From the 1960's to the present day, I have been enthralled with the speed, the sounds, the sights, and the smells of airshows. As a boy growing up in the shadows of NAS Corpus Christi, having Navy planes fly overhead and nearby was a daily occurrence. When the base held their annual "Navy Relief Festival" in the Spring of every year, it heralded the arrival of the Blue Angels (and soon the end of school and the beginning of summer). I loved watching the Grumman F11F-1 Tigers, and later the McDonnell Douglas F-4J Phantom II jets - painted in glorious blue & gold - as they screamed right over our house for three straight days every year.
My father was the comptroller for the base for a while and he would take us there every year. The airshow (back then) was flown over the water, just off the cement beach head. In the giant aircraft repair hangers for the Army Depot (ARADMAC), there were static displays, booths and games to play. Between the hangars were dozens of carnival rides. The only airshow performers I can remember were the Golden Knights parachute team and the Blue Angels. Back then, the jets took off from the runway, which was far away from the hangars and rides. The whole "mounting up" part of their present shows had not been part of these older shows. I remember one year, one of the Golden Knights' parachutes failed to open and the guy slammed right into the parking lot. That was awful. But, it taught me, at a very young age, that this endeavor was fraught with danger - which made it respectfully alluring to me.
I built almost every aircraft model made my Revell and Monogram during the late 60's and early 70's while living in Corpus Christi, and my name could be found in every library book at Windsor Park Elementary that had anything to do with airplanes, jets, space, or rockets - and that name would be there repeatedly, as I read them over and over and over.
I was born to be around aircraft.
In the early 70's, we moved to Scottsdale, Arizona and my world came apart. No more beach, no more bay, no more airbase.
It is hardly a surprise (though anybody who knew me as a teenager would say that it WAS) that I would end up enlisting in the Navy in 1981. It was the best decision I ever made, for a variety of reasons - one of which is that it got me back into a community that had AIRSHOWS. This "second airshow era" of my life was based at NAS Mirimar. Southern California was the place to be in the Ronald Reagan years, and the bases there prospered. I saw airshows at Brown Field, NAS Mirimar, MCAS El Toro, March AFB, Norton AFB and Edwards AFB from 1982 to 1990. Then, it was back to Corpus Christi, Texas in April of 1990. Here, I've been fortunate to attend airshows at NAS Corpus Christi, NAS Kingsville, NAS Chase, NAS Beeville, Harlingen, Alice, Randolph AFB, Kelly AFB, and Ellington Field.
Here, I offer a few words and some great pictures that recount those wonderful experiences.
|WINGS OVER HOUSTON
OCTOBER 27-28, 2012
This beautiful P-51 was lost into Galveston Bay on October 23, 2013.
Our deepest prayers go out to the families of all involved in this tragedy.
WINGS OVER HOUSTON (OCTOBER 25-26, 2008):
|NAS CORPUS CHRISTI (JULY 2006):
This is my REAL world. The environment in which I have worked as a career for 25 years. I LOVE aviation.
NAS CORPUS CHRISTI (APRIL 2003):
This year's airshow at NAS Corpus Christi was an odd one. The airshow's normal Saturday and Sunday schedule was changed just a week before the show. It would take place on Friday and Saturday. For the first time in anyone's memory, the public was not going to be allowed to attend. Only military, and Department of Defence contractors (and their friends & family) would be allowed. Working on the flight simulators on the base was my ticket to the show. The newspapers, and the base PAO, said that there was going to be a B-2 flyby (operations permitting). This never occurred. They were busy elsewhere, and we were fine with that.
The Blue Angels arrived a few days early and the #7 jet gave special rides to local personalities. The other jets made several flights to familiarize themselves with landmarks and the airshow arena. During this "preshow" activity on Thursday, I took my camera to work and got some nice photos as they were flying over our shop.
On Friday morning, the Blue Angels were supposed to make a photo fly-by pass near the USS Lexington, so I made a point to be there, camera in-hand. A small group of us waited, but it was cloudy and the Lex had scaffolding all around it's superstructure. Not a pretty photo op. The Blues did not make it. We didn't blame them. I then made my my down Ocean Drive and to the base. I had three hours before I had to be to work, which was right there. I went to the airshow alone and was one of only a few hundred people that were there. This gave me the opportunity to get some nice shots of static aircraft, without lots of people in the pictures. Unfortunately, with operations underway overseas, there were only a handful of aircraft on display. A few training aircraft, some F/A-18 variants, a few F-16s, some helos and that's about it. There was lots of empty tarmac.
