2005 NAS/JRB Willow Grove Air Fest
NAS/JRB Willow Grove, Pennsylvania
May 27-29, 2005
Airshow report uploaded on June 25, 2005.
With the two long airshow trips (Langley AFB and Andrews AFB) behind me, it was finally time to focus on the local shows. I somehow survived Millville, even though my allergies were bothering me that day, and to make things worse, I had come down with symptoms of what I thought was either strep throat, tonsillitis, or a bout of infectious mononucleosis, in the days after Millville's show. At first I thought it would be mono, considering the last several weeks and who I've been around (think of what the disease's nickname is), but it turned out that I actually did have strep throat. That meant I would have to take it easy, and I did not want to miss Willow Grove's airshow. The original plan was to head up to the area Thursday evening for a barbeque, hang out outside of the base on Friday afternoon to catch some arrivals and the practice show, go on base Friday night for the nighttime show, and be on base Saturday and Sunday, and stay overnight at a friend's place Thursday night through Saturday night, mainly to save money on gas and tolls. That didn't happen because I did not want to get him or his family sick, so I went up there Friday and went home that night and came back on Saturday. I was set to go on Sunday, but I didn't go, because I was a little tired from the past two days. I regret not going, since Sunday had the best weather.
I did go ahead with my plans on watching the practice show from outside of the base. The spotting area where I usually watch from was very crowded, considering this was an airshow weekend. I don't have the spot(s) listed on my site because the local police and the military police are against people spotting at Willow Grove, even though there is a group of photographers who hang out at different spots around the base on a regular basis. I had thought that the roads around the spotting areas would be closed when the Blue Angels were flying, but I was wrong. Traffic flowed through normally without any problems (until it came to be time to get on the base), and I got to see one heck of a different angle on a Blue Angels show. It's a shame I wasn't out by the approach lights to Runway 33 because when the Blue Angel solos took off, anyone standing by the approach lights would literally be thrown to the ground by Blue Angel #6's exhaust when he would pull up into the vertical.
As soon as the Blue Angels finished their last maneuver, I made my way onto the base. Timing hit me with a nice little tune, as I got on just at the right time to catch the one airplane I wanted to see come in - the F-14D Tomcat. The F-14 is on the verge of retirement, with the last of the jets gone by this time next year (use the date the airshow report was uploaded to figure out the time). There was supposed to be three F-14s coming in for the show - one from VF-31, one from VF-101, and one from VF-213. Then it got changed to one from VF-101 and two from VF-213. Unfortunately, only one of the VF-213 aircraft came in, and luckily for us, it was the CAG bird. The Tomcat was towed onto the static display area, along with a T-45 Goshawk and a T-34 Mentor that were also evening arrivals. Large aircraft on display included a C-130H Hercules from Colorado Springs in Colorado, an MC-130 Combat Talon from Moody AFB in Georgia, P-3C Orion from VP-66 Liberty Bells at Willow Grove, and a C-9B Skytrain from VR-52 Taskmasters at Willow Grove. Fighters, aside from the F-14, included a pair of F-16C Fighting Falcons from the Vermont ANG, an F/A-18C Hornet from VFC-12 Fighting Omars at NAS Oceana, an F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-106 Gladiators at Oceana, an F/A-18C Hornet from the Gladiators, and a home-based A-10 Thunderbolt II from the Pennsylvania ANG. Other military aircraft and helicopters included a home-based C-12 Huron, another C-12 Huron, a home-based CH-53E Super Stallion, an MH-53 Sea Dragon from NAVSTA Norfolk, an S-3B Viking from NAS Jacksonville in Florida (it was a CAG and it had the name of a former Blue Angel boss on the side!), a T-6A Texan II from Pensacola, the mentioned T-34 Mentor and T-45 Goshawk, a C-21 Learjet, and an SH-60 Seahawk. Civillian aircraft (including warbirds) included a Cessna 152, Civil Air Patrol Cessna 182, a Cessna 170, two Grumman Tigers, T-28 Trojan, a PT-17 Stearman, and a Grob glider. It wasn't the best static listing ever for Willow Grove, but the gem of the statics was the F-14.
