September 7-9, 2001
Review written on September 10, 2001.
I would not call Willow Grove's show poor planning (I would never call any show's lineup poor planning!), but it was poor planning on my part. Unfortunately, Willow Grove's show took part on the same weekend my brother tied the knot, got hitched (in other words, married). That meant missing Friday night's Twilight Show and Saturday's show. However, going to Sunday's show wasn't a bad deal after all. Everyone who had attended last year's show were still under the feelings of the terrible tragedy that took place. I basically kept any thoughts of the crash to the back of my mind and said to myself, "The crash did not happen."
I had originally planned on leaving at 7AM, then it got shifted to no later than 7:30, but ended up leaving around 7:45. While we were on Route 611, two night attack Hornets from Andrews scared the living daylights out of us! The flying actually started well before the gates opened with the Alpha Squadron's radio controlled aircraft, some of which being an Extra 300, Cap 232, a Protege, and a MiG-15. Unfortunately, the MiG-15 had problems and crashed. The entire aircraft, all $10,000 worth of it - totaled. Some of the flying before the show included formation flybys and solo flybys of the FG-1D Corsair "Skyboss", flown by Dan Dameo and the P-47D Thunderbolt, flown by Derrick Dodds. Blue Angel #4 provided some early morning thunder by flying a test flight. From what I have heard from a number of sources, BA #4 has been having since all the way back in July when the team was in Bozeman, MT. Similar problems did take place in Lemoore, yet most of the problems at Lemoore were with #6.
Static displays this year were a lot more extensive than last year, with a based CH-53, AH-1W Cobra, Huey, two P-3s, A-10, C-130H, C-9 and a C-12 on display. Dover AFB brought in a C-5B Galaxy while the Wisconsin ANG brought in a KC-135R Stratotanker. Out of NAS/JRB Fort Worth was a brand new C-40A Clipper, based on the Boeing 737-700 airliner. Four Hornets turned up as did four T-38s, two coming from Holloman AFB in NM, one from Columbus AFB in Mississippi, and the other's home base slips my mind. A T-6 Texan II from Randolph AFB in Texas was a very nice sight. The larger T-1A Jayhawk was also present in the display, this aircraft coming all the way from Vance AFB in OK. The Navy provided two trainers for the show, namely a T-45 Goshawk and a T-2C Buckeye. The DVHAA had a lot of their displays out, some of the aircraft types escape my mind except for the S-2 Tracker, Huey medevac, and A-4 Skyhawk. The NJ ANG provided an F-16 for static and there were quite a few civillian types shown, namely Pipers and Cessnas. Warbird turnouts in the static displays included a pair of T-34s, a TBM Avenger, CJ-6A, Kate replica, L-17 Navion, and even a T-28. However, there were quite a few civillian aircraft that I was not able to identify.
While I was shooting the statics, Allen Smith took his L-39 Albatross in the air for a few passes. Granted, Allen doesn't have a true aerobatic demo, but seeing an L-39 flying is a nice treat. Kirk Wicker took off in the Beast, a 450hp Stearman, to set up for the Misty Blues' flag opening jump. An L-bird immediately took off after Kirk and departed the area. This was time for me to get back to the Alpha Squadron's roped off area. I staged myself from there, which was to the left of show center. It was different for a change to stage away from the Blues but at least the large majority of the flying was in front of us. Allen brought down the L-39 to let the opening ceremonies take place. Sandra Williams took the American flag down to salute the official opening of today's show. Kirk Wicker was up next with a solo act with the Beast. I have seen him fly at Lakehurst and he flies a very nice (and loud!) aerobatic act with the Stearman.
Herb Baker took "Ditto", a T-28C Trojan, for a short aerobatic routine. Although, I really wouldn't call it aerobatic because a T-28 is not something you want to do aerobatics in. Herb did show off the aircraft in some nice passes, and I must admit, seeing a T-28 fly is a very nice sight. Many of Herb's maneuvers with Ditto included rolling maneuvers and he ended with a carrier arrested simulated landing. Scott Shockley took the Super Shockwave jet truck for a test run. The truck is impressive and Scott must've gone 325 MPH in the test run!
A T-38 Talon from Holloman AFB took off immediately afterwards. Unfortunately, my camcorder acted up and I didn't get the takeoff!!! A T-38 flying at an airshow is very rare these days and unfortunately an opportunity was lost there. However, he made it up by making one high speed pass and departed for home. For being a small airplane (size comparison to almost the F-104), he sure is loud! Matt Chapman was up next in his CAP 231. I was looking forward to seeing him fly for a long time, and he is one heck of a pilot! It's no wonder he's one of the eight best civillian pilots in North American!
The MAGTF demo was next. Taking part in this year's MAGTF demo were a C-130 from the 913th AW in Willow Grove, a KC-130 from Stewart ANGB in New York state, four A-10s from the PA ANG, two F/A-18 Hornets from Andrews AFB, two CH-46 Sea Knights, two CH-53E Super Stallions, two AH-1W Cobras, and a UH-1N Huey. Combined with the pyro, the high humidity and the moisture levels in the atmosphere and the simulated bombing tactics, this made into one of the best MAGTF demos I've seen put on at Willow Grove. However, only one Hornet returned to land after all the aircraft were recovered. A Veterans War memorial ceremony was held immediately afterwards. I didn't really see it as much of anything except as something I could barely see from where I was videotaping from.