As is usual for south Texas during this part of the year, it was mostly cloudy - with pockets of sunshine trying to burn off the moisture laden air. The clouds finally began dissipating around 1:00. This airshow was loosely run on Friday, and acts were going on in a funky order. Jan Collmer's aerobatic performance was interrupted by a B-1 flyby. This was nice, and Jan finished his routine after the B-1 left the area.
The Blue Angels flew at 1:00. Normally, they fly at 2:00. Their show was great, as usual. Interestingly, they flew the #7 jet (two-seater) in the slot position, with two-people in the cockpit. Also, the #5 (lead solo) set down on the runway in the middle of the show, then took off again, missing only two passes. Then, it rejoined the rest of the group and finished the show.
After the Blue Angels, there were flight performances by an F-16 and then an A-10. This is unusual, as the Blue Angels always close the airshow. As I said, it was loose this day.
On Saturday, I enjoyed a much more typical airshow performance all around. Fat Albert flew (with JATO takeoff), which had not been done the day before. Also, the Red Bull MiG-17 flew, as did a few Confederate Air Force planes. None of these flew on Friday either, at least not before the Blue Angels (I went to work after they finished). The schedule Saturday was smooth and the Blue Angels flew at 2:00 and closed the show. Again, the clouds loomed until the Blue Angels took off. Even so, the sun was overhead and almost behind the aircraft as they passed us down the runway centerline. This made for lousy lighting conditions for flight photography on both days - with lots of bright, high-contrast clouds and little blue sky.
WINGS OF D-DAY - ALICE, TEXAS (JUNE 7, 2003):
This is the first time I have been to an airshow at the small airport in Alice, Texas. The experience was made all the more special because I arrived and departed...by air. Thanks to Dave Holzschuh from Advantage Aircraft, I was privileged to once again experience everything I love about flying. The short flight from Corpus Christi International to Alice was made at an altitude of about 500 feet, and lasted an all-too-short twelve minutes. As always, I rode in the back of his Helio Courier and was allowed the opportunity to film out of the removed upper door panel on the port (left) side. It is a wind-in-your-face experience that affords a view like no other - completely unfettered. Not to worry, I am strapped in, and the camera is strapped around my neck, and I keep a death grip on it.
We landed on the active runway at Alice International Airport, right in front of the bleachers and VIP tent at show center. The crowd, a small one, was just beginning to gather. We taxied onto the tarmac area and parked a mere 100 feet from one the "stars" of the show, a B-25 Mitchell, the Yellow Rose. While the crowd was kept at bay behind a yellow rope that marked off the tarmac area, I was allowed unhindered access to photograph all of the static aircraft warbirds, with almost nobody around them. The exceptions were crews and sponsors and pilots and their guests. Still, I got some nice shots here with the fisheye lens.
From there, I made may way across the grassy midfield to the bleacher area. I staked out a spot near the announcer's booth at the far end of the bleachers. I kept my eyes ears open when I spied Admiral Ed Boyington from NAS Corpus Christi talking to the announcers. I followed his aide over to the VIP tent and found a small group of people. They seemed important to the day, so I snapped a few photos of them and gentleman in a wheelchair who seemed to be the center of attention. A few minutes later, Admiral Boyington took the mic on the grassy area between the bleachers and the runway. He made some nice remarks and then made a presentation to the gentleman I photographed a few minutes before. This WWII American hero was Lt Col. Jim Yawn. He was moved to tears, and took the crowd with him. These brave men are becoming fewer and fewer, and I was proud to be among those who honored him and his service to our country on this day. I then shot a few more photos of the presentation of colors (by a local Boy Scout Troop) and then the airshow began.