The flying display for the evening was started off by Michael Goulian. It was Mike's first time performing at Willow Grove, and I really think he deserves to be back next year, that's if Willow Grove remains open, since the base is on the proposed BRAC list. Mike is clearly one of the best aerobatic performers out there and ranks up in the same category as Sean Tucker, both in personality and flying styles. I do believe that Mike is a crowd favorite for Willow Grove, putting on some pressure for Matt Chapman, who was also flying at Willow Grove alongside Mike. After Mike landed, one performer I wasn't sure would be at Willow Grove, but did appear, went up to fly his performance next. That was Frank Ryder, who has been a regular at Willow Grove's shows since at least 1997. I've never seen Frank fly his performance in the evening, so that was a nice treat to see. It's still the same performance, just a few hours later than what I'm used to see. I will be seeing both Frank and Mike a number of times this year, having already seen both performers at least once before Willow Grove (Frank was at Andrews and Mike was at Langley).
One thing that was very different at Willow Grove was the announcer. Ever since I have been going to airshows at Willow Grove, it has always been Gordon Bowman-Jones announcing year after year. I mentioned earlier in the year that things would be a little different this year, with Phantoms and Raptors in Heritage Flights, different announcers at different airshows, and new aerobatic performances I was sure to see. Willow Grove fit into the announcer category. Since the folks at Willow Grove got some assistance with their show from the folks at NAS Oceana, it seemed right that Frank Kingston Smith would be announcing at the Grove. In some ways, that's true, because before Frank announced airshows, he was a deejay for WFIL and WIBG in the late 60s and in 1970, so announcing at Willow Grove was a homecoming of sorts for Frank. He did announce an airshow at Lakehurst, NJ in 2001, but that was New Jersey and not Pennsylvania.
A local performer was up next, and that was Matt Chapman. Matt is debuting a new airplane to his airshow performance, as well as a new set of sponsors, including Futaba and Lycoming as the major sponsors. Matt has a CAP 231, while Mike Goulian has a CAP 232, but Matt has modified his CAP 231 so much that it has become a new airplane, which he calls the CAP 580. It spots a new overall yellow paint job with splatters of color paint all over the top of the wings, the fuselage, and the tail, while the bottom of the plane sports a nice red target, which can be seen as a little bit of a tease for some people. Matt still has an energetic performance and its tough to say whether Matt's is more aggressive or whether Michael Goulian's is more aggressive. After Matt landed a C-130H Hercules from Niagara Falls, New York took off with members of the USSOCOM Parachute Team for their evening jump. The C-130 came around for a streamer pass, as is typical of all parachute teams, before climbing to altitude and letting the Skytypers take off. Flying at dusk was no challenge for the Skytypers, since they put on a decent show, with a couple of their maneuvers taken out of the performance to save time as it did get darker and darker every minute, and there was a jump team up high that needed to jump at a specific time. I do believe one of the SNJs from the Skytypers did have a small gear problem, but it was rectified immediately with no problems whatsoever.
After the Skytypers landed, the USSOCOM Parachute Team was next, jumping out of the C-130 at an altitude of about 4,500 feet, which seemed rather low, since it was practically clear out all around Willow Grove. Four jumpers exited the Hercules, each one carrying a different flag. The first jumper brought down the American flag, while the second and third jumpers brought down respective flags of two branches of the Armed Services, while the last jumper brought in the POW/MIA flag - all to a cheering crowd (at least it was around me, and I was at far show right). After all of the jumpers were on the ground and the C-130 safely out of the aerobatic box, the Showcopters had the stage for their performance. It has been almost eight years since I last saw the Showcopters, and in fact, the last time I saw them was at Willow Grove in 1997! They are the only helicopter team in North America, flying three Robinson helicopters - two R22s and one R44, and their performance is spent demonstrating helicopter flight characteristics with opposing maneuvers, formation flying, and "dancing" between all three helicopters. I was so happy to finally see the Showcopters once again after so many years! In fact, Chuck Lischer (whose website is down as of June 15) decided to fly with the Showcopters by performing part of his performance with the team in flight! As the Showcopters went out to land, Chuck went on to perform a shortened version of his performance, mainly because dusk was becoming night faster and faster.
