A LOOK BACK AT OCEANA – 2018’s Show With Planes and STEMS

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Naval Air Station Oceana is a pretty secure place. Unless you have business here, you’re never going to get in……except for one weekend each year when Oceana opens up its Main Gate to the public for its annual big Air Show. Last year in 2018 it was on Saturday and Sunday, September 22nd and 23rd, when the NAS Oceana Team, led by the Boss, Commanding Officer, Capt. Chad “Vinny” Vincelette, XO, Capt. John “SPEW” Hewitt and Air Show Director, Rick “Corky” Erie, as well as representatives from just about every department on Base, in addition to many sponsors, volunteers and the “MRW” Gang (Base Moral, Recreation and Welfare Committee), all combined to put together another fabulous Oceana Air Show for 2018! The Flightline Heroes that ruled the Show Control platform were the Air Boss, Cmdr. Ed “Stalker” (don’t ask) Chandler and his Mini-Boss who kept six hours of flying going with planes well separated and all on schedule, and the veteran air show announcer. Rob Reider, who filled the PA system all day with all kinds of airplane and performer facts and figures. This air show was dedicated to “Celebrating Naval Air Station Oceana’s 75th Anniversary”.

1) What’s a STEM?

As always, the air show was also dedicated to Oceana’s continued involvement with the local Community around the Base. This Mission took on special meaning for Ed “Corky” Erie, the Air Show Director, when, back in 2015, during New York City “Fleet Week 2015”, he visited the USS Intrepid Air & Space Museum, where they were doing a special fund raiser for a future “Education Outreach” program to be held later on the Intrepid. He thought a similar STEM Program (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) for local school kids in Virginia Beach would be a great idea to combine with the Oceana Air Show to show community appreciation. In 2015 he presented a program brief to the Oceana Commanding Officer and the VB Superintendent of Schools and both gave permission to Erie to develop a STEM Program for the 2016 Air Show, which eventually happened. Well, this idea of a STEM Program really took off at Oceana and the 2018 Air Show was no exception. On the Friday Practice Day, would you believe at about 1200 hours, 60 yellow school busses rolled up to the East Ramp Show Entry Gate and unloaded over 7,000 5th Graders from all 50 Virginia Beach and Chesapeake schools along with 1,500 teachers and chaperones. The kids were all decked out in special bright red, green, yellow and blue colored tee shirts representing four academic groups. These kids were not here just to look at airplanes. They had school work to do on the ramp before they hit the airplanes! Each color represented the color of a “Education Learning Station” that they had to go to first. Each station had a colored banner flying over each to identify them. The kids moved from station to station. There were a total of 25 to 30 access points or Education Lab Stations that each group had to check into. Each access point had a particular educational exhibit based on four basic themes this year – Robotics; 3-D Printing; Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Submarines and others. The kids moved from station to station within their color group spending an average of five minutes at each access point. This was work for these kids. It was only after two hours of hands-on learning that everyone was allowed to head to the bleachers to watch the Blue Angels practice at 1400. The Fifth Graders all sat in distinct colored shirt groups that reminded me of the colored jersey shirts that the aviation support personnel wear on the flight decks of aircraft carriers during flight operations – quite appropriate for NAS Oceana. The STEM Field Trip worked out very well for these kids. Then at 1500, they lined up by colored shirt groups and went back to their buses to get back to school!

2) The Air Show Brief:

The Oceana Air Show always has enough different flying machines and ground exhibits to keep everyone happy. You could buy anything from a Coors Light and Philly Cheese Steak, to a new car to new windows for your house. But the most popular stands remained the Squadron Stands, Here every squadron at Oceana and Chambers Field were represented and were selling everything and anything to make a few bucks for the squadrons. Just bring lots of money! The Airplanes: If you counted the secured “Hot Ramp” and the open “Static Ramp”, there were 76 total airplanes on exhibit at Oceana in 2018. But what made it really special this year was that the show was in honor of the 75th Anniversary of NAS Oceana. There were three famous air demonstration squadrons set to perform – the 6-ship GEICO “Skytypers”; the 9-ship Canadian Forces “Snowbirds” 431 Air Demonstration Squadron; and for the Grand Finale, the US Navy “Blue Angels” Flight Demonstration Squadron. And if that wasn’t enough to keep you happy, there was also the Warrior Flight Team with two L-39’s; the East Coast F/A-18 Super Hornet Demo Team; the F-22 Raptor Demo Team over from Langley; a Heritage Flight Demo; the US Army “Black Daggers” Parachute Team; the Sky Dive Suffolk Jump Team; a Jet Fire Truck; a nice mix of aerobatic noisemaker stunt planes and warbird demos and a 7-ship F/A-18 Air Power Demo with lots of stuff blowing up on the ground! That combination was enough to get about 75,000 plane-crazed fans in on each day!

