2004 Rhode Island ANG Open House
Quonset State Airport, North Kingstown,
June 19-20, 2004
Airshow report written on June 24, 2004.
One of the many airshows on my schedule for 2004 was a trip up to Rhode Island to see one of the best airshows in the Northeast. The drive to the Quonset State Airport in North Kingstown is approximately four and a half hours long, with the route taking me around New York City rather than through NYC, where traffic is slightly better. Anyone who lives near NYC knows how bad traffic can get, but for me, who lives in South Jersey (the border between North and South Jersey lies somewhere near a line of latitude that crosses Trenton) and very rarely heads north, I'm not very familiar with the congestion, other than what we deal with down here.
I took in the Saturday show for several reasons. Firstly, it was Father's Day weekend and I had an inkling my family would want me around (or at least in the same state) on Sunday. Secondly, I had been offered a ride by one of the performers and I figured that if I had attended on Sunday, I probably would lose out on the opportunity, since most of the performers use Sunday to head home. That would mean that I would be giving up an opportunity to see the B-2 Spirit, as it would have been my first time this year to catch one in flight. Lastly, I had class on Monday and getting home rather late and then waking up at 6:45 for class. I'm sorry, but I'm not a morning person.
I was up at 3:00 in the morning after having less than three hours of sleep (remember...heat rises when you're trying to sleep in a warm room without taking Nyquil, it's rather difficult), I was out of the house by 4:00 for the drive to Rhode Island. The drive took slightly under four and a half hours, putting me on the show site at around 8:30. Even with a media pass and not enough energy to get a hold of certain people, I had to wait until the gates opened, which wasn't until around 9:15. After finding a spot to park, I took a quick look at the static displays, which included a pair of F-16C Fighting Falcons from San Antonio, Texas, an A-10 Warthog from Barnes ANGB, MA, a C-5A Galaxy from Westover, KC-135R Stratotanker from the Alaska ANG at Eielson AFB, a FedEx 727-200 and Cessna 208 Caravan, C-130E and C-130J-30 Hercules from the Rhode Island ANG (the C-130E was actually hiding and it was not wearing its traditional RI ANG markings), P-3C Orion from NAS Jacksonville, a pair of T-45C Goshawks from Meridian, HH-65 Dauphin from Atlantic City, T-6A Texan II from Moody AFB, T-38 Talon from Randolph AFB, T-1A Jayhawk and T-37 Tweet from Columbus AFB, AH-1F Cobra, OH-58 Kiowa, UH-1 Huey and UH-60 Blackhawk from the RI Army National Guard (the Kiowa and Cobra did not look real), Civil Air Patrol Cessna 172, a Cirrus, and a Katana. The Quonset Air Museum had their MiG-17, A-4 Skyhawk, SH-3 Sea King, A-7 Corsair, and F-14 Tomcat on display as well. In my opinion the static display seemed lacking this year, over the participation in 2003.
As you could tell by some of those static display snaps, the weather didn't look too good in the morning. The low clouds helped push the show back about twenty minutes, with Sean Tucker going up to do a photo flight with a C-23 Sherpa that was carrying members of the Leap Frogs for their morning jump. A UH-60 Blackhawk from the RI ArNG was also up in the air taking crowd shots before the Leap Frogs took the stage. The first jumper down carried the US flag, with the national anthem being sung by a local New Englander, as well as Sean Tucker circling the jumper. After the first jumper came down, five more jumpers were on their way down, with two members performing a two-stack. Immediately after all of the jumpers landed, Sean Tucker took the stage to fly a practice show. The ceiling had lifted somewhat for Sean to perform about half of his show as a practice and a teaser. As usual, Sean demonstrated how and why, in my opinion, he is the best aerobatic pilot on the airshow circuit.
After Sean landed, the C-23 Sherpa that was carrying the Leap Frogs made its way to land on runway 34 and it performed a very short landing, turning off at the first turnoff and taxiing past the crowd line. As the Sherpa taxied back to the hot ramp, Michael Mancuso and Michael Goulian took to the skies in an opposing takeoff to perform a flyoff. Both pilots showed off a maneuver or two, where the other pilot would try to outdo the previous maneuver. Both Michael Goulian and Michael Mancuso are excellent pilots, but judging by how each flew his respective aircraft during the flyoff, I would say Michael Goulian flew better. It must be something about that CAP 232 that makes his performance slightly better. I have nothing against the Extra 300, except for its popularity. The CAP 232 is a rare airplane compared to the Extra 300.