After Chuck landed, the C-130 Hercules was on its final approach to Runway 15, as it was holding for quite some time while the Showcopters and Chuck Lischer were flying. Then there was a small break in the flying to let dusk become total darkness, or as best as it could with the time that we had. Manfred Radius was the first of the nighttime performers. Manfred flies a pretty good nighttime display, complete with pyrotechnics off the wingtips of his glider, which always seem to burn off about mid-way through his performance. Maybe Manfred should consider starting his nighttime performance at about 5,000 feet up instead of 6,000 feet up... the daytime performance could remain unchanged. Afterwards, my favorite nighttime act, featuring the Red Bull MiG-17 and its pilot, Bill Reesman, took off. I say its my favorite nighttime performance because Bill flies the only nighttime jet performance with pyrotechnics coming off the wingtips and the smoke tanks of the MiG, plus the MiG-17 is a very fast airplane.
As soon as Bill landed, it was time for the Shockwave Jet Truck to perform a nighttime run. Compared to Scott Hammack and the AF Reserve Jet Car, Kent Shockley absolutely LOVES to put out smoke and fire and do burner pops a mighty with the jet truck. Kent teamed up with Rich Gibson and helped to put on one heck of a dry run, with the Shockwave going about 245 mph and Rich Gibson's pyro team setting off huge bombs at key intervals along Kent's run. Those pyro bombs were loud, and you know what... they were loud enough to actually give me a little scare! Those pyro bombs included some fireworks inside as well, easily making nighttime briefly appear to be daytime. After Kent deployed the parachutes on the Shockwave, a cool night at Willow Grove got warm real fast (and only for a few minutes), since Rich set off a wall of fire that was about 1,000 feet long. I had strep throat, didn't bother to bring my coat, and I get a little help from a wall of fire.
It took about five minutes to clean up and put out the fires left by the wall of fire, and by the time they were out, the fireworks were on. Pyrotechnico, which is a local Pennsylvania company, helped put together Willow Grove's fireworks display and they put on a decent fireworks display, better than watching a fireworks display in the evening as it was at Millville and ending a very good twilight and nighttime show at NAS/JRB Willow Grove. Hopefully it wouldn't the last time a twilight show would appear over the area.
I got an early start on Saturday, arriving at Willow Grove around 8:15 in the morning, but for some strange reason, people weren't being let on earlier, since that has been the case in the past! I was able to get on at 8:30 with no problem, going through security quickly with no problems either. The skies were practically clear at the time, and aircraft were flying (namely a T-28 and Allen Smith giving more media flights in his L-39) before the show was to officially start. I had found the perfect spot to set up at in between two of the VIP and reserved seating areas, real close to show center, but after I had walked the static displays and gotten back, that spot was roped off and my chair missing. I eventually found my chair and set up a spot at show left, but not at the crowd line, which worked to my disadvantage later on in the day. One of these days I'm going to bring caution tape to an airshow and rope off my chair so nobody can go near and past where I am! Oh, I also noted a Storch on static display.
The first of the airshow aircraft to take off was a C-130H Hercules from Niagara Falls, as it was the jump plane for the USSOCOM Parachute Team. Following that was an arrival of a medevac Eurocopter BK-117 from the nearby University Hospital and Manfred Radius setting up for his performance later on the day, being towed by a Cessna 170. A few minutes later, the C-130 was at jump altitude, which was about 6,500 feet up, with the first jumper exiting the aircraft, freefalling for about fifteen seconds before opening his parachute and revealing the American flag. Frank Kingston Smith played a rather unique version of the national anthem, which sounded like a church choir because it was not a profound way of singing the national anthem. After he landed, the remaining four members of the USSOCOM Parachute Team exited in the next pass, forming up after exiting and performing a bomb burst, a la Golden Knights-style. Each of the four jumpers brought down a flag representing the different branches of the Armed Services, with the first and second jumpers bringing in flags representing the Air Force Reserves and the Marine Corps, and the last two jumpers bringing in flags representing the Departments of the Navy and the Air Force, respectively.
