2008 NAS Oceana Airshow
September 19-21, 2008
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Airshow Report written on September 27, 2008.
As you all know, NAS Oceana is one of my favorite places in the entire world, and for good reason. I would make two- or three-day trips down to Virginia Beach in the summer just to do a lot of spotting at Oceana, since there is almost always a constant stream of operations from sunrise to sunset, and many times, past sunset. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to do one of those trips since the summer of 2005 because of gas prices, but I intend on doing so in 2009 - again, provided gas prices do not go as high as this year (and we all know that might happen). I wanted to do some spotting at Oceana on my Langley AFB trip, but got sidelined because I absolutely HAD to be at Langley AFB in the morning for some reason. I decided that the Oceana Airshow trip would have to be extended at least another day, and I even seriously considered going down Wednesday morning this year - at my usual 4:00 am - 9:30 am trip time. That was shot down because I had to attend an event in the late morning/early afternoon in Philadelphia. I still did that event, and returned home to pack up the car and leave mid-afternoon, which was still fine, as I didn't want to spend early Thursday morning driving and then be a dead duck once the evening rolled around.
When I went down to NAS Oceana last year, I had left that Thursday morning like I usually do, and got down just in time to see the Blue Angels arrive. I wanted to see the same thing this year, and I did, but instead of them arriving and landing on Runway 23L, they landed on 5R (mainly because the winds favored the 5s). I thought for sure my day would be ruined because of the northeast winds, but as a huge surprise to me, the base was unusually active for a Thursday before the airshow. For reasons beyond my knowledge, there were no less than FOUR C-17 Globemaster III transports at NAS Oceana, and all four departed that morning! I couldn't tell you where the first one was from, but the other three sported tail bands from Charleston AFB, Dover AFB, and McGuire AFB. Not to mention there was also a lot of media flights being given by Geoff "Hak" Hickman in an L-39, there were a LOT of VFA-106 jets going out - the majority of them being Super Hornets. After the Blue Angels performed a practice display, I believe I saw a bunch of Pukin' Dog Super Hornets go out, many of them sporting the "five wet" configuration.
Unfortunately for us, Thursday proved to be the best overall day for the weather. The winds had kicked up substantially for Friday and Saturday, and died down a little bit on Sunday, which prevented the jump teams from jumping on Friday and Saturday. They did jump in the Beach Blast, which I will talk about a little later. The fireworks display for Friday night was also cancelled as a result of the high winds. Friday started out as a somewhat clear day, but as the day progressed, so did the clouds and so did the wind. Luckily for all of the pilots, the winds were straight down Runway 5L & 5R, which was a blessing in disguise, rather than being an on-crowd or away-from-crowd wind, and without the need to compensate for any crosswinds. Most of the performers got to fly their full shows on Friday afternoon, and the Fleet got to show off in full force that day as well. The Air Power Demonstration was completely revamped, with four Super Hornets (in two elements) providing the close air support and a Hornet and a Super Hornet providing an in-flight refueling demonstration. The Fleet Flyby this year was much smaller than in years past, as the aircraft I just mentioned did not take part in it. Four Super Hornets and two Hornets formed up in a delta formation with an E-2C Hawkeye flying immediately behind the formation. I knew we were in for some sort of treat for the Fleet Flyby, and I thought I had heard that there were going to be some EA-6B Prowlers in the formation too, but I guess I had heard something different. Nevertheless, seeing the Hawkeye with all those Hornets and Super Hornets was a nice surprise.
NAS Oceana also had a huge lineup of military single-ship demonstrations. The East Coast Hornet and Super Hornet demo teams are based at NAS Oceana, operated by the VFA-106 Gladiators, who were gracious enough to fly the entire demo crew around the entire weekend (in other words, I believe each pilot and each WIZO got to fly at least once between Thursday and Sunday - I know I saw two Super Hornet demos on Thursday morning and two Hornet demos on Friday morning). The Canadian CF-18 Hornet demonstration made its return to NAS Oceana after having last performed in 2004, and after having the demo profile completely revised, the demonstration is a completely different animal than the Navy TACDEMOS. There has been talk on AirShowBuzz about revising the Hornet and Super Hornet demo profiles because the Canadians were better, but I am completely against that notion. Each aircraft's demo profile is fine the way it is right now and there is no need to make any changes. I hope everyone at VFA-106 reads this because it's the truth. In addition to the three Hornet demos, there was also a demonstration by an E-2C Hawkeye that was flown in from Norfolk. It seems like this Hawkeye demo was flown much differently than in past demos I had seen, but for an aircraft of its size, it puts on an impressive demonstration.
The United States Air Force was in attendance as well, but not in the capacity as in past Oceana shows. I was hoping that the Strike Eagle Demo Team or the Eagle West Demo Team would be in attendance, but ACC scheduled neither demo for the show (we should have gotten an Eagle demo since Millville's jackass move in becoming an all-warbird show this year didn't want the F-15, which made the Airboss for that show absolutely furious) and sent us the best of the best - the F-22 Raptor. Max put on an absolutely breathtaking performance each day, and drew vapor off parts of the aircraft I never knew you could get vapor to come off of. Max did form up with Snort in a Heritage Flight with a P-51D Mustang nicknamed Little Horse. In addition to the F-22 demonstration, airshow organizer Rich "Corky" Erie listened to my idea of having a C-17 demonstration, and managed to snag the West Coast Demo Team from March ARB, California to do a demonstration. I don't know if that is really their official title, but the crew from March put on one AMAZING performance. I recall their announcer stating that the aircraft performs much like a fighter, and the demonstration flown proved just that. I've always seen C-17 demos feature WIDE repositioning turns, but this crew kept the plane nice and tight around show center the entire time, which is the way the Globemaster III demonstrations should be flown. It's a shame that very few people got to see it fly on Saturday and Sunday, since the majority of the massive crowds that I saw both days seem to have arrived after 1:00 pm and just to see the Blue Angels fly.
