West Chester, PA
October 16-17, 2004
Airshow report written on
November 14, 2004.
As with the last several years, I have closed out my airshow season by visiting a small airport in West Chester, Pennsylvania that plays host to a very unique airshow. Rotorfest, as it is called, is an all-helicopter airshow, featuring military helicopters as well as civillian helicopters all the way to sport helicopters like autogyros and gyrocopters. Rotorfest is held at the Brandywine Airport, home of the American Helicopter Museum & Education Center, which houses many helicopters from different eras of aviation. Some of their notable helicopters in the collection include a Pitcairn Autogyro, a UH-1 Huey, various models from Hiller, all the way to one of the prototype V-22 Osperys that still exist. Over the last several years, the airport has had several huge additions built, including one large hangar where helicopters were once parked for the airshow. Nowadays, that grass field has been reduced in half, allowing for about ten helicopters to be parked there instead of nearly twenty.
I had gone home for the weekend to help out with my parent's garage sale, which was held on Saturday, which worked out great for me because I had planned on going to Rotorfest on Sunday only, just like in the past. If you're curious, I didn't make enough money to help me get through the next month and a half (I start working again around Thanksgiving and will be asking for a nice pay raise - I hope I get it because $7.72 an hour doesn't cut it!) but somehow I got a good chunk of money which would probably last until Thanksgiving, as long as I don't touch it (which didn't happen... its like a rainy day fund but I've taken a few bucks out of there to cover some expenses). I was up early on Sunday and left my place in Marlton earlier than I had in past years since a good friend of mine said he could get me on the military helicopter ramp before the general public does. I got to Brandywine Airport around 9:45 and checked out the military ramp, which included a UH-60A Blackhawk, UH-60L Blackhawk, CH-53E Super Stallion, AH-64A Apache, two Eurocopter BK117s from Pennstar, and a CGAS Atlantic City HH-65 Dauphin. They were parked on the other side of the airport, where the lighting is 1,000 times better than on the museum side. The Freefall Adventures Parachute Team would have had their Alloutte parked on the military ramp, but they had a mechanical problem with the helicopter, which was the main reason for their absence on Sunday.
On the museum side, there were no less than four Bell 47s, two Enstrom 280FXs, a Bell 206 JetRanger, MagniGyro, A-Star 350s from CBS3 in Philadelphia and WTXF FOX29 in Philadelphia, an MD900 NOTAR from SkyFlightCare, a Bell 407 from the Delaware State Police, a couple Robinson R22s, Schweitzer 269, a Eurocopter SA 365 (he departed right before the first airshow), SnoBird Adventurer, and Eurocopter EC135 from Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Rides were given in an Enstrom 280 and the Bell 206, and I took advantage of getting a ride in a helicopter. The rides were $35, and I had thought that if they were any more than $40, I would not go up. The flight lasted barely ten minutes, but in my opinion, was worth every dollar. Visibility at about 1,000 feet was very good, as I was able to spot the Salem (NJ) nuclear facility as well as the Philadelphia skyline. It was nice being able to spot certain places and roads - I believe I recognized US 202 and 322 as well as Paoli Pike, and a Wawa somewhere. Helicopters are much slower than airplanes, and you can really tell how slow you're going in any helicopter over, say, a Cessna. No Gs were pulled, but I was expecting to feel something on takeoff, but it was very smooth. It's a good thing I went first thing in the morning because the line for helicopter rides got long enough that a second Enstrom 280 was brought around from the static display to accompany the other two choppers in giving rides!
There were three different airshows scheduled each day at Rotorfest, with the Black Daggers set to open the first airshow, but they could not jump because of the gusty winds. That did not mean that flying could not take place, as a Bell 47 was the first helicopter in front of the crowd. It was a different Bell 47 than in past years, which is nice, since there were quite a few Bell 47s in attendance at Rotorfest. The demonstration consisted of several passes down the runway and demonstrated simple rotary wing flight. After the Bell 47 landed, the UH-60 Blackhawk that was to have been the jump platform for the Black Daggers was already hovering over runway 27 and began to perform a makeshift demonstration. The Blackhawk demonstration consisted of two high speed passes, a pass demonstrating how a chopper can fly sideways, and a third high speed pass. It's always nice to see military helicopters in flight, and the Blackhawk would be the only military helicopter that would fly that day.
Being in New Brunswick nowadays, I do not know the markings of the various news choppers that the New York City network affiliates fly just yet, so coming down to Rotorfest, I was able to get to see the Philadelphia area's news choppers once again. CBS3 in Philadelphia (KYW) had their A-Star 350 in the air first and I must say, I miss the news choppers from the Delaware Valley! The Chopper 3 crew made a high speed pass, followed by some hovering, and one final high speed pass before landing on the grass field towards show left. After Chopper 3 landed, Chris Burgess took his SnoBird Adventurer up for a short demonstration. Chris' aircraft is an autogyro and if my memory serves me correctly, it was the first time he's appeared at Rotorfest. After Chris landed, he demonstrated that the autogyro can actually back up! Chris' performance helped close out the first third of the day's flying activities.