After both pilots landed, they taxied in together, with Michael Mancuso taxiing in first and Michael Goulian following right behind him. Almost immediately afterwards, two Stearmans from the Red Baron Squadron took to the skies to fly a teaser display. Jim Kelley and Bill Stein flew the two-ship performance, which was very different from the usual four-ship performance that I'm used to seeing. Also, Jerry VanKempen was announcing for the team, which was a very welcome delight for me, as to me, he is the voice of the Red Baron Squadron. The two-ship performance contained a good number of opposing passes, but with Stearmans, they don't have the excitement that a pair of Lycoming-powered aircraft and/or jets have when they perform opposing maneuvers.
The Rhode Island ANG was up next to show off their C-130J-30 Hercules. Unlike their demonstration last year, which consisted of a minimum radius turn, a high speed pass, and a slow speed pass, the crew performed a maximum performance climb followed by steep, climbing turns, as if they were flying the aircraft up the vortex of a funnel. It was the most aggressive Hercules demonstration I had ever seen, and it was followed by a high speed pass with a maximum performance climb that almost seemed like he was climbing straight up and an assault landing, with the aircraft backing up for about one airplane length on the runway. The C-130J-30 demonstration seemed more aerobatic than tactical, with the tactical C-130 demonstration being done by a pair of C-130Es in the Combined Arms Demonstration.
The Stars of Tomorrow were next and representing the Stars of Tomorrow at Rhode Island this year were Wyche T. Coleman, David Ellison, and Nick Nilmeyer. The other three members of the Stars of Tomorrow are Goody Thomas, Zach Heffley, and Chandy Clanton. All six pilots were selected by Sean Tucker and Michael Goulian as they searched high and low during 2003 for promising young entries into the airshow scene. The six pilots performed together at Selfridge ANGB, Michigan on July 25-26 before heading up to their debut performances at the mother of all aerobatics airshows in the world - Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
First up, representing the three members of the Stars of Tomorrow was Wyche T. Coleman. Wyche flies a red and white Pitts S-2B and represents LSU (Louisiana State University, not Lightspeed University... if it was Lightspeed University then there'd be a pretty cheerleader flying the plane!) and judging by the way he was flying the aircraft, you could guess that Sean Tucker could have been his mentor, without even knowing if it was Sean or Michael. Wyche's performance was very nice and he is definitely a performer who could be joining the ranks that Sean, Jim LeRoy, and the like dominate. I should also note that Eric Tucker did the announcing for Wyche's performance, along with the performance by Nick Nilmeyer.
Nick Nilmeyer flies a red, white, and blue Extra 300S, whose performance seemed to be modeled off Michael Goulians, as evident in his exacting points in rolling the Extra. Nick is destined to join the A-list with Sean Tucker, Jim LeRoy, and the like - quite possibly in a few years. Nick's performance seems to model those maneuvers by Sean Tucker, Jim LeRoy, Michael Goulian, Michael Mancuso, and Patty Wagstaff all combined into an aerobatic punch, if you will. Both Wyche T. Coleman and Nick Nilmeyer flew their performances much higher up than the other performers at Rhode Island this year, but that doesn't mean they couldn't be enjoyed as much as the more advanced aerobatic pilots. I can imagine that once these guys get a few more airshows under their belts that their aerobatic waiver will be lowered to 250 feet and eventually to unrestricted altitudes. Unfortunately, David Ellison could not fly because of mechanical problems. If you're unaware of what he flies, David's aircraft of choice is a purple and blue CAP 232.
As Nick Nilmeyer taxied by, the Rhode Island Army National Guard C-23 Sherpa took off again with the Leap Frogs on board. Waiting on the opposite end of the runway was the Careers in Aviation L-39 Albatross, who took off as the Sherpa departed the area. Then came a very familiar jet sound - the Shockwave Jet Truck. It seems at every show everyone gets up to the crowd line to watch the jet vehicle. Kent Shockley took the Shockwave down runway 34 at a top speed of 317 miles an hour! As soon as the Shockwave was off the runway, the Careers in Aviation L-39 Albatross came in from the right to begin his performance. As I recall their type of performance, Careers in Aviation used to have a BAC 167 Strikemaster along with the L-39 at airshows and both aircraft performed a mock dogfight. I was made aware that their L-39 would be the only aircraft attending the show since they have taken the Strikemaster elsewhere. The aerobatic demonstration in this L-39 was very nice and because of the distance from the crowd line to the runway at Quonset State Airport, the Albatross seemed louder here than at past shows. The pilot even showed off the slow speed capabilities of the L-39 by rolling it twice in the dirty configuration.