The show began with a fly-by from two T-45 Goshawks from nearby NAS Kingsville. There was a visible half-moon rising in the perfect blue sky and this made for a stunning backdrop on a few rare pictures, including a beauty with a T-45 in the foreground. The first round of CAF aircraft took to the sky with the older trainers and biplanes going up first. In this round, there were eight aircraft displayed, including an Ercoupe, a Vultee BT-13 (SNV) Valiant, a North American T-28 Trojan, a Boeing A75 Kaydet, a Stearman PT-17 Kaydet, a North American AT-6 Texan, a Piper L-4 Grasshopper, and a German Focke-Wulf FW-44 Stieglirz. They flew a series of passes and then landed.
They were followed by a performance by Paul Fiala in his bright orange Great Lakes biplane. I've been watching this guy perform for about thirteen years. Unfortunately, I've learned that you simply cannot adequately capture aircraft "aerobatics" on still film. The impact is lost. So, I rarely shoot acts such as Paul's, but rather get to sit back and enjoy them. In today's case, I found the light to be so perfect, that I just had to find a piece of his act to shoot. The knife edge pass proved to be exactly the right shot I was looking for. When he finished, Mr. Fiala brought his plane off the runway and onto the grass in front of the crowd, passing in review as he killed the engine and then coasted to a spinning stop at the end of the bleachers. He then hopped out in his blue khaki shorts and yellow collared shirt and began working his way down the entire crowd line, shaking the hands of everyone. I found this small act to be infectious and sincere, here at this small-town venue. I wanted to shake his hand, as well. In fact, when he approached (after shaking his hand), I handed off my camera to a chap shooting photos next to me and asked him to snap a photo with Paul and me. I then asked Paul if he wouldn't mind posing with me for a picture. He grabbed me and said, "sure", with unbridled enthusiasm. He put his arm around my shoulder and I got a terrific photo taken. For me, these small things are meaningful.
Following this, another North American T-28 Trojan and a Cessna O-2 Skymaster took to the skies. With this, the pyrotechnics part of the show began, with gas-jelly charges popping off giant balls of orange flame and bellowing black smoke. Unfortunately, this seemed to become immediately problematic. The explosions were going off out of sequence and without cue, and before too long, the grassy area across the runway was catching fire in places. The two planes were landed and the fire crews easily put out the fires, with intermittent blasts continuing to go off. The announcers covered the best they could, and referred to the random explosions as simulated attacks from a stealth fighter. It was a loose airshow, and the crowd easily rolled with the events as they transpired.
Once the fires were out, the T-28 Trojan finished it's aerial routine and landed. Then, John McGillis took to the skies in his sleek red, yellow & black Extra 300. His aerobatic performance was amazing to watch, as he put the Extra 300 through its paces. As I mentioned before, I don't shoot these routines. However, I did shoot this plane on the ground, and near it, but there rest of it's performance was observed only.
He was followed by some short pattern work featuring two old WWI aircraft - a British R.A.F. Scout Experimental 5 (S.E.5a) biplane and a Pietenpol Aircamper (in German monoplane configuration). These were here from the Texas Air Museum. This was followed by the next group of planes which included a Grumman TBF Avenger, Vought F4U Corsair, Mitsubishi A6M5 "Zero", and Nakajima B5N "Kate". They performed a mock Pacific air battle, sans the pyrotechnic explosions. I think these planes are incredible, and to see them in such vivid color, with such a perfect blue sky...well, it was real treat.
After these planes landed, Debbie Rihn-Harvey took to the sky in her own sleek, acrobatic blue-& white CAP 232. She is the US Women's Champion for the last five years. She showed exactly why she is the champ, as she thrilled the crowd with her aerial magic - seeming to defy the laws of physical flight.
Following her performance, the big boys took to the air - the camouflaged North American B-25 Mitchell bomber and the gloss black Douglas A-26 Invader. They were rejoined by the TBF Avenger and F4U Corsair. They simulated bombing runs and the pyrotechnics were lit off once again. The Avenger, Corsair and Invader closed the show with a missing man formation fly-by.
After the show, Dave and I flew off back to Corpus at about 100 feet off the deck, going even lower at times. This was the best part of the day for me, as this was like crop duster flying. I love flying close to the ground. We jaunted along and I took some aerial photos for Dave of a few places of interest. We then returned to Corpus International, capping off a perfect day of aviation. What a treat!!