The arrival of autumn brings a late flurry of airshows throughout the Midwest of the United States. One strong event is Wings Over Waukegan in northern Illinois. Rob Edgcumbe attended for GAR to see whether the weather would cooperate!
The weekend after Labor Day is the date that has become the tradition for Waukegan to hold its own airshow. The event has grown over the years as a result of bringing together a number of interesting performers and static displays. While Wings Over Waukegan is primarily about bringing the local community in to see what their airport does and what it brings to the local economy, it is also about seeing some excellent flying. Over the years the military involvement has been strong. Last year included displays by A-10 and F/A-18 aircraft from the US and the Canadian Snowbirds headlined.
With sequestration in effect, the US military is not in attendance at any shows so this year required some fallback positions. Fortunately, Waukegan is the home of the Warbird Heritage Foundation (WHF). WHF has an impressive collection of airworthy vintage warbirds and is able to provide a solid basis for the larger display. With the anniversary of the Vietnam peace accords this year, the centrepiece of the show was a tribute to Vietnam veterans. Consequently, the available warbirds made for exactly what was required.
The local operators on the airport also came out in force to show the local community what work the airport carries out. A hangar full of local societies were on hand while local flying clubs talked about the flying opportunities available. The local FBO hosted the performers while one of the operators put their Cessna Citation X, complete with winglets, on the ramp for everyone to view. As is usually the case, the line to see inside this business jet was long!
In addition to the home aircraft, a number of other performers were brought in to provide a great mix of acts. Ultimately, though, these acts would be split into two halves when the weather decided to intervene. The day started out sunny and warm but there was a suggestion in the forecast of potential storms later in the day. However, storms can be very localised so whether they would affect the show or not was by no means clear. The flying got underway without any problems. The opening of the show was provided by a team of skydivers with one streaming the Stars and Stripes as they descended into the field while being orbited by the Aerostars team in their Yak-52s.
This was followed by a missing man formation flown by a four-ship from the Trojan Horseman team in their T-28s before the solo displays got underway. Four individual performances ran in sequence with very different platforms. Dave Dacy flew his Super Stearman through his familiar sequence which makes use of the Stearman’s close turning capability coupled with a 500hp engine to make for a bit more speed and vertical penetration. Bob Davis flew a sequence in his Sukhoi Su-29 which was announced to the crowd as Bob’s final airshow performance after a long and distinguished career in performance aerobatics.
Another change of pace brought James Leavelle in his T-6 to be followed by Mike Vaknin is his Extra 300L. All the while, the sky was beginning to look more ominous. Everything appeared to be to the north of the field but lots of wary eyes were being cast in that direction. The Trojan Horseman came back for their full display and the backdrop was beginning to look very dark. However, the cells continued to stay away so the show went on. Regular reports from the pilots gave feedback on exactly where the weather was.
Two of the WHF aircraft launched next with P-51 Mustang Baby Duck being flown by Vlado Lenoch with Paul Wood flying the F-86 Sabre. Both flew solo displays with Vlado continuing his trademark low and tight passes before the two joined up for a Heritage Flight section – something that no longer can be done with active military units but which remains effective in its new format. Their photo pass had Paul absolutely welded on to Vlado’s wing in a very tight but smooth formation.
By now the sky was looking even more threatening and the clouds were starting to appear further west which suggested things might not stay dry for long. Jim “Fang” Maroney launched in his Super Chipmunk and put together a great sequence of manoeuvres. He made great use of the capabilities of the plane and showcased some figures that are not common in the displays of others. He completed his show with his trademark of the level pass with him standing up in the rear seat with his hands out of the cockpit. While all of this was going on, lightning strikes could be seen in the distance and the rumbles of thunder were beginning to be heard.
As Jim landed, the next performers decided that things were getting too close to be safe and the show was suspended. Some decided to wait and see what happened next while others retreated before the rain came and come it did. A strong storm passed through and everything was rushed under cover that could be. The rain delay did not mean that the TFR for the airshow box changed, though, so, when things continued, some items had to go from the schedule. Sadly the A-4 Skyhawk and F4U Corsair that were to have flown a Legacy Flight had to be scrubbed.
The wingwalking act was the first back up with Dave Dacy again bringing out the Super Stearman with Tony Kazian providing the willing passenger on whatever part of the airframe he could find a spot. The Aerostars then returned for their full display against a still cloudy but gradually clearing sky. They even had the exhaust lights on – something normally only seen in their night displays! Then came the Vietnam tribute finale.
An L-19 Bird Dog from WHF launched first followed by two Skyraiders. Bad News from WHF was joined by Naked Fanny. A T-37 Tweet completed the team. They simulated a downed airman rescue with the Bird Dog providing direction as the Skyraiders and Tweet took turns in laying down suppression fire with a pyrotechnic team on the ground adding to the effect. When the extraction was ready, a UH-1N Huey came in to lift the downed pilot and take him back out of harm’s way. Then the Bird Dog laid down a marker for Bad News to come in for a final pass that was combined with a wall of flame from the pyro team. A very effective demonstration.
By now the light was beginning to get a lot better but the time was up on the airshow box. Indeed, the FAA had agreed an extension to allow the show to finish as it had. Sadly, that meant no time for the Skyraiders to fly in formation but most of the attendees seemed happy with the show’s climax.
Despite the weather and the military restrictions, Wings over Waukegan proved to be a great show and has helped the airport’s goal of maintaining the support from the local community. A good job by the team and let’s hope for drier weather next year!