After the L-39 landed and taxied past the crowd and headed towards the hot ramp, the F-14 Tomcat demo aircraft taxied by my position on the show line to hold short off runway 34. After he taxied by my position, the Leap Frogs had exited the C-23 Sherpa to begin their second jump of the day. The Leap Frogs flew several formations of canopy relative work, with two jumpers spiraling down in a candy cane, four jumpers in a diamond formation, and two jumpers in a biplane. These jumpers love to do CREW and it shows. It was at this time that the Thunderbirds took the stage to perform their engine checks and make sure that the sound system was in good working order. The Thunderbirds did not set up their speakers along the entire crowd line, which seemed somewhat strange, but that went on to help make the aircraft seem louder, as I will get to towards the end of the report.
After the Thunderbirds did their engine run and sound check, it was time for the airshow to get back underway. The Air Force was up next with the massive C-17 Globemaster III. At that point, I was beginning to get the impression that there is a C-17 Demo Team because the announcer who announced for the demo sounded like the same guy who was at Andrews AFB. The C-17 used was a rather new aircraft, showing it was purchased in FY01 (serial number 01-0197) and was operated by the 437th Airlift Wing (Reserve unit being the 315th Airlift Wing) out of Charleston AFB in South Carolina. The demonstration was almost as impressive as it was at Andrews, but being closer to the runway than at Andrews, it was also slightly louder. The demonstration consisted of a maximum performance takeoff and climb, a high speed pass, a slow speed pass with the ramp lowered, followed by a minimum radius turn, and a short-field assault landing. The crew backed the C-17 up and "bowed" to the crowd to end their demonstration.
As the C-17 cleared the runway, it was time for the highlight of the airshow (outside of the Thunderbirds), the F-14 Tomcat demonstration. For many people attending the show, this was the reason to come to Rhode Island. The F-14 demo was flown by Rocco and Smokin Joe, who put on an absolutely incredible demonstration of the Turkey. The only complaint I have about the demonstration was the lack of humidity in the air to produce vapor cones on the aircraft during the high speed passes and off the wingtips. There was some vapor, but not a whole lot. However, for most of the demonstration, the Tomcat appeared as if he had a smoke system installed, but knowing from past shows, there is no smoke system installed on the F-14. The demonstration also included the impressive dirty double Immelman. Another note I have about the demonstration, compared to other military aircraft demonstrations, is that the Tomcat demonstration is long. I encoded the entire demonstration from takeoff to landing and it is nearly 17 minutes long.
After the F-14 demonstration, Michael Goulian took to the skies to fly his solo performance. Mike has a new paint job on his CAP 232 that points to his new sponsorship this year with Castrol Aviator. The paint job looks very good but it is tough to get good shots of it with a camcorder. Goulian's performance is getting up there on my list of favorite aerobatic performers, even after just seeing him for a second time. After he landed and taxied to the crowd line, the C-23 Sherpa that was the jump platform for the Leap Frogs came back around to land with Jerry VanKempen at the microphone - a little too early, as the Red Barons had one more act to take the stage before they did. That act was the aerobatic performance by Michael Mancuso in his Extra 300L. It had been a few years since I had last seen Mancuso perform his full performance, as he was cut off at Stewart Intl. Airport last year because of commercial traffic and at Rhode Island because of a mechanical problem. Michael flies a very gyroscopic performance and is becoming one of the finest pilots as it seems year after year the performance seems to get better and better.
As Mancuso was performing, Super Dave taxied by the crowd line in the CF-18 Hornet demo jet and as he passed the runway turnoff, Mancuso was seen on the runway and taxied towards the crowd on the taxiway back to the hot ramp. This time it was time for Jerry VanKempen to take the microphone and announce for the Red Baron Squadron, who are celebrating their 25th anniversary this airshow season. The Red Barons were up in the air for what seemed like twenty minutes and their performance seemed longer than in past years, but just as good as I've seen them in the past, if not better.