3) The Base:

NAS Oceana is the Navy’s East Coast Master Jet Base and is home to Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic, home to over 250 F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets. It’s mission is to enable joint force operations and to support training and readiness for 18 tenant squadrons and crews who call Oceana “Home”. Oceana also “owns” Chambers Field at Naval Station Norfolk, home for E-2C/D VAW “Hawkeye” squadrons, a C-2A “Greyhound” unit VRC-40 and MH-60S “Knighthawk” helo squadrons. It also owns the nearby Dam Neck Annex (home to SeaL Team-6 and other classified SOC units), the Naval Auxiliary Landing Field (OLF) Fentress eight miles south of the Base where carrier landing operations are practiced and the Dare County Bomb Range (Navy Dare) 75 miles south of here where laser targeting and ordinance drops are practiced. The base Transit Line has many visitors including ATAC Red Air Contract Aggressors who come down from Newport News, VA. ATAC currently has locally based: 11 Hawker Hunters; 6 IAI F-21 Kifirs; 1 Douglas A-4 Skyhawk and 2 Aero L-39 Albatrosses. Some of ATAC’s 63 recently acquired Dassault Mirage supersonic F1’s will work with the F-22’s at Langley, but may also visit Oceana. Oceana has 17,000 military personnel, civilians and contractors working on base. There are over 100,000 air operations a year here. Its Carrier Air Wings and Strike Fighter Squadrons have quick and easy access to the most advanced flight simulators and training programs, a world-class intermediate aircraft maintenance center and a 94,000 square mile off-shore air-to-air combat ACM training range. This is like the East Coast Top Gun School. The Oceana MOA (Military Operations Area) is right off the Virginia Beach coast and on Aviation Sectionals as Warning Areas 50 and 72. No Cessna-172’s allowed here unless you want to tangle with a F/A-18 doing ACM’s! Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic has: (4) Carrier Wings; (5) F/A-18A+/B/C/D Hornet Squadrons including one reserve Red Air Aggressor Squadron VFC-12 “Fighting Omar’s” (call sign “Ambush”); one Boeing C-40A “Clipper” Airlift Squadron (VR-56 “Globemasters”) and actually some T-34 Mentor pilot training aircraft.

4) The Hot Ramp:

NAS Oceana opened up its Main Gate to the public early at 0800 on Saturday allowing the plane-chasers ample time to check out the statics before flying began at 1000. The public parked on the East Ramp (the old A-6 “Intruder Country” ramp) at Hanger 122 and walked through security near the Control Tower. Base personnel came in from the upper West Ramp at Hanger 404. The Hot Ramp was in front of Hanger 400 and 500, a restricted area beyond the fence line, where the public was not allowed. However the best shooter real estate was at the corner of the wire in front of 404 where taxiing aircraft made the turn to and from the Hot Ramp. A good 300 could let you to eyeball the Hot Ramp parking pretty easily. Starting at 404 you could see on the Hot Ramp: about twelve F/A-18 Hornets that were to be part of the Mass Fleet Fly Over and Air Power Demo later; the Shorts SC-7 Skyvan Jump Plane; the F/A-18D Blue Angel-7 “Announcer’s” Jet; Greg Shelton’s FM-2 “Wildcat”; Bob Carlton’s Super Salto Jet Sailplane; the F-22 Demo Team from Langley with two Raptors; Kent Pietsch’s yellow Interstate Cadet L-6 “Jelly Belly”; Jim Torbul’s F4U Corsair; the Oceana East Coast Super Hornet TAC Demo Team from VFA-106 “Gladiators” with two F/A-18E’s; Michael Goulian’s Extra 330SC stunt plane; the Warrior Flight Team with two Czech Aero L-39 Albatross jet trainers; an MH-60S Knighthawk from Chambers on Emergency SAR Standby; and Bill Leff’s polished silver AT-6G trainer. In front of the Announcers Stand were the Star Performers: the “Blue Angels” with their six blue F/A-18C Hornets; the Canadian Forces “Snowbirds” with their eleven red and white Canadair CT-114 Tutor tandem 2-seat trainers; and the GEICO “Skytypers” from Republic Airport in Long Island with their six custom SNJ-2 Navy Texan Trainers.