The C-130 made its way back to Willow Grove via Runway 33. The reason behind the C-130s at Willow Grove coming from other bases is that the fleet of C-130s that are based at Willow Grove are grounded because of (I believe) a wing root problem. It doesn't involve any of the C-130Hs, only the C-130Es, which the 913th Airlift Wing have. You could call the three C-130s that were there as lenders, and none of the newer C-130Ts from VR-64 were present that weekend. After the C-130 got off the runway, the Showcopters were up in the air and ready to begin their performance. They fly one very unique performance, including head-on passes between two of the helicopters, all three helicopters flying in a circle, so to speak, as well as a short demonstration of helicopter flight narrated by lead pilot Jim Cheatham and performed by his two wingmen. The Showcopters conclude their demonstration by performing a "helicopter dance", which isn't really a dance per se, but its good enough. The entire performance utilizes Richard Wagner's famous Ride of the Valkyries music selection.
After the Showcopters landed, it was time for another different type of airplane to take to the skies. The aircraft was a Falcon 900EX business jet. The particular 900EX flying at Willow Grove was the Dassault company's demonstrator jet. It is powered by three small turbofan engines that don't put out a whole lot of thrust and noise, and is one of the quietest jets I have ever heard in my entire life. It is a very clean aircraft, with very little in terms of antennas sticking off the fuselage of the aircraft and has no winglets. It is capable of a maximum speed of .87 Mach and a maximum certified altitude of 51,000 feet, and can reach destinations over 4,000 nautical miles away without refueling. Those are all very impressive numbers for an aircraft of its size. The flight crew involves the pilot and copilot, with provisions of up to fifteen passengers in the normal configuration. The demonstration consisted of a high angle of attack takeoff (with a short takeoff run of about 2,000 feet), a low altitude high speed pass, a slow speed pass with the gear down, followed by a minimum radius turn, and a landing that used about 2,500 feet of runway. It makes me want to go buy one, but I don't think I have the several million dollars it costs to get one.
So, yeah, for a second there I felt like I was at either Paris or at Farnborough, since a business jet did a demonstration! After the Falcon 900EX taxied off 33, an L-29 Delphi piloted by Don "Beetle" Bailey took off and Don went out to set up for his performance, since Manfred Radius was in the area and ready to let go of the tow plane. In past Willow Grove shows, Manfred had a Piper Pawnee as his tow plane, but a different pilot was nice enough to take Manfred aloft, being towed by a Cessna 170. Manfred's signature maneuver with the Salto sailplane is to perform an inverted ribbon cut, which he missed on Saturday, but that's okay because it is incredibly difficult to do it with a glider (when he was at Dayton two years ago, he didn't touch the ribbon until the last day of the show, which was really cool, in my opinion). After Manfred landed, Don Bailey came back for an aerobatic display with the L-29. The L-29 makes a howling sound which somewhat reminds me of an F-104 (watch the Italian Air Force F-104 videos from 2004 on FlightLevel350.com and you'll understand what I'm talking about), and it sounds pretty cool. It's actually louder than an L-39, whether we're talking about full power or at idle. Don flew that performance with mostly vertical maneuvers and few low-level maneuvers. Oh yeah, the L-29 is smaller than the L-39.
The next airplane in the air after the L-29 was another Willow Grove regular - Herb Baker and Ditto, a T-28 Trojan. Herb added a new smoke system on the T-28, utilizing wingtip smoke and deleting the traditional smoke system. The wingtip smoke is a great addition but the only problem is that it tend to linger a little longer than I expected. Either way, I think the wingtip smoke made his performance a lot more appealing and much better than in the past. Following Herb & Ditto was Kent Shockley and my favorite jet vehicle - the Shockwave Jet Truck. The Shockwave has become somewhat of a regular performer at Willow Grove, although that is shared by the Super Shockwave, which is the '57 Chevy truck with a couple jet engines attached. Kent loves to throw out a lot of fire and smoke when he's behind the wheel, and he made it clear at Willow Grove! He didn't race anybody, but did get up to about 260-some miles an hour.