As the Red Barons landed, the Careers in Aviation L-39 taxied past to runway 34 as the CF-18 Hornet demo jet was about to begin its demonstration. Before the CF-18 demonstration was to begin, a couple C-130E Hercules had to be launched in order to prepare for the Combined Arms Demonstration that would take place later on in the afternoon. After the C-130s departed, Captain "Super Dave" Pletz from 3 Wing Bagotville, Quebec put on one of the best CF-18 demonstrations I have ever seen. It must be because the 500 foot line at Rhode Island seems a lot closer than at other show sites, like Langley, where I last saw the CF-18 demo. Super Dave will be performing at one more show site in the United States, being at NAS Oceana in September, and I will definitely be there.
After Super Dave landed, two things happened. Firstly, a tow truck towed a spare Thunderbird F-16 to show right, which was at the end of runway 34. I assumed that the aircraft was parked over there just in case one of the six Thunderbird jets had a problem prior to starting their performance. Secondly, the Careers in Aviation L-39 took off to set up for its performance. After the L-39 took off, a good friend of mine, Doug McDaniel, took the microphone as Frank Ryder took to the stage with the Oreck XL Cyclone. Apparently Frank must've snuck out over to runway 34 during the CF-18 demonstration, since his takeoff was from right to left. Frank's performance at Rhode Island seemed to be better than at Andrews, and probably one of the better performances I've seen Frank put on since, well, the last several years.
After Frank landed and taxied to the crowd line (and doing those trademark smoking runs and standing the aircraft on the main gear with the smoke on), two A-10 Warthogs from the Massachusetts ANG took off from runway 16 to position and set up for the Combined Arms Demonstration. After the A-10s departed, the Careers in Aviation L-39 Albatross came back around for its second demonstration of the day. Just like its performance in the morning, the aerobatic demonstration in this L-39 was very nice and because of the distance from the crowd line to the runway at Quonset State Airport, the Albatross seemed louder here than at past shows.
After the L-39 landed, it was time for Sean Tucker to take the stage. As many times as I've seen Sean perform, his performance is the only aerobatic performance I have somewhat memorized, only because he is, my opinion, the best aerobatic pilot in the airshow circuit. It seems as if he started his performance slightly different than in past shows and done in typical Tucker style. I actually had the chance to hang out with Sean, his wife, and his daughter (who is a true sweetheart, might I add) after the show. I didn't see Eric, but that's okay. I'm sure I'll catch up with him sometime over the course of the year. Anyways... I should mention that besides the Red Baron Squadron, Sean got the biggest applause from the crowd. After Sean landed, an A-Star helicopters came around in front of the crowd to take some crowd shots. The particular A-Star that was in the air was the first time I'd ever seen an A-Star helicopter that doesn't belong to any network affiliate.
Michael Goulian challenged Kent Shockley to a race with the Shockwave Jet Truck and they were up next. Michael went up for a minute or so doing aerobatics to somehow taunt Kent as he was making his way down the ramp to runway 34. From my vantage point, it seemed the Shockwave got a head start, but Michael jumped ahead quickly but was then overtaken by the Shockwave just as fast. The Shockwave won the race with a top speed of 328.4 miles an hour. Michael Goulian went on to fly for a few minutes as the Shockwave was towed off the runway. As you could tell by the preview snaps, the weather was getting better and better every hour and it looked like we might luck out with the Thunderbirds, but that would not be for another 30 or so minutes.
