The 2014 airshow at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, in Southern California, was a three day event that took place over the first weekend in October, in glorious sunshine and scorching 90 plus degree heat. It marked a welcome return to the airshow calendar after last year’s event, which was cancelled at the last minute due to the budgetary crisis. Chris Wood and Dean West report for GAR.
Billed as the largest military airshow in the country, like all military airshows it has suffered a noticeable reduction in participants compared to previous years. However the Marine Corps still managed to produce an engaging and interesting show, with a few highlights, using the assets at their disposal.
The static display included aircraft from most of the based squadrons, plus a few from the other local Marine Corps bases at nearby Camp Pendleton and at Yuma, just across the border in Arizona. Attracting the most attention was an F-35B Lightning II from VMFA-121 ‘Green Knights’ at Yuma.
However there was very little from the other services, with the US Navy only providing a pair of MH-60s from nearby NAS North Island plus an MQ-8B Fire Scout, whilst the Coast Guard display was centred around a locally-based MH-60T Jayhawk.
NASA provided an interesting addition to the static display, with a rare T-34C Mentor from the Armstrong Flight Research Center, formerly the Dryden Flight Research Center, at Edwards AFB.
There was, however, nothing on show from either the US Air Force or the Army, although there were a small number of overseas military visitors.
The Canadians provided a Hawk from the NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC) programme at 15 Wing Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.
The German Air Force produced a pair of Tornados from the Fliegerischen Ausbildungszentrums der Luftwaffe (FlgAusbZLw) (German Air Force Flying Training Center) based at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. One of these aircraft featured a special tail, symbolising the New Mexico state flag.
There were also a number of airworthy warbirds, but a large part of the static display was made up of exhibits from the base’s own Flying Leathernecks Aviation Museum.
The flying display started with a number of civilian acts, including Sean D. Tucker in his Oracle Challenger and Bret Willat in his Grob G-103 ‘Sailplane Magic’ glider, as well as John Collver in his SNJ ‘War Dog’.
There was also a pair of very different rotary acts in the shape of ‘Otto the Helicopter’ and Chuck Aaron in the Red Bull Helicopter. ‘Otto’ is a Schweizer 300C and the show is primarily a comedy act, aimed at children, which included some ‘fling wing zing’, according to its commentator!
The Red Bull Helicopter is much more grown up and features Chuck demonstrating aerobatic manoeuvres in the MBB Bo 105. Helicopter aerobatics are something which have become common in Europe, with the Army Air Corps Lynx and Dutch Apache displays, but it’s still an unusual sight in the USA.
Interspersed with these were a couple of vehicles with afterburning jet engines, including Bill Braack in the Smoke-n-Thunder jet car and the Shockwave jet truck.
However the most impressive civilian display was the Fry’s Electronics North American Sabreliner, flown by two members of the Patriots Jet Team, team leader Dean ‘Wilbur’ Wright and team owner Randy ‘Howler’ Howell. It was flown as a tribute to the legendary test pilot Bob Hoover, who had spent most of his career working for North American. It was impressive because the first manoeuvre was a loop, followed later by a barrel roll!
This was appropriate on several levels; not only had Bob Hoover worked for North American, but he is probably most famous for his displays in their Shrike Commander, which involved aerobatic manoeuvres not normally associated with that type of aircraft.
Helicopters doing aerobatics is one thing, but executive jets?! Something we haven’t seen in Europe!
The Marines managed to demonstrate, in one form or another, almost all the major aircraft types in their inventory (the only absentee being the EA-6B Prowler), starting in the morning with the MV-22B Osprey. This showed its unique capabilities with several high-speed passes in aeroplane mode, and then some hovering, plus a vertical landing and take-off, in helicopter mode.
The official opening ceremony took place at midday, and included one member of the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team carrying the American flag, being circled by Sean D. Tucker as he descended, whilst the national anthem was being sung.
After the completion of the opening ceremony the next item on the programme was a parachute display by the Golden Knights and the Navy’s Leapfrogs, who used one of the Golden Knights’ C-31s (one of the few Fokker F-27s still in service) as a jump aircraft. One interesting aspect of this was a demonstration of a malfunctioning parachute, which saw the jumper collapse his main parachute, release it and then deploy his reserve.