The Skytypers were next on the schedule. I still think they are one team that I think should put a little more noise into their show, but this weekend they had a good reason not to put out a whole lot of noise - they were doing two shows in one weekend. They flew out of Willow Grove, did a performance here, then following their final maneuver, each of the six SNJs made a pass down the runway and headed off to Jones Beach, New York, for that airshow. By the time the Skytypers departed the area, you could tell the clouds were starting to roll in, as the aerobatic box around Willow Grove remained clear but clouds were building to the north and around the base. Following their departure was another departure, this time a flight of four A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from the 111th Fighter Wing (Pennsylvania ANG) from Willow Grove. The A-10s went out to set up for their tactical demonstration later on in the day, letting Allen Smith take off and show off his L-39. Allen has been a regular at Willow Grove since at least 1997 and has brought the L-39 each time he was there. Allen told me that this year would be his last year at Willow Grove flying the L-39 as it was configured, and in a few months time, it will be modified in a way that will make his performance look a lot better. I'm still waiting for the day he gets a Level I waiver (I believe he has a Level II waiver right now).
After Allen landed, Matt Chapman was already in the air and began showing off his new CAP 580. Matt still flies the same performance profile he did with the 231 a couple years ago when I last saw him fly. Matt's CAP 580 spots a new overall yellow paint job with splatters of color paint all over the top of the wings, the fuselage, and the tail, while the bottom of the plane sports a nice red target, which can be seen as a little bit of a tease for some people, if you know what I mean. It's a nice airplane and I think it adds more color into the performance...and looks good against a blue sky. As soon as Matt got off the runway, the USSOCOM Parachute Team's jump aircraft, a C-130H Hercules, took off from Runway 33 to set up for their jump a little bit later on, and as the aircraft got out of the show box, the A-10s were called back in. The first A-10 used its gattling gun and dropped some ordinance (simulated, of course), while the second, third, and fourth A-10s followed closely behind, breaking off at a location to give proper spacing between each aircraft and a miniature wall of fire going off after the fourth A-10 passed. Each of the aircraft went around in front of the crowd, pitched up and rolled in to an attack pass, with a pyro bomb going off after each A-10 flew by. The four A-10s made one more attack on the base, with the last aircraft simulating a cluster bomb attack, setting off a wall of fire below, which was hard to see because of all the smoke from the previous pyro bombs and from Matt Chapman's airshow smoke. A few minutes later, all four A-10s formed up to do a formation break and land on Runway 15, but before landing, each of the A-10s performed a missed approach, and then landed on runway 15.
Very shortly afterwards, the C-130 was at jump altitude, which was about 6,500 feet up, with the first jumper from the USSOCOM Parachute Team exiting the aircraft, freefalling for about fifteen seconds before opening his parachute and revealing the American flag. There was no national anthem this time, and he came down as expected with no surprises. After he landed, the remaining four members of the USSOCOM Parachute Team exited in the next pass, forming up after exiting and performing a bomb burst, almost the way you'd see the Golden Knights perform a bomb burst. Each of the four jumpers brought down a flag representing the different branches of the Armed Services, with the first and second jumpers bringing in flags representing the Air Force Reserves and the Marine Corps, and the last two jumpers bringing in flags representing the Departments of the Navy and the Air Force, respectively. I believe all four flags are representative of the branches of the Armed Forces that are based at Willow Grove.
Bill Reesman took to the air as soon as the C-130 exited the runway. Bill was at Willow Grove's last airshow, which was in 2003, and that was the one time where I hadn't seen him fly in years, and it just so happened that my camcorder decided to screw up my video of him and some performers before and after Bill's performance (including part of Matt Chapman's second performance). It became apparent by this time I was dying to see the S-3 and the F-16 do their demonstrations, but sadly, there would be no S-3 Viking demonstration, as the pilots could not get any approval to fly the demo. Bill Reesman did get approval to fly his show, and while he was flying, it became apparent that something was up with the weather forecast, as it slowly became overcast as the day grew on. He did fly his normal routine, though!
Chuck Lischer took off immediately after Bill Reesman landed and set up for his performance, which was his first daytime public airshow performance over Willow Grove since I believe 1998, which was with the Janes F-260 instead of the Newgold F-260. Chuck had the quietest of the prop aircraft at Willow Grove and its become apparent that the massive airshow load I'm taking on this year, every weekend will have an F-260 performance, and it's painfully true. I say painfully because I wish the F-260 was a louder plane! Oh well, what can you do. After Chuck flew his performance, Scott Hammack had the Air Force Reserve Jet Car fired up, ready for a race with Chuck down Runway 15. Scott did what seemed like to be a mini-run down 33, since he had lit the burner for a few good seconds to gain a good deal of speed to get down to the starting point of the race. Regarding the race, I don't know about you, but from my vantage point, it seemed as if Chuck didn't have a chance to win the race, since it looked like he had no way to catch up with Scott and the jet car!