The main reason for coming to the Rhode Island ANG Open House & Airshow was for the Combined Arms Demonstration. Every year the members of the Rhode Island Army National Guard, the Rhode Island Air National Guard, and the Massachusetts Air National Guard show off a multi-aircraft and vehicle tactical demonstration at Quonset State Airport and is the highlight of the airshow. The two RI ANG C-130E Hercules came inbound low and from behind the crowd, escorted by the two A-10 Warthogs from the MA ANG over the hostile airfield, with explosions going off left and right. The C-130s set up for their portion of the demonstration while the A-10s pulled hard turns over Narragansett Bay and provided constant cover for the other aircraft that were to participate, taking out the enemy below using all sorts of weapons, including air-to-ground bombs and the gattling gun. Almost immediately after the C-130s departed, two UH-60 Blackhawks from the Rhode Island Army National Guard came in from the right to insert troops into the hostile airfield, with the A-10s simultaneously providing cover. As the Blackhawks left, one of the C-130Es was on final approach from the right to perform a short-field landing and unloaded two Humvees. The Hercules then performed a tactical departure while the second C-130 came from the right to perform a container delivery system cargo drop. The A-10s kept providing cover as enemy forces were taken over, with the two Blackhawks coming around from the right in a final salute, followed by the MA ANG A-10s, which formed a spaced line-abreast formation and break - with a 1,000 foot wall of fire going off as well. The two C-130s came from behind the crowd and performed somewhat of a photo pass to set up to land on runway 34 with the A-10s and to conclude the Combined Arms Demonstration. This year's demonstration did not include the Hueys but it seemed more action-packed and jammed together in a shorter demonstration.
The last act of the day was the Thunderbirds. Prior to the start of their performance, the six officers took part in an enlistment ceremony for those young men and women from the Northeast who were about to "cross into the blue" and join the Air Force. The Thunderbird jets were parked off to the left, preventing anyone where I was sitting to see the ground show. Weather reports during their taxi out to runway 34 showed clouds at 4,000 feet and scattered clouds at 25,000 feet, which meant this would be a low show. The clouds lingered on as they had been positioned on the runway, where, by some stroke of luck, the wind direction changed and the sky above the show area were clear, allowing the Thunderbirds to perform a high show. Their performance on Saturday was the best performance I had seen all year long, as Rhode Island was my fourth Thunderbirds show of the year. However, their bomb burst wasn't the best, as one of the aircraft was a little off. It is a difficult maneuver and the chances of seeing a perfect bomb burst are practically 50/50.
I spent time after the show hanging out with some of the Thunderbirds as they were handing out autographs to those lucky spectators, as well as on the hot ramp with the performers, as well as getting ready for a short hop over Rhode Island. Dan McCue, who didn't fly during the show for unknown reasons, was still in attendance with his black and red L-39 Albatross and opted to give me a short flight over the Narragansett Bay area. The flight was pretty much a sightseeing tour over Southeast Rhode Island, going over two bridges, buzzing a couple lighthouses (not nearly as close as buzzing a control tower!), with some rolls and a few seconds of inverted flight thrown in as well. It was real nice to see the area from the air, as well as making a flyby over Quonset State Airport as a break to land, and landing back at the show site. I want to send a huge thank you to Dan McCue for taking the time and give me a ride in his beautiful L-39. Dan also gave Denise Decker, who happens to be the ICAS '01 Fan of the Year a ride right after mine. After the rides, I headed over to a country club not too far from the airport for a performer's party, where I got to meet and hang out with the Thunderbirds, the Red Barons, the CF-18 team (well, most of the guys who came from Canada), the pyro team of Rich's Incredible Pyro, announcer Larry Rutt, and the Tucker family, among others. To answer a few questions - no, I didn't have the lobster or that clam chowder (?) because I do not like seafood. I did have food with me for the ride home, which took 4½ hours, getting me home at 12:30 am. I think next year I will do an overnight stay.
Under the new rating system, consisting of either Excellent, Very Good, Good, Okay, Eh, or Poor, with a Plus and/or Minus when necessary, the 2004 Rhode Island ANG Open House & Airshows falls under the Excellent minus category because the weather was questionable throughout the entire day, plus the fact that the Red Devils were not in attendance, whereas I do believe their website said they would be attending. Oh well. I will definitely make the trip again next year, and if you think driving 9 hours/550 miles in one day for an airshow is too much, go to the show. It is well worth the trip.
I would like to send thank yous out to the following people that were in attendance and/or have helped out (for anything, even if it's taking time out to chat) with the airshow: Lt.Col. Michael McNamara, Lt.Col. Michael Chandler, Captain Dave Haworth, Captain Steve Rolenc, Captain Bruce Ehmann, Captain Dave Pletz, Dan McCue, Doug McDaniel, Denise Decker, Frank Ryder, Michael Goulian, Wyche T. Coleman (father and son), Larry Rutt, Rich Gibson and his team, Brian Norris, and Sean and the entire Tucker family.