October 13-14, 2001
Review written on October 22, 2001.
Rotorfest is truly a one-of-a-kind event. Every year since 1996, the American Helicopter Museum in West Chester, PA, in conjunction with David Schultz Airshows, puts on a very nice airshow showcasing rotorcraft. This is the only all-helicopter airshow in the country. A wide variety of rotorcraft, from news choppers, police choppers, all the way to the military hardware like the Apache and Super Stallion attend the event. The 2001 show was no exception. Rotorfest was one of the very few airshows that still went on after the tragic events of September 11, 2001.
Because of the military protocols and callups, there were not that many military helicopters in attendance. The Hueys and Cobras that were expected did not show up, presumably because of either weather or military assignments. What did show up in the military side were a TH-57A Sea Ranger from NAS Whiting Field, FL, two different CH-53E Super Stallions from Willow Grove (both were not in the static display - one flew and departed on Saturday while the other arrived and showed off on Sunday), an MH-53E Sea Stallion from NAS Norfolk, VA, and an Apache from Morrisville, NC. The Coast Guard brought an HH-65A Daulphin from Atlantic City, rounding out the military participation. The Philadelphia Police, Delaware State Police, and Amtrak Police showed up with their Bell 206 and 407 choppers. A major inclusion in this year's Rotorfest was the annual Bell 47 fly-in. At least three different variants of the Bell 47 were in attendance. Four medivac choppers were in attendance, provided by Pennstar, Hahnemann Hospital, Skycare Flight, and Christiana Hospital in Delaware. NBC10 (WCAU-TV, Philadelphia) had their AS350BA chopper in attendance as well. Many other smaller civillian helicopters were scattered throughout the flight line for a close look.
Patroitism was a huge theme in this year's event. The decision to go on with the show was a very good one, as it brought out the fact that America would not be deterred from our everyday life. Songs like Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA, Neil Diamond's Coming to America, Lee Greenwood's Proud to be an American graced over the speakers before the official airshow began.
The Apache ended up leaving before the official opening of Sunday's show because of the bad weather that was to come ahead. However, no departure is without its demonstration. The Apache guys showed off the chopper with about 4 minutes of in-your-face maneuvering, including flying backwards, sideways, and maneuvering 360º. He performed three passes, in high speed, slow speed, and a photo pass before departing. To add with the demonstration, the announcer even mentioned that the Apache is what Osama bin Laden should meet face-to-face!
A quick look at the static display was next just before Skycare Flight's BK105CBS arrived. Following that, we grabbed some hot dogs and the CH-53 screamed overhead at approximately 100 feet off the ground before coming to land and park. The CH-53 taxxied down the runway at the Brandywine airport and hovered into its parking spot before shutting down. Going to the opposite end of the flight line were some aircraft. A T-28, two Piper Cubs, a Cessna 180, Yak-52 and an Su-26 were parked down by a hangar near the museum building. With the exception of the C180, these were aircraft based at the Brandywine airport brought out to help lift the spirits of the pilots, who were devasated by the airspace restrictions brought on by the tragedy of September 11.
At 1PM, it was time for the official start of the show. The colors of the flag were presented by five members of the Junior ROTC of the Coatesville Senior High School. The national anthem was sung by a local singer, and I will not try spelling out her name because I will screw it up bigtime. A little mixup with the anthem caused her to start a little into the song, but she did a very nice job. Lauren Hart and Kate Smith's rendation of God Bless America, played during the opening night of the 2001 Philadelphia Flyer's season was up next. It's a very nice stadium rendetion of the classic song. You can easily tell this was recorded right from the First Union Center.
A Bell 47 started off the first show. This was the same Bell 47 that flew last year, showing off red, white, and blue whereever possible on the chopper. At the same time of the demonstration, Igor Sikorsky's son, was at the mike and was one of the guest speakers for the show. The Bell 47 demonstration consisted of a lot of flying backwards, sideways, and included a demonstration using auto-rotation.
Pennstar's BK117 was up next. The pilots showed off the number of lights that are found on the bottom of the helicopter (I counted a lot... 12, maybe 14) through hovering and maneuvering around 360º and doing so again. He then performed a medium speed pass with the siren on, which was very interesting, in my opinion. He departed to let the Delaware State Police show off their Bell 206. The DE State Police armes the nose of their 206 with a powerful search headlight and an ugly blue paint scheme. He showed off hovering for about two minutes and climbed away to perform one pass and departed.
