NAS Oceana, Virginia
September 7-9, 2007 Airshow report uploaded on September 12, 2007.
Airshow report uploaded on September 12, 2007.
For the second year in a row, NAS Oceana's airshow fell among one of the first weekends in September. The 2007 show was hampered by a lot of cancellations as well as tragedy. The Starfighters, Steve Oliver, and the E-2 demonstration ended up falling through as a result of safety issues, mechanical problems, and fleet readiness, respectively. Two pilots who were set to perform at this year's airshow lost their lives - LCDR Kevin J. "Kojak" Davis of the Blue Angels, who lost his life in April while flying the tail end of the Blues' performance in MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina, and Jim LeRoy, who lost his life while performing "Codename: Mary's Lamb" at the Dayton Airshow in Dayton, Ohio. Both of these aviators were very good friends of mine and it hurts to know that both have lost their lives early on, but comforting that both died doing what they loved most, and knowing that both are putting on one heck of an airshow in Heaven for the angels above. Tragically, the 2007 NAS Oceana Airshow was also marred by an accident, as Jan Wildbergh, the number six pilot of the GEICO Skytypers, was killed as his aircraft crashed just off the end of Runway 5L as they were finishing their performance on Friday afternoon. I was in attendance and on base at the time of the crash, and was fortunate enough to not see the actual point of impact and the point where something went wrong, as I happened to be on the phone with a friend and looked down at the ground at the right time, only to look up seconds later to black smoke. Jan, you will be missed.
As a side note, I want to give huge props to Rob Reider for handling the situation with incredible class and calm. To be on site with Rob in a situation like this can only add up to why I think he is the best airshow announcer in the industry.
Even though there was an accident, the airshow continued. With the cancellations of the above performers, the Friday night show was adjusted accordingly. Demonstrations from the F/A-18C Hornet, the F-15E Strike Eagle, and the F-22 Raptor all took place, with the Raptor easily beating the other two jets by a HUGE margin. I do want to give props to LT Thomas "Natty" Clark for putting on a spectacular Legacy Hornet demonstration on Friday evening (I forget who flew in the morning - my gut wants to say it was Bobo) as well as LCDR Paul "Bobo" Felini for the demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday - all of which contained an ample amount of afterburner usage at just the right times in the demonstration. It's a shame the Legacy Hornet could not participate in the Legacy Flight - which appears to have taken a lot of narration from the Air Force's Heritage Flight, if I may add!
While the Super Hornet demonstrations, which were flown by SH8 and Stigs on Saturday and SHILOC and Crack on Sunday were the best of the Navy demonstrations (and believe me, both crews put on amazing Super Hornet demonstrations!), nothing beat Major Paul "Max" Moga and the F-22 Raptor demonstration. Max flew an absolutely AMAZING demonstration on Friday evening and on Saturday, and ended up flying an abbreviated demonstration on Sunday (I think it might have been the six-pass demo he flew at three or four airshows before the full-up demo at Langley), which showed off the other stealthy characteristics of the Raptor. The demo team was actually selling challenge coins at the airshow, and unfortunately for me, I was unable to get a couple. I don't know if they will be doing the same at other airshows they will be performing at (Columbus, New Orleans, Kennedy Space Center, and Nellis AFB), but if you are interested in buying a challenge coin from them, ask any of the demo team members on AirShowBuzz.com (Max, Schmidty, and Shooter post on the forums regularly). They are worth every penny spent.
The act that I happened to enjoy the most was that flown by Dale Snodgrass and Ed Shipley. Snort did not have the new Sabre he said he would have at Oceana (that aircraft needs a new engine), so he ended up bringing Excalibur, a P-51D Mustang. Shipley brought his beautiful F-86 Sabre and flew off the wing of Snort in the Mustang in a performance called Mustang vs. Sabre. It was the first time I had seen a prop/jet formation aerobatic act and I tell you, I was amazed - not because of how close Shipley flew in formation with Snort, but thinking of how difficult and challenging it is for Shipley to adjust the power settings for the jet engine in the Sabre. Both pilots flew a formation routine, then broke off to do separate aerobatic acts, followed by LOW passes down the runway and show lines. When I mean low, I mean low. For instance, I spent all weekend in the top row of the bleachers shooting video. Snort must've gotten as low as the propeller's diameter's distance above the ground. That means, by using the diameter of the propeller being about eleven feet, I think Snort brought down the Mustang to an altitude of 11 feet off the ground! Of course, that's just an estimation, as speed, relative position of the spotter, and the curvature of the Earth are all variables in that. Snort also flew in formation with Sean Carroll in his Yak-9, which from what I heard, was a tribute to Robin Olds. Sean was a last-minute addition to the show, as was Bill Mills, who flew from Florida in a CJ-6A. Andy Anderson also took to the skies over the weekend in his British Aerospace Strikemaster, nicknamed the Dragon because of its nose art, which was originally only supposed to be a static display. It was great meeting you Andy and you've got one LOUD jet with one snazzy paint job!
Eleven airplanes took off for the Fleet demonstration on Friday and Saturday. Participants included two from VFA-106 (an E-model and an F-model, the F model was the demo team, who were to perform the sneak pass after the flyby), one jet from VFA-211, two jets from VFA-131 (one jet was a CAG), two jets from VFA-103 (one jet was a CAG), and four jets from VFA-31 (one jet was a CAG). VFA-131 and VFA-31 provided the jets for the Air Power Demonstration, which seemed to be a little toned down both in quantity of jets and the lack of banking passes as they left the battle scene. Saturday's fleet flyby was timed horribly with members of the Red Devils landing as the Fleet made its flyby. Sunday's flyby and demonstration was cancelled due to low clouds all around the Hampton Roads region, as Tropical Storm Gabrielle was making landfall near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Despite all that, it was still impressive to see a ten-plane formation of Legacy Hornets and Super Hornets.
There was also one minor incident that took place on Saturday. While performing the afternoon parachute demonstrations, one of the members of the Blackwater USA Parachute Team had his parachute malfunction on him as he was coming in to land in front of me. People say he was thirty feet up when it happened, but in all honesty, it appeared he was at an altitude of less than ten feet. You could hear the air violently push up and out of the parachute, causing it to malfunction. Thankfully, with medical attention standing by and on the scene within minutes, that jumper walked away from his point of landing with just a limp. I had heard he still jumped that same night onto the beach.
The weather managed to cooperate enough for Friday and Saturday to give absolutely clear blue skies and some breeze, while on Sunday, low clouds prevented some of the activities from participating - including the Fleet demonstration. Sunday did feature showers in the early part of the morning and a brief downpour in the early afternoon, which produced some amazing vapor off the F-22 as it flew its demonstration. Despite the problems with the weather, the loss of performers, and the tragic loss of Jan Wildbergh, this year's show was among the best at NAS Oceana - easily beating the 2005 show. I will definitely be back for 2008.
Static display list coming real soon. This was actually one of the best
static displays I had ever seen at an Oceana Airshow!
Military Demonstration Teams
Tentative Military Demonstrations
Dale Snodgrass and Ed Shipley will be flying the Dueling Sabres performance this year.
Announcer: Rob Reider
Gates Open: 5:00 PM Friday, 8:00 AM Saturday and Sunday
Showtime: 5:00 PM Friday, 9:00 AM - 4:30 PM Saturday and Sunday