2012 US Airshows

JUN 06 2012
Airshows >> USA: Chino Airshow 2012 - Review

If I had to pick a theme for this year's show, it would be "smoke". There were a record number of performers using smoke to enhance their act, flying everything from an aerobatic biplane to an executive jet to piston-engined warbirds.

As usual the airshow attracted a large number of warbirds, with this year's theme being "1942 - Turning the Tide". A trio of B-25 Mitchells were on hand to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid, when 15 B-25s were launched from the deck of the USS Hornet in April 1942 to strike against targets in Japan.

As well as the regular pair of Chino-based Mitchells (Planes of Fame's 'Photo Fanny' and Aero Trader's 'Pacific Princess'), the rarely-flown, highly-polished example from the Lyon Air Museum at Orange County Airport ('Guardian of Freedom') also appeared in the flying display. 'Pacific Princess' performed a short-field, nose-high take off, to replicate the manoeuvre used by Doolittle's crews to take off from the Hornet, with Saturday's version being especially impressive.

As is usual at Chino, there was a panel of veterans addressing the crowd in the mornings before flying commenced. Compered by Christina Olds, daughter of the late Robin Olds (WWII P-51 ace who later scored four MiG kills whilst leading a Wing of F-4 Phantoms in Vietnam), my particular highlight was listening to Gen Bob Cardenas speak. Cardenas was the test pilot for the Northrop flying wing bomber programme, including the small proof-of-concept prototypes (such as the Museum's N9M which flew later in the display at Chino in the hands of Ron Hackworth) and the full-size piston-powered XB-35 and jet XB-49 (which later crashed, claiming the life of its crew, including test pilot Glen Edwards, after whom Edwards Air Force Base was later named). Cardenas told many fascinating (if hair-raising) stories of the test programme, including flying to Washington DC to show the aircraft to President Truman, followed by a low-level flight down the capital's Mall. He also flew the B-29 which carried the Bell X-1 aloft for Chuck Yeager's Mach 1 flight in October 1947.

Flying commenced with the now-traditional mixed formation for the National Anthem. This year the formation consisted of the Museum's B-25 Mitchell, P-38 Lightning, P-40 Warhawk, SBD Dauntless and F4U Corsair, with the P-40 and SBD pulling up into a 'missing man' formation as they reached show centre.

Chino regulars Hartley Folsted and Margi Stivers presented their 'Silver Wings Wingwalkers' act, using a Stearman (with smoke) and Rob Harrison ('The Tumbling Bear') performed his usual aerobatic act in his yellow Zlin 50 for what may well be the last time at Chino, as he has announced his retirement after next January's airshow at his home base of Cable Airport.

Other 'smokers' included Clay Lacy, performing a rolling routine in Joe Clark's Learjet 24, Stu Dawson (flying aerobatics in one of Rod Lewis' Tigercats, 'Here Kitty Kitty') and Dennis Sanders in Sea Fury 'Argonaut'.

The Sanders family have been rebuilding and operating Sea Furies for several decades and have perfected the display routine developed by their late father, Frank, using their proprietary 'Smokewinder' wingtip smoke generators (as used on display F-16s worldwide) to produce a graphic display of the effects of wingtip vortices. This year it was Dennis' turn to display the Sea Fury, with brother Brian having flown the routine at recent Chino airshows, after the aircraft was missing from last year's event due to undergoing conversion to an R-2800 powerplant (in place of the more usual Wright R-3350).

After trying for several years, Chino finally managed to attract Sean Tucker, flying a high-energy aerobatic routine in his Oracle Challenger III biplane (a very highly-modified Pitts). Although not personally a fan of these modern aerobatic routines, I always stop and watch Tucker's demo as he truly is 'The best of the best' at what he does, including performing a high-power hover and a tailslide. He initiates his routine with a multi-turn spin from the top of a loop (with smoke, naturally!)

The remainder of the airshow comprised the warbird set-pieces, including a Pacific War segment, featuring a quartet of TBM Avengers, Hellcat, F3F, Corsair and numerous P-51s.

A total of 10 P-51Ds and TF-51s took part in the flying over the course of the weekend - no high-back variants this year unfortunately. The Museum's long-serving P-51D 'Spam Can', after being polished up for a Breitling commercial last year, appeared in the scheme of an Iwo Jima-based example, complete with twin aerial masts and the name 'Dolly', representing the Mustang of Capt JJ Grant of the 506th Fighter Group.