Following the race, two aircraft departed. First was an L-39 Albatross. That particular L-39 has been spotted all over New Jersey, as the owner has had it at Millville's airshow for several years and I did see it fly into South Jersey Regional Airport once (that's my home airport - KVAY, in case you want to drop by). The second airplane was an F-86 Sabre, being flown by none other than Dale "Snort" Snodgrass. Snort went around the back to make one low pass before departing behind the crowd and setting up while the F-16 demonstration was underway. The East Coast Demo Team out of Shaw AFB provided the F-16 demonstration for Willow Grove, with Major Geoff "Hak" Hickman flying the Viper. Hak put on a decent demonstration of the F-16, working with the cloud deck that was pushing in as the day was progressing, but he did not need to fly the low show at all! The only thing cut out of the performance was the vertical climb, since he topped out a few hundred feet below the cloud deck (but still managing to disappear for a while!). Hak wasn't on the afterburner as much as I thought he would use it, but even then, the demo was still really good. Heck, it was a VERY NICE change of pace from seeing F-15 demos! Don't get me wrong - I love the F-15, it's just I want to see an F-16 in flight, besides the Thunderbirds.
Hak then went to join up with Snort for four passes of the Heritage Flight. It was another Classic Heritage Flight and a Heritage Flight that should have taken place at Willow Grove in 2003, but didn't happen because Snort's F-86 was down for the majority of the year for engine-related issues. It seemed like this Heritage Flight was also flown a lot faster than other Heritage Flights I've seen, even if its a Classic (two-ship, three-ship, or even four-ship) or a Modified Heritage Flight. Following the Heritage Flight, Dale went on to fly a small portion of his performance, which was nice to see, but I still miss his full Sabre demonstration. After he landed, Snort and Hak then joined up on the runway for a formation taxi back to the hot ramp, with the Skytypers returning from performing at Jones Beach in Long Island.
The aerobatic performers once again were king of the airshow as Frank Ryder took to the air next. Frank is a regular performer at Willow Grove, having been performing there since at least 1997. It was around this time that the people who were sitting in front of me left the show, and I tried to inch my way forward before anyone else (I was doing so while shooting video, mind you), before I had a rather obnoxious couple stand in front of me the entire time up until the Blue Angels were to go up. Chalk that up towards another reason to have friends sit around you while you're at the show and help build a fence using the chairs and camera bags and such. One of these days I will set up at my spot, find a few people to share it with, and fence off the entire area with an area fence! One thing to note about Frank Ryder is that I'm starting to memorize his sequence of maneuvers in the performance, and you know its bad once you get to start to knowing any particular performer's routine!
Michael Goulian somehow snuck into the air to set up for his performance while Frank finished his, but he wasn't done flying, as Kent Shockley had the Shockwave Jet Truck fired up for a race between Kent and Frank. The race, depending on where you sat, looked as if either Kent won (if you're sitting at show right) or Frank won (where I was sitting) and I think Frank Kingston Smith and Doug McDaniel agreed that Frank Ryder had won the race. Frank flew a couple more maneuvers before landing and letting Michael Goulian have the stage for his performance. 2005 was Mike's first time performing at Willow Grove, and I think he deserves to be back next year, that's if Willow Grove survives the BRAC list. Mike is clearly one of the best aerobatic performers out there and ranks up in the same category as Sean Tucker, both in personality and flying styles. The next time Mike and Matt Chapman are flying at the same show, they should do a flyoff, a la what Goulian and Michael Mancuso do at Rhode Island.