As always, NAS Oceana hosted some of the very best aerobatic pilots in the airshow industry. The likes of Michael Goulian, John Mohr, Dale "Snort" Snodgrass, and Patty Wagstaff graced the skies each day, along with the GEICO Skytypers, who made their fifth consecutive airshow appearance. The night show featured Bill Leff and Manfred Radius, both of whom flew on Saturday and Sunday (Manfred's performance on Sunday was partially obscured by a scud layer). No less than three parachute teams were in attendance - the USO Parachute Team (Blackwater), the Navy Leap Frogs, and the British Red Devils. Neither team got to jump on Friday afternoon, Friday night, and Saturday, but they did jump for the Beach Blast and on the Sunday show. As a result of the bad weather, we were treated to a last-minute performance by two L-39 Albatrosses - the same two jets that were giving media rides that morning. Jethro and Hak put on an interesting performance that was being put together while in the air, that consisted of rolls, formation passes, and photo passes.
The regular performance by the Shockwave Jet Truck was cancelled and replaced by what I believe is the first appearance of the Super Shockwave Jet Truck at NAS Oceana. The reason for Shockwave's cancellation was because of a horrific accident that took place at Westover ARB two weeks prior. The driver, Kent Shockley, described everything as being normal during the dry run down the runway, and once he popped the 'chutes, all hell broke loose. One 'chute deployed normally, while one did not deploy at all, and the other partially deployed, causing the truck to veer off the runway at about 100-150 mph and tumble several times, eventually landing upright off to the side of the runway. Kent immediately got out of the truck and inspected the damage, and signaled he was alright. Amazingly, he mentioned that he did not receive any scratches - just some soreness.
The Friday evening show got a bit of a hair-raising moment as one of the aircraft participating in flying media representatives called in a mayday and requested crash trucks be rolled out to the runway. The aircraft, "Red Star", an L-29 owned and flown by Jerry Conley, had its forward canopy come off the aircraft just after he rotated. He had landed safely, got the canopy recovered, repaired, inspected, and was flying again on Saturday morning. I had met up with Jerry later that night at the Officer's Club and wanted to hear what had happened, and got the entire story. He even mentioned that there were no scratches on the canopy as a result! I was so relieved to see him land safely and know that he and his passenger were alright.
The Blue Angels headlined the show once again. The Blues have been putting on absolutely excellent performances all year long, and NAS Oceana was no exception. Friday's practice show was a bit interesting, as the team switched from low/flat shows to the high show, back to the flat show, thinking they could fly some of the high show maneuvers with the clouds at the altitudes they were at. They also had aircraft problems that weekend, with the #4 jet having flight control problems towards the end of the performances on Thursday and on Sunday. Friday's show had the #4 and #5 jets being replaced by #7 jets, and I believe in both #7 jets were media representatives, since I recall a reporter returning a flight suit to the Blues at the end of the show on Sunday. Since they have been flying such excellent performances this year, I had decided that I would venture a trip out to NAS Pensacola in November for their Homecoming show. I was told by someone who attends both Homecoming and Oceana's airshows that Homecoming is "just like NAS Oceana... only on a smaller scale". Plus, I would also get to see some performers I've never seen before...
Finally, the Beach Blast should be mentioned. I think it was a stupid move to have the Super Hornet afterburner flyby take place while it was still somewhat bright out. The flyby took place around 7:05 PM, which was about ten or fifteen minutes earlier than what I would have done it, and I wish the Admiral in charge of the Navy's fleet on the East Coast would approve a display that's at least half of what the Tomcat did over the beach. He did approve three passes for the Friday night show over NAS Oceana, but I would have loved to see a Super Hornet all tanked up doing a minimum of four passes - AT NIGHT. Bill Leff also performed his Starfire Night Sky Show over Virginia Beach, which was a nice treat, since I have a feeling he might do the same next year. He did fly the show on Friday night, too. Finally, the three parachute teams got a chance to jump for the first time all weekend. The USO Parachute Team got to jump first, followed by the Leap Frogs and Red Devils, and I was surprised at the amount of crowd control there was this year, since in years past, kids would break past the crowd line and storm the Red Devils for glow sticks. Following all of the jumpers' landings, Rob Reider came up to the 31st Street Park stage to introduce the Blue Angel pilots and Fat Albert pilots, which you will see online.
All in all, even with the high winds all weekend and low clouds on Saturday, this year's airshow was definitely among the best at NAS Oceana. The clouds on Friday evening somehow brought back memories of the 2004 Friday evening show (don't ask me how or why, but they did). I have been doing NAS Oceana's airshow since 2002, except for 2003, and I will return for 2009. I do have one suggestion for the 2009 show - bring the C-17 demonstration back to NAS Oceana!
Military Demonstration Teams
US Navy Blue Angels
US Navy Leap Frogs
British Army Red Devils
Military Aircraft Demonstrations
C-17 Globemaster III Demonstration
CF-18 Hornet Demonstration
E-2C Hawkeye Demonstration
F/A-18C Hornet Demonstration
F/A-18F Super Hornet Demonstration
F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team
Naval Air Power Demonstration
NAS Oceana Fleet Flyby
Aerobatic Performances, Warbird Performances, and Others
Super Shockwave Jet Truck
USO Parachute Team
USAF Heritage Flight