One of the highlights of this year's event was the sight of a trio of Zeros flying together (out of only five currently airworthy). One was Planes of Fame's original Sakae-engined example, the other pair were built in Russia in the late-1990s. The three were reunited for the first time since the filming of 'Pearl Harbor' in Hawaii.

The European segment showcased a number of fighters, including the Mk XIV Spitfire of the Commemorative Air Force at Camarillo, recently returned to the air with a refurbished Griffon engine fitted after several years on the ground. An unusual sound was provided by Bob DeFord's Allison-engined full-sized replica Spitfire.

Will Whiteside flew the Palm Springs Air Museum's rare P-63 Kingcobra, which was originally restored for the late Bob Pond by Chino-based Fighter Rebuilders. The Museum's P-47 flew in formation with Rudy Frasca's R-2800 engined Flug Werk FW-19; a unique pairing. Steven Hinton Jr flew the Air Museum's Allison-engined Yak-3 - this project was originally commenced for the Fighter Collection at Duxford.

The Korean War segment featured a pairing of F-86 Sabre and MiG-15 in a mock dogfight sequence (flown by Steve Hinton and Chris Fahey), but the T-33 appeared to go unserviceable after taxying out on Saturday and took no further part in the weekend's proceedings.

As a T-6 'Mosquito' flew overhead, and to a commentary of mock radio calls, a pair of F8F Bearcats made strafing runs, along with Eddie Kurdziel's magnificent Fairey Firefly, John Muszala Jr in Jim Slattery's Skyraider and a ubiquitous P-51.

'The Horsemen' also returned to Chino this year, after a year's absence. This year's routine features Steve Hinton flying lead in a P-38 Lightning, with Ed Shipley and Dan Friedkin flying wing in a pair of P-51s in a superb demonstration of close-formation aerobatics using high-performance fighters.

Hinton was busy all weekend, also getting airborne for the final sequence. A QF-4E Phantom, based out of nearby March ARB for the duration of the weekend, made several passes before joining up with WWII fighters for the 'Heritage Flight' flypasts. Each day saw a slightly different formation, with Friday's practice comprising a single P-51 joined up with the F-4. On Saturday we were treated to two P-38s (flown by Hinton and Kevin Eldridge) and a P-51 in the hands of Dan Friedkin, while Sunday's formation consisted of single examples of the P-51 and P-38 formating with the F-4.

The mighty F-4 still provides an imposing sight and sound in the air, 54 years after the type first flew. The Phantom has been around ever since I started attending airshows in the late-'60s and it is hard to imagine that it will shortly be a thing of the past (with the QF-4s and the last few remaining examples in service with European Air Forces all nearing retirement). In keeping with the 'smoke' theme, the F-4 joined in by leaving its trademark black trail from its pair of J-79 engines.

The static display at Chino provided its usual share of interesting types. The Planes of Fame's Nakajima Judy dive-bomber made its debut after resurrection from a wreck recovered from Indonesia; an especially impressive undertaking considering that this remarkable transformation took place in the space of three years. Fitted with an R-1820 radial from a South African AF DC-3, it is intended that the Judy will be taxiable once restoration is complete.

Parked next to it was the Museum's P-59 Airacomet, a rare example of America's first jet. Nearing the end of a long restoration to flight, it is hoped that we will get to see and hear it in the air at a Chino airshow before long.

Classic Rotors flew its Piasecki 'Flying Banana' (the twin rotors powered by an R-2800 providing a unique sound on arrival and departure) over from nearby Ramona and Yanks Air Museum towed its recently-arrived Lockheed EC-121T Warning Star across the ramp from outside their museum at the far end of the airport.

The surprise of the weekend was provided by a highly-polished Curtiss P-40C, which appeared unannounced outside the VIP enclosure on Friday evening. Reportedly built up by Matt Nightingale for The Fighter Collection from a Russian recovery, and close to flying, it was certainly the centre of attention for aficionados during the event.

So another successful Chino event is in the books. Saturday's crowd, drawn by the warm weather, looked especially impressive. This is the 7th successive airshow that I have attended there and the high standard has been maintained every year. Chino is well worth making a visit to the US to attend, with a similar format to Duxford's 'Flying Legends' set-pieces of massed warbirds, although Chino has less aerobatic routines and more groups of aircraft flying in left-to-right racetrack patterns. See you there next year, hopefully!

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