Brandywine Airport was reopened to traffic, including several general aviation departures - notably a Cessna 172, Piper Cherokee, Pilatus PC-7, and a Diamond Katana. Helicopter rides were being given as well with the Bell 206 and an Enstrom 280. It didn't take very long between the first and second show for the second airshow to start, which started with a Search and Rescue Demonstration by the HH-65 Dauphin from Atlantic City. Besides putting on a search and rescue demonstration, the Coast Guard pilots love to show off basic helicopter flight with the Dauphin, and that day was no exception. The Dauphin performed another pass before landing on the military ramp, letting the Delaware State Police show off their newest helicopter. Sporting a new paint job, the Delaware State Police brought in their newest Bell 407 JetRanger and showed off the helicopter with two high speed passes and a good deal of hovering around show left (but not in that order). The paint scheme on the Bell 407 matches the paint job on the Delaware State Police's patrol cars - many of which you would see on DE Route 1 and on US Route 13, if you know where they like to hide.
Going from police choppers to news choppers, another A-Star was up in the air as the Delaware State Police departed. Fox 29 (WTXF-TV Philadelphia) took their A-Star 350 in the air for the first time over Rotorfest (at least since I've been attending). The Fox helicopter pilots really showed off the maneuverability of the A-Star in a couple of repositioning maneuvers before hovering towards show left and showing off the paint scheme of the helicopter, nicknamed SkyFox. After SkyFox left the demonstration area, Chris Burgess had the SnoBird Adventurer started up once again and flew another demonstration. Chris' performance during the second show was vastly similar to his demonstration in the first show, but included a nearly full demonstration of auto-rotation. After Chris landed, it was time for the second demonstration of a Bell 47 to take place. The second demonstration was pretty much a mirror of the first performance, and it showed that Bell 47 pilots really love to show off their helicopter to the crowd, which in this case, demonstrating a spiraling climb and climbing "in reverse". After one more pass, the Bell 47 was down on the ground, concluding the second airshow.
Rides were being given during the second break, with the number of helicopters giving rides increased to three, since the line for helicopter rides seemed to be endless. Members of the junior ROTC at Coatesville High School help present the colors while the National Anthem was being played, with a couple keynote speakers taking the microphone before the third airshow got underway. Taking the skies for the third show was the UH-60 Blackhawk, with the Black Daggers on board, which meant there was a very good chance they would jump, despite being very windy. Behind the Blackhawk was the HH-65 Dauphin, which was going to perform a second search and rescue demonstration for the day. The Coast Guard crew performed the search and rescue demonstration and immediately left to reposition, without performing any hovering. They came by for a "wing-dip" pass, if you want to call it that, before coming around to land on runway 27 and parking on the museum side of the display area.
SkyFlightCare brought in their newest helicopter, an MD-592 to the show for a demonstration. The major difference between that helicopter from all of the helicopters at Rotorfest is that it is a NOTAR, or a helicopter with no tail rotor. It is a surprisingly loud helicopter, as compared to the Bell 206s and A-Stars. The MD-592 departed as the Blackhawk circled above, waiting for the right moment for the Black Daggers to jump from I believe 8,000 feet up. Coming down first was the announcer for the Black Daggers, carrying the POW/MIA flag down as well. Jumping with the rest of the jumpers was a member of the 82nd Airborne, who had the unique pleasure to jump with the Black Daggers that day. The Black Daggers performed a HALO jump, meaning that the jumpers had opened their parachutes at high altitude with a low opening. All of the jumpers were in their combat uniforms and demonstrated landings with their essential fighting equipment on them. The Black Daggers helped close out Rotorfest 2004's flying displays, but the crowds stayed because there were rides to be given and helicopters to depart.
I had spent the next hour or so after the show meeting up with several photographers and getting unique shots of helicopters on the ground with helicopters in flight, as well as helicopter/airplane formation shots (they weren't true formation shots but they appeared to be in formation). One of the Enstroms, along with the three Bell 47s departed in front of the crowd, while one of the UH-60 Blackhawks gave a little show, including a high speed pass as part of his departure.
Rotorfest 2004 ranks among the best Rotorfest, in terms of sky conditions, but it would have been better had the wind cooperated! It was a very good Rotorfest, despite the lack of military participation in the aerial display. However, military participation in the show was a lot better than it was in 2003! I'll be back again in 2005. Special thanks goes out to David Schultz Airshows for putting together another great Rotorfest and the traditional information gouging.
If you're wondering why it took me a while to get this airshow report up, it's because I was bogged down in work with classes. I was able to put some time away to finish the report and get it uploaded without it being a month after the show!
Tentative Military Demonstrations