Once a Strategic Air Command bomber base, Mather Field is now used by a combination of corporate, freight and military operators. Each autumn, it also becomes the venue for the California Capital Airshow. This year Rob Edgcumbe made his first visit to report for GAR.
Mather Field is a big place to visit. Its days as a base for squadrons of B-52 bombers mean it has an excess of ramp space and this provides a lot of options for an airshow organizer. It can accommodate a wide variety of visiting aircraft and the organizers of this year’s show did a good job of bringing a wide variety of aircraft in for the two days of the show at the beginning of October. Sacramento is a hot place during the summer so it is no shock that the show is scheduled for later in the year. This year they were rewarded with a nice reduction in temperature in the days before the show. This combined with plenty of sun on the Saturday to make a great day but Sunday was a bit less lucky with some adverse weather coming through although not enough to really disrupt things.
Aside from plenty of ramp space, the configuration of the runways at Mather is a bit of a problem for the airshow attendee. The runway is aligned roughly northeast/southwest. Consequently, the flying displays require the crowd to look into the sun. Even later in the day, the sun angle is still not ideal for the viewers. However, this is a limitation that there is nothing that can be done about.
Over the course of the weekend, approximately 130,000 people flooded in to the show. The headline attraction was an appearance by the US Navy display team, The Blue Angels. Sadly, Saturday’s performance of the Blues had to be scrubbed. The leader had experienced a case of a food borne pathogen and, without the leader, the team do not perform. A disappointed crowd found out at the time the team were due to perform and there were many disappointed fans. However, all Saturday tickets were valid for Sunday for those that wanted to try again.
The static displays showed a lot of imagination with a wide variety of aircraft on show. Star of the military attendees was the F-35A with some Luke AFB examples on show. The helmet used by F-35 pilots was also available to check out. Since it is the primary display for the pilot, this is an expensive piece of kit. The location of Sacramento close to a number of bases meant that there was some local flavour. Travis AFB is close by and a C-5M Super Galaxy was a big draw for the crowds either walking through the cavernous hold or taking the chance to wait in line for the climb up to the cockpit. A KC-10 Extender was the other Travis attendee. Beale AFB is not too far away and they provided a U-2S and a KC-135R. The U-2 never fails to attract attention.
The Navy weren’t left out of the story and a couple of Super Hornets flew in from NAS Lemoore while an E-2C was parked alongside. While some of the aircraft were roped off, many of them were unrestricted and the visitors were able to walk freely around the airframes. Mather is home to a California National Guard Black Hawk unit and one of their HH-60Ls was a popular point for kids to check out. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard brought an MH-65D from San Francisco, this being the example in the retro colour scheme.
Mather has a busy freight business and this was clearly demonstrated by the strong presence of both FedEx and UPS. FedEx had an ATR42 and a Cessna Caravan on show. UPS had a larger display with a 767 and 757 sitting nose to nose alongside a variety of historic delivery trucks. The local fire fighting and law enforcement operations were also well represented. Calfire brought a Tracker and a Bronco while a variety of rotary wing and fire fighting types were on show. Given how much demand has been placed on them recently, it was good to know that they were able to be there.
A strong warbird contingent was present including the B-29, Fifi. These aircraft were staged in Warbird Alley and proved to be a popular attraction. They were also a significant part of the flying display. A wide variety of civilian aircraft were also in their own area of the ramp with some interesting types to be seen. An immaculate Seabee was there along with a Focke Wulf 149 (or Piaggio 149 if you are being fussy). The only criticism I would make of the static display was that, with so much space available, the aircraft were very spread out. It’s nice not to have everything squeezed in together but it required a lot of walking to get around everything on show.
The flying display itself provided some variety but it was rather slow paced. Putting aside the inability of the Blues to fly on Saturday (since that is not something anyone would have anticipated), things were very leisurely. The Coast Guard put on a show with the MH-65 demonstrating its rescue mission while it was joined by one of the recently delivered HC-27J airframes from nearby McClellan in a few flybys. The transfer of the C-130s out of the Coast Guard and their replacement with the Spartans gives new life to a good airframe that has been a bit of an orphan amongst US forces.
A great addition to the program was the Canadian Hornet display. Each year the Canadian display jet manages to acquire a cool paint scheme and this year is no exception. The display itself was not bad but perhaps lacked a little of the drama of previous Hornet displays. In comparison, the USAF F-16 display, while not overly innovative, did demonstrate the capabilities of the jet well. The F-16 may not be a new jet but it still has impressive levels of manoeuvrability. It then joined up with a P-51 Mustang for the Heritage Flight portion of the display. The F-35 is approved for Heritage Flights but didn’t take part at this show. (Having seen the P-38 fly earlier in the show, a Lightning and Lightning II combination would be good to see soon.)
The warbird portion of the flying was a good performance. Starting with a Pearl Harbor theme, a Kate and P-40 combination started things off with some pyros added in to get things going. Needless to say, the P-40 ultimately saw off the Kate! More types joined the flying as the progress through the war was represented with a PBY, Corsair, P-38, TBM and some Mustangs joining the fray before the highlight of the B-29 was added. Pyro effects were used throughout the element and culminated with the wall of fire when Fifi flew across the field.
The US Army Golden Knights also provided a couple of performances. They started off proceedings jumping in at the beginning of the flying but their main display was later in the afternoon. They do solid work with their display but it is rather slowly paced and you do feel like a lot of time has been taken up by the time it concludes.
Mike Wiskus flew three times during the show. He was involved in the opening sequence with the Golden Knights before he flew his own sequence later. As usual, he put together a solid performance with his low level and high energy elements. He also flew late in the day in a race with the Jet Car. The fact he flew three times seems to be indicative of the possibility that they perhaps needed something else to add to the program. This should not be taken as a criticism of the organizing team. The number of performer options available for a show has reduced dramatically in recent years. Military participation has been cut dramatically with far fewer types carrying out displays and the services limiting how much will be provided to each event. Filling this gap is a problem every show has to deal with.
Despite the limitations that the show had to operate within, it still provided variety and solid entertainment for the thousands of people who flocked to it. The show has established itself on the calendar and is proving to be a big draw. The efforts of the organisers to bring in a variety of static aircraft and an interesting flying programme are to be commended.