The Planes of Fame Air Museum holds its annual airshow at Chino in California every May. It is a popular show for the variety of warbirds it attracts and the unusual aircraft that the museum has on display. GAR has made previous trips to Chino for the show – this year, Rob Edgcumbe makes his first visit with additional images from Kevin Jackson.
Chino Airport is a most unusual place to visit. Out in the dry farmlands east of Los Angeles, the airport is a Mecca for unusual types of aircraft. It is home to two museums (Planes of Fame Air Museum and Yanks Air Museum) that have all manner of vintage aircraft on display. Aside from the museums, the ramps and storage areas are full of strange aeroplanes either in flying condition, looking like they could be again or clearly never going anywhere. The Planes of Fame Air Museum is a big tenant of the field and their collection of aircraft is hard to surpass, not least given the number of them that are airworthy.
They provide a great core to the flying display at their annual airshow, but also act as a magnet for many other warbirds. This element of the show is something that brings in large crowds from far afield, which makes the show able to attract significant attention from the military. Consequently, this year had a number of interesting features for the show.
One was the unveiling of the Curtiss P-36 Hawk which was on display on the flight line and took part in the flying display, partnered with the two-seat version of the P-35, the AT-12. The P-36 will be making its way to the UK so this was a big opportunity for people in the US to see it before it left.
Modern military enthusiasts were not to be disappointed either. Chino was one of the venues that the USAF was supporting with the F-22 Raptor display. It was scheduled to wrap up the flying display with its solo display and then a Heritage Flight. Given the warbirds on offer, the Heritage Flight was sure to be an interesting mix of types.
The show ran over the weekend of May 2-3 with full shows on both days. An additional benefit was the sunset performance on the Friday evening. A curtailed number of performers took the air with the oldest types up first, including an appearance from the museum’s P-26 Peashooter which looked great in the low evening sun. They were followed by the pairing of the F-86 and the MiG-15 making a sequence of nice tight passes.
Greg Colyer took up the second of his T-33s, ‘Ace Maker II’, for a full routine to continue the vintage theme. Then it was the turn of the modern guys. The F-22 wasn’t to be outdone and, with the sun getting lower, the Raptor’s unusual paint finish was picked out in the light to good effect. The burner plumes were getting more clearly visible as the light levels started dropping.
The penultimate evening performer was a Sanders Sea Fury. The Centaurus powered version flew an elegant display. While sometimes the smoke trails from the wing tips can be a bit distracting, the evening conditions had become very still and the vortices left by the Hawker lingered and formed up into beautiful smoke rings. Combine that with the evening light and you end up with a really cool effect.
The finale for the evening was the Canadian Hornet display. Given that the CF-188 carries a colour scheme based on a Battle of Britain Hurricane, the crowd was keenly anticipating the best of the evening light. Unfortunately, the team decided to delay take-off by ten minutes to allow the sun to set.
This was ideal for getting the night flying effect but it lost the chance to see the colours in the best of the light just before sunset.
A missed opportunity but not the end of the world. With the sun down, the plumes from the afterburners were very impressive. It did test the low light capabilities of the various cameras in action in the crowd! The display was reasonably impressive but the landing caught everyone’s attention as the tail hook was deployed.
It made a fantastic shower of sparks as the Hornet rolled out after touchdown. A discussion with the ground crew afterwards explained that the end of the hook is worn out by one of these landings. Consequently, they were carrying five spares with them! Fortunately, it is a simple process to change them.
With the show over, there was no hurry to leave. You could still pick up a beer from one of the stands and enjoy a quiet evening wandering through the exhibits and the parked based aircraft. With a forecast for a hot and sunny Saturday, this would be the last opportunity to be cool for a while!
The main show days combined flying displays with panels during which veterans of various conflicts were interviewed. With the panel discussions being broadcast over the PA, it meant there was scope to stretch your legs, walk through the stands and the static aircraft, get some food and drink (lots of water was a really good idea!) and listen to the panel without missing any flying action. If flying was all you wanted, it did mean things were a bit more slowly paced than you might have wanted but, in my opinion, it made for a more relaxing approach to the day.
