2018 NAS Oceana Airshow
Naval Air Station Oceana held their annual airshow on the 22nd and 23rd of September. This was also the 75th Anniversary of the East Coast Master Jet Base. For me, it is approximately 20 years of making the trip to Virginia Beach for one of my favorite airshows.\
As media, the weekend started on Friday with the practice show. My first stop, when the morning sun is bright, is to pull over along Oceana Boulevard to photograph the new squadron colors on the F-14 “MUTHA ship”. It is a different squadron every year awarded to the fighter squadron that best exemplifies the spirit of MUTHA. Check the internet for an interesting read on the history. This year’s recipient is the VFA-103 “Jolly Rogers”.
Check-in for media credentials was time consuming as media were mixed in with Jet Fan Pass holders. This procedure stemmed from an episode last year when Security turned away long camera lenses. I arrived on the airshow grounds at 10AM just in time for a launch of F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets for the Fleet Air Power Demo.
Although clouds are a normal marine layer occurrence here, the days were mostly sunny. The sun moves from behind you to the left front in the early afternoon making morning light the best. Thankfully, Oceana puts a lot of jet noise in the air early.
Static displays were lighter on naval assets than in years past. Two F/A-18Cs from the VFA-34 “Blue Blasters” and an F/A-18E (VFA-31 “Tomcatters”) and F (VFA-213 “Black Lions”) were the only Oceana based aircraft on the ramp. VFA-34 is the last active squadron operating the C model and had just completed the final cruise. Other naval aircraft on static were a P-8 Poseiden, a C-40 transport, and a P-3 Orion from the National Research Laboratory at Patuxent River.
Air Force statics included a B-52 from Minot AFB, a C-17 from Wright Patterson AFB, a T-38 from Whiteman AFB, a C-21 from Scott AFB, a T-6 Texan II with olive green paint and D-Day striping and a Flagship F-15E Strike Eagle from the 334th Fighter Squadron “Fighting Eagles” at Seymour Johnson AFB. The Army brought a fairly new build CH-47 Chinook. Warbird and private aircraft on static were a blue A-1 Skyraider, TBM Avenger “Doris Mae”, a Spitfire, a T-34 Mentor, a white T-28 Trojan and a Fuji LM-1.
The first aircraft airborne is a Shorts Skyvan with Skydive Suffolk aboard. After a flag drop and the National Anthems of Canada and the United States, a mix of Super Hornets, led by VFA-105 “The Gunslingers”, launched right to left with topside flex departures. This direction of operation is not the norm but it was rewarding for the left side crowd. Joining the Gunslingers was a single VFA-131 “Wildcats” Super Hornet, a VFA-106 “Gladiators” Legacy Hornet and two more from VFC-12 “Omars” in black, white, gray splinter camouflage. A few minutes later, the CAG bird of VFA-105 and an Omar reappear for a simulated horizontal dogfight.
The second set of adversaries take the fight into the vertical. Once the airspace is cleared, an SH-60 Seahawk arrived to insert tactical ground forces who will direct ordnance on the enemy. Super Hornets reappear to attack ground targets. Pyrotechnics were used, courtesy of Firewalkers International who says “an airshow without pyrotechnics is just a fly-in”. Once the ground was thoroughly blown up, the Seahawk returned to recover ground forces. Two Super Hornets passed by demonstrating a drogue refueling from one to the other. The fleet returns in a six-ship formation and as they pass by, the seventh, a Super Hornet, performs a fast banana pass with a lot of vapor off the wings startling those who did not expect it. The fleet returns in a four and three ship formation with breaks to land.
Next to fly was Greg Shelton, the 2018 Bill Barber Award for Showmanship recipient, in his FM-2 Wildcat. He was followed by the Warrior Flight Team in L-39 Albatross jets. Usually, it is one black “Vandy One” and a white “Roman 86” but this weekend another black one was substituted. Next, it was Bill Leff in his T-6 Texan. In my article for Airpower over Hampton Roads, I stated that it was Bill’s final show. This time, I mean it, so if I see him again, I’ll know something is up. Happy retirement, Bill! Bob Carlton then performed in his Salto Sailplane with jet assist.
The F-22 Raptor performed next and unlike some years, the Raptors were launched from the hot ramp, not Langley. Demonstration Pilot, Paul “Loco” Lopez is a native of Virginia Beach. After the Raptor did what it does, there was no Air Force Heritage Flight. Kent Pietch performed his aerobatic routine with the landing atop a moving Recreational Vehicle. Skydive Suffolk and the Black Daggers were airborne and the latter performed a Gold Star flag drop. With smaller swoop chutes, four jumpers from Skydive Suffolk landed at a fast, forward speed causing the jumpers to sprint to a stop to not fall on their faces. The sound of the chute passing by was awesome. The Geico Skytypers had pre-launched and were now over the top to perform a five ship demonstration.
Next to fly were the Royal Canadian Air Forces Snowbirds. They haven’t been to Oceana in many years. During Friday’s practice show, a lot of US Navy pilots rode along in the other seat of the side-by-side trainer. Also on Friday, there were a few mechanical cancellations. We saw some morning fast taxis on Saturday and it appeared that the other two shows went off without further issue.
Jim Tobul performed a solo act in his F-4U Corsair “Korean War Hero” and stayed airborne for the F/A-18F Super Hornet Demo by VFA-106. Afterward, the two aircraft joined up for a Navy Legacy Flight. After recovery, Michael Goulian performed and “After Shock”, the jet powered fire truck had a race with him. The Blue Angels would then close the show daily.
On Saturday night, a Beach Blast is held near 31st Street on the Boardwalk. A Navy band plays music at the band shell and once it is dark, a Super Hornet performs afterburner flybys, followed by sky divers down to the beach and a visit from the Blue Angels 2018 team.
I always enjoy the airshow at NAS Oceana and this year’s weather was good enough over a three day period to get everything I wanted in sunny conditions. I appreciate the opportunities afforded to me as a media member and except for a streamlining of the credential pickup for next year, everything went smoothly. My thanks to all the personnel who have to work 3 days to open this airshow to the public and media.