Capt. Matt Kouchoukos in the A-10 to set up for the Heritage Flight while Dale Snodgrass taxied by in the F-86 Sabre just before Major Bret Anderson took to the sky in his F-15 Eagle. Just like the other tactical demonstrations before him, Slam had a unique challenge to fly the high show at one end of the show area and the low show on the other end. This was one of Slam's best shows that I've seen, considering he was a little more liberal on the afterburner than in the past, which is always a good thing.
As Slam was making his final pass, Dale Snodgrass took to the air in the F-86 Sabre and set up for the Heritage Flight. The Heritage Flight consisted of a total of four passes, with the last pass being a Heritage Break from echelon right formation, as it was the evening before. As the aircraft were landing (mainly when the A-10 was rolling out on final), Dale Snodgrass came in nice and low to begin his performance. He wasn't quite as low as he was at Oceana two years ago, but it was low enough to qualify as "mowing the lawn". Snort had a little better luck with the clouds as most of the clouds were in the strategic spots at show left so that in the vertical maneuvers, he could just find the spot of blue sky and shoot through it.
After Snort landed, it was time for my most anticipated demonstration of the day - the F/A-18F Super Hornet. I had met the pilots the night before - Lt. Jeff "Meat" Glaser and Lt. Kim "Grace" Arrington, put on one heck of a show. Unlike Bunza and Grace's display at Andrews, the demonstration at Oceana had tons of vapor coming off all parts of the aircraft. The demo seemed much more aggressive later on in the year than earlier when the aircraft was at Andrews AFB. On a related note, with all of the vapor that Meat and Grace had coming off the Super Hornet, the folks that sat around me went crazy, as if they were drunk (I was in the ESC and they did serve alcohol, which would support not being sober). I should also mention that the jet that was used for the demonstration was practically brand new and it was wearing markings from VFA-103, the Jolly Rogers, who are expected to turn in their F-14 Tomcats for F/A-18F Super Hornets when they return from their tour of duty.
It's a good thing that the folks running the NAS Oceana airshow saved the best aerobatic performer (remember, it's only my opinion) for last. I'm talking about Sean Tucker. During the first half of his performance, Meat and Grace taxied by from right to left in the Super Hornet, on the way back to the hot ramp, while the F-14 Tomcat demonstration aircraft taxied past from left to right, setting up for its demonstration, holding short on runway 23L. Sean put on one of the least enthusiastic performances (in terms of cheering an applause from the crowd) that I've seen but I know he put on one of the best displays I've seen him fly this year. As Sean taxied back in, it was time to launch a couple aircraft, namely an F4U Corsair, followed by an F/A-18 Hornet from VFA-106 Gladiators. As the Hornet was holding on the runway, Kent Shockley got the Shockwave fired up once again. Kent must've known where I was along the crowd line because he stopped the truck at precisely show center, putting the exhaust of the jet engines in my direction (well not exactly but in the snaps and video you'll see what I'm talking about), which got ear-piercingly loud! As Kent got over to 23L, it was apparent it was not going to be a dry run, but rather a race. The race was between the Shockwave and the F/A-18 Hornet from VFA-106 that had just taken off. The Hornet was in final approach, performing a touch-and-go as the Shockwave raced past and actually beat the fighter! If you're curious, Shockwave went 261 mph, whereas the Hornet probably didn't go over 200.
The Hornet went out and loitered around the base with the Corsair as it was time for the final tactical demonstration of the day. It happened to be the F-14 Tomcat demonstration. Since all of the demo pilots were at home for the weekend, they had rotated who would fly when. Lt. "Smokin" Joe Ruzicka announced for the demonstration on Saturday while Lt. Anthony "Opie" Walley and Lt. Chuck "Roll" Kaiser flew the demonstration. Smokin' Joe was able to announce the demonstration in more detail than anyone else, coming from the background of a demonstration pilot, or in his case of the demo team, a RIO. Opie and Roll put on one heck of a performance, streaming vapor off of every possible spot off the F-14. One of the unique characteristics of a Tomcat demo at Oceana is that during the first high speed pass, a giant wall of fire is lit off. It was an awesome demonstration and would be the last time I would see a traditional Tomcat demonstration since VF-101 will be gone by the time next year's show at Oceana comes around.
Instead of landing, Opie and Roll joined up with the F/A-18 Hornet and F4U Corsair for a rare US Navy Legacy Flight. The formation of aircraft made two passes, each from the right, followed by a final pass from behind and breaking. The formation wasn't as tight as the Air Force's Heritage Flights, but it was nice to see a Legacy Flight for the first time in years. After breaking, the F4U Corsair proceeded to land while the F/A-18 Hornet proceeded to come from behind and from the left to fly one final high speed pass. As he departed, Lee Lauderback departed in Crazy Horse, followed by the F-14 Tomcat, which flew one more high speed pass in the same manner as the Hornet. After the Tomcat made its pass, the F4U Corsair taxied past the crowd, awaiting for the Hornet and Tomcat to taxi by the crowd as well, concluding the daytime airshow at NAS Oceana.
After the show on the base, I headed back to my room and got rid of some things, freshened up, and headed for the beach, where another type of airshow would take place. I had planned on the beach show starting at 7:30 pm and getting where I would want to be by 7:15, but traffic along Pacific Avenue nearly made that impossible. I made it onto the beach by Atlantic Avenue and 24th Street in time for the Michigan ANG C-130 Hercules to make a low pass over the ocean, very close to the shoreline! It was loud, even for a C-130! After a few more minutes, the C-130 came back around at a higher altitude to do a streamer drop, but instead of a streamer, they dropped a balloon to mark the wind direction for the Black Daggers and the Leap Frogs when they jump later on in the night. As the C-130 left, a few more minutes went by so that the night sky could get darker and darker for the anticipated demonstration by Oceana's finest.