The Showcopters performed for a second time on Saturday. While it was nice to see them flying again, in my opinion, having (an) aerobatic performer(s) fly more than once, unless in different aircraft, may seem to be overkill to most people. There was no more blue sky, as the overcast began to pile in more and more, and the clouds to the north of the base seemed to be a lot darker than the clouds over Willow Grove, which did not go well for me. I didn't shoot video of the Showcopters the second time around, as I spent time listening to a weather report from one of the weather channels that are broadcasted in FM. They didn't help all too much, and neither did listening to Willow Grove's own ATIS, which was probably last updated before the airshow flying commenced. Oh yeah, Matt Chapman also got to go fly his full show with the brand new CAP 580, since the display he put on earlier in the day was just a teaser. Matt's full show is still the same performance, only without the wingtip smoke that he had earlier. Oh yeah, I should mention that at select show sites, Matt Chapman will do a dual flight with Michael Mancuso! Willow Grove was supposed to have Michael Mancuso to come on board and perform, but the necessary paperwork was not filed in time, and neither Willow Grove nor Jones Beach got to see Michael Mancuso fly.
Now it was time for the Blue Angels to take the stage. Fat Albert performed his first JATO at Willow Grove since 2001, which was the last time the Blue Angels were at Willow Grove. I do recall in the schedule that Fat Albert was supposed to do a JATO takeoff on Friday night, but that was taken off the schedule because the supply of JATO bottles is super thin, all because of Hurricane Ivan's devastation on NAS Pensacola in September 2004. Fat Albert went on to fly the high speed pass, which seemed really low for Fat Albert flybys, and a short-field landing. Both the JATO takeoff and the short-field landing seemed to show that the crew were fighting a slight crosswind, but managed to fix that and fly a safe performance. The team itself, with the F/A-18 Hornets, were relegated to flying a low show, and even in the end with being a low show, I must say that the Blues looked their very best since, well, September of 2002, when I saw them flying at NAS Oceana. One interesting thing I want to note is the sneak pass. In the flat show, the sneak pass comes after the diamond does a pass in front and 45º to the right in full afterburner. Anyways, for the first time that I can remember, someone around me shouting out a warning about two seconds before Merlin (Lt. Craig Olson, Blue Angel #5) zoomed past the crowd. The team still uses music in their performance, which helps a little bit when there is a small break in the performance during some parts of the show where neither of the six airplanes are within the boundaries of the base (aside from being behind the crowd).
As timing would have it, it started raining when the Blues made their delta head-on pass. Right after all six aircraft broke to land and proceeded to land on Runway 15, it started to rain harder, and I had to quit shooting video at that time. I can shoot when there's a light drizzle or a very light rain (with a very light rain, I need something to cover the camera so water doesn't seep into places it shouldn't go). Anything more than that, I won't let it see the light (or dark) of day or night. Yeah, I was shooting video when it was raining at Millville two years ago, but that was a light rain. Essentially the show was over as soon as the six jets landed. I took the time to put the camera away and fold up my chair and toss it in the bag real fast before the pouring rain came. Actually, I will say this - the howling wind came first, with places reporting up to 70 mph wind gusts, and then the pouring rain followed suit. I did not have any jacket, so all of my clothes were soaking wet. The rain was coming down so hard and was also coming down horizontally, making getting to the truck a lot harder than it already was. Add some hail coming down to that and it made things a little tedious. The same thunderstorms also spawned some tornadoes in Bucks County in Pennsylvania and in Burlington County in New Jersey - in fact, the twisters in Burlington County were a couple towns over from where I live! Trying to get off the base was not an option, since everyone at the show (the crowd had to be at least 250,000 - news reports say over 400,000 people were there on Sunday!) was trying to leave at the same time. The other option was to take a nap, and I did just that, waking up at around 6:00 pm to sunshine peeking through the clouds, and I decided to make the trip home then.
Because I had strep throat, I decided to take it easy the next day and not go back to Willow Grove. However, I regret that decision, since that particular Sunday had the best weather out of the entire weekend! Regarding Willow Grove's show, it was a good show, but obviously not the best airshow held there, mainly because of the weather and the lack of military performances, and the absence of the MAGTF demo, which is one of the highlights of a Willow Grove airshow. Hopefully there will be an airshow in 2006, and in the meantime, click here to help save NAS/JRB Willow Grove.
Military Demonstration Teams
Tentative Military Demonstrations
Announcer: Frank Kingston Smith