Next was one of the highlights, and a major part of all Miramar shows, the Marine Air-Ground Task Force demonstration, or MAGTF demo as it’s usually referred to. The MAGTF is a concept that goes back to the early 1960s. It balances a mix of air, ground and logistical forces under a central command, and allows a mobile Marine force of whatever size is required for the mission, to be deployed rapidly by air, land or sea. The MAGTF demo showed the co-ordinated use of close air support, artillery and infantry against an ‘enemy’ force.
This year’s demonstration included a number of Miramar-based aircraft, including a trio of F/A-18C Hornets from the based VMFA-232 ‘Red Devils’, a pair of KC-130J Super Hercules from VMGR-352 ‘Raiders’, three MV-22Bs from a mix of squadrons and three CH-53E Super Stallions. They were joined by a pair of AV-8B Harrier IIs from VMA-214 ‘Black Sheep’ at Yuma and a pair each of AH-1W Super Cobras and UH-1Y Venoms from MCAS Camp Pendleton.
The Hornets and Harriers carried out reconnaissance and close air support of the target area, backed up by the Super Cobras, whilst the Venoms roped in a reconnaissance team of Marines.
Once these Marines had been extracted by the Venoms, extra Marines were brought in by the Ospreys and the Super Stallions to assault the target area, whilst the Hercules were available for air-to-air refuelling.
One notable absentee from this year’s MAGTF demo was the CH-46 Sea Knight, known affectionately as the ‘Phrog’. The last few of these are very much in the twilight of their service, after almost 50 years of service, and immediately after the MAGTF demo the crowd were treated to a flyby by a formation of four Phrogs. It was led by an aircraft that had been painted into a retro colour scheme, representing the type’s service in the Vietnam conflict.
The Phrogs were followed by the Patriots Jet Team, in their distinctive black L-39 Albatrosses. The team consists of a mix of former Thunderbirds, Blue Angels and Snowbird pilots, and this shows with their polished performance.
The next item on the programme was the newest aircraft in the Marine Corps inventory and another highlight of the show. Appearing from the east was another F-35B Lightning II from VMFA-121. Although this wasn’t the first public demonstration of the F-35, it was the first at Miramar so was eagerly awaited. The aircraft performed two fairly sedate passes, before turning downwind, opening all its doors (there are nine that have to open before it can transition to the hover!), slowing up and coming to a hover.
After turning towards the crowd, the aircraft turned back along the runway centreline and transitioned back into forward flight. Another circuit was flown in this configuration from which it landed.
After a short turnaround it departed back to Yuma, performing a take-off with afterburner, and lots of noise (whilst it may be stealthy, it’s not quiet!) According to Major Michael ‘Puffy’ Wyrsch, who provided the commentary, a major software upgrade is expected early next year which should significantly expand the aircraft’s flight envelope, so future demonstrations should be more dynamic.
Closing the show were the US Navy’s Blue Angels, preceded by their C-130T ‘Fat Albert’ – or ‘Faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat Albert’, to quote the Blues’ commentator.
They flew their usual polished routine, although the Saturday show suffered from No. 6 having some technical problems and not joining in until well in to the display.
As has become the norm, the Saturday show also included a twilight and night show. As the light faded various aircraft took to the sky, starting with Sean D. Tucker.
He was followed by another of the highlights of the show, with a demonstration by an AV-8B Harrier II from VMA-214. This was very similar to the F-35 demo, but with two fast passes followed by a circuit where the aircraft was set up to come to the hover. Having arrived in the hover, it then turned towards the crowd and performed a vertical landing.
This was followed by a vertical take-off back in to the hover (something the F-35 can’t do) and then a near vertical climb out, before another circuit and a low speed running landing.
The light was now fading fast and the remaining acts, starting with the parachutists, all used various forms of pyrotechnic to light up the night sky. Otto the Helicopter was back, followed by Steve Stavrakakis in his IAR 823 whilst the last flying act was a ‘Red Devils’ Hornet which performed a number of passes with its afterburners lit.
Whilst all this was going on, it was still possible to wander around the static display, allowing the opportunity for some night shots, for those photographically minded.
The show was brought to a close with a firework display and the Great Wall of Fire.
Miramar’s airshow still provides a good day out and a rare chance to see the Marine Corps in action. The 2015 show dates are set for 2-4 October and, if you’re in the area, will definitely be one to attend!