That anticipated demonstration happened to be from the F-14 Tomcat, which had performed a demonstration about 3 hours earlier. I am not sure who flew the Tomcat along the beach on Saturday night, as I don't think it was a demo crew. The Tomcat made two passes (both with full afterburner, might I add), the first from the right and the second pass coming quickly after repositioning from the left. That second pass also consisting of some vertical spirals up to altitude before shutting off the navigation lights. Shutting off the navigation lights really built up the suspense about a thousand-fold, putting in the notion of "where is he coming from?" and having everyone keeping their eyes all around the show area. After a couple minutes, the Tomcat appeared from the west, with afterburners lit, screaming over the hotels and over 24th Street and the beach area, pulling into the vertical. The F-14 repositioned to come around from the left, with full burners glowing before going out over the ocean and repositioning from the left for a carrier pass, followed by cleaning up the aircraft and going into afterburner. After another reposition, the Tomcat came around from the right in afterburner, pulling into the vertical and repositioning to the right, lighting the afterburner and screaming by. Following a quick reposition, the crew brought the F-14 around from the left, lit the burners, and proceeded to turn over the ocean, spiraling out over the beach and heading west, back to NAS Oceana. If I did my math correctly, there were eight passes.
As soon as the F-14 left and went back to Oceana, the C-130 was inbound at about 8,000 feet, with a large trail of pyrotechnics streaming from the back of the aircraft, and releasing. The pyro came from the Leap Frogs jump team, as they exited the Hercules along with the Black Daggers for their jump onto the beach at Virginia Beach. With help of one person along the beach, the entire crowd cheered in all of the Leap Frogs, all of whom came in under pyrotechnics hanging off their right foot. Three of the Leap Frogs even managed to join up for some canopy relative work, with the bottom jumper providing the pyrotechnics. As all of the Leap Frogs landed, a second formation of jumpers had split and gained horizontal separation from one another. These were the US Army SOC Black Daggers. In contrast, the Black Daggers did not have any pyrotechnics, but did have beacons hanging from their parachutes, along with each jumper covered in about one hundred green glow sticks. The Black Daggers came down individually, with two jumpers bring down the POW/MIA flag and the Virginia state flag - one right after another, with the last two jumpers linked up, demonstrating canopy relative work, and flying the US flag. Those two jumpers detached at the last possible moment to land on the beach, concluding the aerial portion of the beach show. It only took a matter of 45 seconds after the last two jumpers for all of the kids along the crowd line to break that barrier and charge after the Black Daggers in hopes to get some glow sticks.
The best part about the Beach Blast is the fact that the aerial stuff is finished early and that you could spend an hour or two or three hanging out with the performers or even with friends, which is what I did. A bunch of Fence Checkers had gotten together and I had ushered Captain "Super Dave" Pletz over to the group to chat while a local band played at the 24th Street stage. It was part of the Neptune Festival, which is a month-long celebration that the city of Virginia Beach puts together, with the airshow at NAS Oceana being a very important part of the festivities. In 2003, NAS Oceana's airshow fell on the first weekend of September, making the conclusion of the Neptune Festival unnecessary by starting early, so Oceana decided to steer away from using the Neptune Festival as part of the airshow - today, it is simply the NAS Oceana Airshow.
The original plan for Sunday was for me to meet up with Super Dave to get some close-up shots of his aircraft (this was to be done after his performance) as well as to get more video of some of the Tomcats and the Hornets participating in the show, particularly during the TACAIR demonstration. Plans got changed so much that I ended up staying for the entire show, getting video of the B-2 Spirit's two passes, the two-ship Heritage Flight with Capt. Kouchoukos in the A-10 and Dale Snodgrass in the F-86, as well as what I think was my last real F-14 Tomcat demonstration. One mention should be made to one of the Black Lions' Tomcats, as it landed without event, until reaching around show center was when the aircraft's left main tire burst, causing the pilot to grab a wire across 5R and trap down at the 23L end of the runway. Honestly, I did not want to leave since I knew the drive home would be at least six hours, err..seven hours because of traffic going north and south of Dover, Delaware because of a Nextel Cup NASCAR race. Oceana weekend was truly awesome, by the standpoint of an aviation enthusiast, and I look at it being the best show of 2004, even though the Blue Angels had to cancel. Come to think of it, with the weather ending each day of the show the way it did, I would imagine the Blue Angels would have flown the high show.
I would like to send a huge thank you to Cdr. Rich "Corky" Erie for everything he has done to accommodate my visit to NAS Oceana and Virginia Beach for the airshow. I would also like to send a big thank you to Captain "Super Dave" Pletz and his ground crew, Dale Snodgrass, Dan Buchanan, announcer Frank Kingston Smith, Lieutenants Jeff "Meat" Glaser and Kim "Grace" Arrington, Captain Matt "Turk" Kouchoukos, Major Bret "Slam" Anderson, Lieutenants Anthony "Opie" Walley, Joe "Smokin" Ruzicka, and Jack "Rocco" Tangredit, Kent Shockley, and all of the other pilots and aircrews who took time out of the weekend to talk, chat, and hang out with me in fighter country. I will definitely be back for the show in 2005 - no doubt about it!
Tentative Military Demonstrations
Announcer: Frank Kingston Smith