The warbirds were the centre of attention for the majority of the day. Three main phases of warbird action were set up. First was the World War Two Army Air Force action, next was the Korean War and the last grouping was World War Two Naval aviation. The structuring of these displays was outstanding. The thing that grabbed your attention first was the number of aircraft in the air. They would be running around the display line in front of the crowd while more aircraft launched behind them. The kink in the crowd line provided a great opportunity for the aircraft to make some tight turns in the direction of the public, giving a great view of the planes. Also, some figure of eight routines were used which meant aircraft appeared to be coming from both directions at the same time.
This highlighted an impressive element of the coordination of the flying. Bringing multiple different types in front of the crowd in sequence even though they had different performance characteristics was well executed. The faster types would put lateral separation between themselves and the slower types – usually when away from the display centre – with the result that it never felt like there was any problem having these types together and there always was something in front of you. For many of the photographers, they soon had to put the camera down and just appreciate the sight of so many planes buzzing by. It really was outstanding.
Some civilian performers were also mixed in with the show sequence. Some gentle aerobatics with a Zlin-142 were included – a type that is not a regular feature of the airshow scene. This was contrasted with the high-power aerobatics of Sean D Tucker. His Oracle Challenger is a regular feature around the US. Sean’s approach to preparation and flying demonstrations is a model for how airshow performers should work and I have never seen one of his routines appear to be anything other than exactly as he intended.
The finale of the display was the turn of the modern military. First the Canadian Hornet displayed again. Plenty of sun meant it was a lot easier to photograph than the previous night but it perhaps lacked quite the visual impact that the night show had. The F-22 launched for its display after the aircraft that would make up the Heritage Flight had taken off to hold for their join up. The F-22 is an impressive aircraft when displayed. I have mixed feelings about the routine they fly. The aircraft is certainly capable of undertaking some very unusual manoeuvres. You see things that you don’t normally see (although the claims about the uniqueness of the tail slide conveniently ignore some Russian displays from 20 years ago). However, the focus on these moves that are of questionable tactical usefulness means that the display doesn’t always have the flow and impact that other types achieve. I do wonder whether a better compromise could be achieved. Given the hot and dry air, the Raptor, like the Hornet before it, certainly didn’t manage to squeeze much vapour out of the air.
The final set piece had the Raptor join up with the warbirds for the Heritage Flight. When you have a formation lead by a P-38 Lightning with a P-51 Mustang on one wing and an F-86 Sabre on the other, having an F-22 tucked up in the slot is the icing on the cake. The usual Heritage Flight routine of a pass in each direction followed by an over flight from the rear and a split was followed. It looked great as the sun was starting to sink a bit lower. The two wingmen split earlier as they passed overhead with the Raptor and Lightning splitting in front of the crowd. They then flew individual passes with the Raptor catching a few out by coming from the left rear and flying a topside pass around the crowd.
With everything recovered, the crowds quickly dispersed. However, there was, again, no need to hurry out. A band was playing and a bar was open so you could sit and relax and let everyone get stuck in traffic. From a photographer’s perspective, this was the best part of the day. A number of aircraft flew again with the show over – not displaying this time but start-up, departure, and return with the possibility of a flyby in the best light of the day was not to be ignored. Amazingly, the place was virtually empty. You have as much time as you wanted to shoot the static aircraft with no competition for space of people wandering into your shot. That there weren’t more photographers there is either because they thought that, like many shows, you would be hurried out or, alternatively, there are so many good chances to shoot aircraft in southern California that there was no need to take advantage of this time. Either way, this was a great (and relaxing) way to wrap up a great airshow experience.
There were some minor disappointments for me from the show. I didn’t get a chance to photograph the Peashooter in the air although that was my fault. Also, the N9M flying wing did not display while I was there. I have seen it in the air from a distance but I was looking forward to this. However, these minor things in no way stop this show having been a revelation to me. I had heard great things but maintained some scepticism. That is now washed away. If you haven’t been to Chino yet, make sure you do it at some point. Include time in the trip for a museum visit too. With so many aviation opportunities in southern California, you won’t have trouble building a whole trip around it.