NBC10 was up next with their AS350BA. The chopper has a very nice paint job, with the NBC peacock logo on the nose and on the fuselage. Below the cockpit windows was their channel number logo, which can be easily described as a big, white, 10 inside a dark blue box. While flying sideways for a while, the NBC crew showed off their gyrocam in action. You couldn't tell they were recording but you could see the camera moving. He maneuvered around to perform a pass and came back to land while the Coast Guard took the Daulphin for a spin.
The HH-65 Daulphin has a very distinct sound made by a combination of the rotorblades and the turboshaft engines. The Coast Guard crew out of Atlantic City performed a Search and Rescue demonstration. It's always nice to see one at an airshow rather than in reality. After retrieving the victim, the Daulphin performed some hovering, flying sideways and backwards. Finally, they performed a low, high-speed, photo pass before positioning into their spot on the flight line. An S-76 from the Hahnemann Hospital departed and performed a high speed pass and a dirty pass into the clean configuration. To end the first show, one of the local radio controlled modelers showed off their R/C helicopter. At the controls, the pilot showed just some things the larger choppers cannot do, like loops, flying inverted, and even a 4-point roll.
Another tour of the static display was needed. There were approximately ten new cars on the flight line, all brand new 2002 models. Namely, some of them were a Honda Accord, Saab 93, Ford Explorer, Ford F-250, Buick Rendezvous, some Mercedes-Benzes, and a BMW M3, to name a few. To be honest, I expected a lot more. I was expecting to see the new Toyota Camry (which will be my future new car), more GM cars, Kia, Mazda, and Toyotas. Another local modeler had his R/C Bell 47 (modeled after the Bell 47s from M*A*S*H flown for about three minutes in front of the museum building, just six feet from a small crowd of spectators. Skycare Flight's BK105CBS must've departed sometime between his arrival and the show because he had passed overhead and landed. At that time, we were touring the CH-53 and found out that the crew and the Philly Police Corporals with the -53 volunteered time at Ground Zero, looking for signs of life in the World Trade Center rubble.
The second show started off at 3 pm with Joe Borin flying his gyrocopter. His demonstration included how the craft flies differently than any other autogyro and helicopter. The top speed for a gyrocopter is about 55 mph, the speed limit on the stretch of I-295 in New Jersey, between exits 27 (Route 42) and 34 (Marlton - Route 70). An RAF2000 flew next, showing a little more speed than the gyrocopter, and another personal garage-sized chopper.
The Bell 47 that flew earlier in the day flew again for another demonstration, this one similar to the early afternoon demonstration. However, more hovering was in store for this demonstration and there was no auto-rotation demonstration as well. The Coast Guard flew another Search and Rescue demonstration. This one had the Daulphin arrive in the opposite direction from the early afternoon's demonstration. The Daulphin performed one pass before departing for Atlantic City.
The last opportunity to get on local television was up with NBC10's AS350BA news chopper. Once again, the pilots showed off how the gyrocam works while hovering the chopper in front of the crowd for about two minutes. He performed one high speed pass before departing and giving the show to the Delaware State Police and their Bell 206. Once again, the DE State Police hovered for some time before positioning for their one pass and departure.
The real highlight of the show was the CH-53E Super Stallion's demonstration. The Willow Grove crew kept the chopper in front of the crowd for a good three or so minutes. He was at least 50 feet in front and 100 feet up and the propwash was intense! Pitching the nose down approximately 75º, they headed out to set up for the first pass, a slow speed, high alpha pass and pitch down towards show left. His final pass was a high speed photo pass and departure back to Willow Grove. This did not officially end the show, however.
Mr. Piasecki was in attendance as well. The day I attended the show, Sunday, was his 82nd birthday as well. The CH-53 departed around 3:35 pm, and the MH-53 was to follow. However, there was an APU problem, preventing a departure at that time. We hung around until around 4:20, when the MH-53 was fired up. When he finally got off the ground, he flew around, created some propwash, and came back to the show line for just one pass before heading home. And thus Rotorfest ended my 2001 airshow season.
I would like to give a special thanks to David Schultz once again for his hospitality for the show.