The Misty Blues took to the stage immediately afterwards. It's amazing how they are an all-women parachute team, whereas about 12% of all the skydivers in the world are women. And these gals are true professionals at their jumps! I admire them taking a plunge for our entertainment. I'm not much of a parachute person (I'll sway my opinion with the Golden Knights and Leap Frogs) but when there's women involved, I'm there! I was kidding, in a way. They're a great team! After the Misties, a warbird flight consisting of the FG-1D Corsair and the P-47 Thunderbolt took off - same pilots as in the morning. They flew quite a few formation passes as well as some single flight passes. It's always nice to see something different flying at an airshow.
Manfred Radius's tow plane, a Piper Pawnee provided by the Philadelphia Glider Council, took to the air, towing Manfred behind him. The Red Dragons showed off their CJ-6A to the crowd with a solo aerobatic demo. It was a nice demo, but what I was expecting was a two-ship dogfight demo. Oh well, I guess you can't get everything. Manfred then had the show to himself - the calmness of whisper flight in his Salto sailplane. His routine reminds me of Oscar Boesch's, except for the inverted ribbon cut. Yes, he does an inverted ribbon cut. I gotta say, that was impressive!
Kirk and Jane Wicker were up next. In my opinion, their wingwalking act is one of the best Stearman wingwalking acts I've ever seen. I've seen Eddie Andreini and I've seen Harvey and Margie and I've seen Kirk and Jane, and I'm giving my nod to the Wickers. They have the most interesting act in the entire area (except for Essel & Falkner but they don't use a Stearman) and Jane being the beautiful lady she is makes it even more enjoyable. Scott Shockley was challenged to a race with Herb Baker and "Ditto". From my vantage point, it looked like Herb won or it was a stalemate. I couldn't really tell... maybe the video can?
Frank Ryder took the Oreck XL Cyclone up next. That demo is always one of the most original being that he has a lot of incredible power from a one-of-a-kind airplane in the world. Sean Tucker was up next and he put on his incredible-as-always performance. He has a new maneuver and the name of it slips my mind right now. Sean is, in my opinion, the best bi-plane pilot with Jim LeRoy coming in a close second. The warbirds, consisting of the Corsair, Thunderbolt, and a Navy painted T-28 all departed for their respective bases.
Now it was time to turn the volume up with the USAF F-15 East Coast Demo Team. This year's demo pilot is Maj. Dan Blue, and he is one heck of an Eagle pilot! This year's demo seemed to be a lot closer than last year, much louder (maybe due to the wind blowing towards the crowd), and a lot more afterburner than last year with Chanz. The F-15 is an impressive plane. However, the only downside with the demo this year is that Maj. Blue didn't follow through on the takeoff as Chanz did last year, which was going into the tuck under/inverted before preparing for the high speed pass. Other than that, what a demo!!!
It was time for Maj. Blue to team up with Dale "Snort" Snodgrass in the AT&T F-86 Sabre. Maj. Blue and Snort flew three passes total to make up the Heritage Flight. As Maj. Blue landed the Eagle, Snort came in from the left at his typical very low altitude to start off his demonstration. Snort doesn't really fly a true aerobatic demonstration with the F-86 but he does fly it in almost the same style as when he was the demo pilot for the F-14 Tomcat. Unfortunately, the angle of the sun did no good for photography of the beautiful Sabre.
It was time for another departure. The remaining Marine Corps F/A-18C Hornet from Andrews departed with a steep climb as he passed the Blue Angels. Matt Chapman took to the air for a second time to show off the incredible maneuverability of that CAP 231. In the middle of his routine, the tents in the Alpha Squadron area started to blow away because of a few gusts of wind. Matt performed another incredible aerobatic performance and landed in time for the F-117 to return to the area. The Nighthawk performed three passes and a low transition pass before landing. The F-117 isn't much of a performer but it's always good to see one perform a few flybys.
A Beech Baron immediately departed the show for reasons beyond my knowledge. Immediately afterwards, the two F-15s belonging to the F-15 East Coast Demo Team departed one by one in a "playful" fashion - both pilots dipping the wings on takeoff with the second Eagle performing a low transition takeoff and a high alpha climb.
The Blue Angels were up and closed the show. Interestingly enough, Sunday's demonstration was filled with a lot of events. The narrator for the Blues included a small dedication to Lieutenants Bill Dey and David Bergstrom, the two pilots who lost their lives at last year's show. It was very hard to tell that the Blues dedicated their show to these two great guys because it was mentioned by the narrator as soon as he was given the mic. Fat Albert flew his usual incredible JATO display, but with having the sun where it was, it was too hard to get good shots of that.
Because of the weather, the Blues were forced to fly a low show on Sunday. Even with that problem, the Blue Angels themselves had problems of their own. They flew the #4 jet before the airshow on a test flight to validate that it was in the right condition to fly a show. They had deliberately parked Blue Angel #7 at the far end of the runway, all the way to show right. The Blues performed the first series of maneuvers flawlessly until the sneak pass. When the diamond showed in front of the crowd, it was a diamond three formation. Everyone (included myself) expected the worse. Fortunately, after the sneak pass, Blue Angel #4 was seen landing and taxiing towards the end of the flight line at a very high speed. To make the story short, he parked out where #7 was standing, hopped out of #4 and into #7 and the entire ordeal was finished within 10 minutes. Blue Angel #7 was already warmed up and ready to fly at a moment's notice! He joined up with the rest of the formation to finish the show.
As a side note, I would like to thank "Fast" Eddie Leuter and the Alpha Squadron for the "hospitality" I and my party received and Gordon Bowman-Jones for his kindness in the past year and a half. I will definitely be back again next year!
Announcer: Gordon Bowman-Jones