 

5) The Static Ramp;

My walk on the Static Ramp started at the west end by Hanger 404. Heading east we had: a dark blue Oceana-based T-34C Mentor; a 1955 FUJI privately-owned Japnese trainer built for the JASDF by Beechcraft; next the TBM-3E “Avenger” from the CAF Ghost Squadron in Culpepper, VA; an F/A-18E Super Hornet from VFA-31 “Tomcatters” with “Fighting Felix” tail art and covers; a white AMC C-21 Learjet 35A; a white and orange North American T-28B “Trojan” trainer; a dark grey T-38C “Talon” from the 505th BW Whiteman AFB; a 1976 Cessna U206F owned by the Virginia Department of Aviation; a C-182 also owned by the VADOA; a dark grey F-15E Strike Eagle from the 334th FS “Eagles” out of Seymor-Johnson AFB, 4th FW Operations Group with a special tail art “Seventy Fifth Anniversary Fourth Fighter Wing”; a tan Boeing-Vetrol CH-47F Chinook from B-Co / 5-159th / GSAB Army Reserves out of nearby Ft. Eustis, VA; a CAP C-172 out of Suffolk Airport VA but assigned to Camp Pendelton, VB, VA; a dark blue 1949 Douglas AD-4 (A-1) “Skyraider” out of the nearby Military Air Museum (MAM) in Pungo, VA, and owned by Jerry Yagan; a 1943 Vickers Supermarine Spitfire HFC Mk IXe / MJ730 also out of the MAM;

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a USAF AT-6 Texan II specially painted up in Spitfire 75th Anniversary Normandy Heritage Colors based on the 455th BM Sq. (B-26 Marauders) and now surprisingly based at NAS Pensacola and working for the 479th FTS, actually a T-1 Jayhawk Training Group, a combined USAF-USN Combat Systems Training Operation; a pure white C-40 Alpha “Clipper” (B-737-700C) with VR-56 “Globemasters” airlift squadron based at Oceana Hanger 56 (all white with no markings to make it easier to fly into certain “sensitive” international airports); a Boeing B-52H Stratofortress bomber assigned to the 69th BS / 5th BW “Knighthawks”, Global Strike Command, out of Minot AFB (MT), ND, (60-012) and 59 years old going on 100!; a Boeing C-17A Globemaster III from the 445th AW, AFRC, AMC, out of Wright-Patterson AFB;

a P-3C Orion with the Naval Research Lab out of Pax River; an F/A-18C Hornet from VFA-34 “Blue Blasters”, with special tail art “The End of a Legacy 1983 – 2019” and a Skull smoking a cigarette or something; an F/A-18C Hornet also with VFA-34 in special CAG Bird colors, black top, Blue Blaster side fuselage logo and the “Smoking Skull” again; an F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-213 “Black Lions” with of course a Lion on the tail; a new P-8A “Poseidon” (B-737-800 ERX) from VP-30 “Pros Nest”, a Fleet Replacement Training Squadron (FRS) out of Jacksonville NAS and finally a T-1A Raytheon Jayhawk heavy metal trainer from the 48th FTS, 14th FTW, “Alley Cats” out of Columbus (CB) AFB. I think that makes 76 airplanes on the ramp!

Bob Finch’s view of the 2018 Oceana Air Show!

6) The Flying Show:

The Oceana flying show started at exactly 1000 hours with the USA SOC “Black Daggers” and Skydive Suffolk bringing in the POW / MIA, Canadian and the United States flags, with Sammy Ann Seacreast singing the National Anthems for Canada and the USA. Sammy, who is now 21, has been singing at the Oceana Air Shows every year for the last ten years. After a few welcoming speeches, it was “Burner Time” with the ear-splitting military max power high performance launches of the seven Hornets that that would take part later in the Fleet Air Power Demonstration. A few years ago you would see as many as 20 F/A-18 Hornets or F-14 Tomcats in high performance paired take-offs. But that’s alright; we’ll take the seven Hornets in a noisy burner launch. This year the participants were from VFA-105. 31. 106 and VFC-12. They climbed out and cleared to the east to hold off the coast for a while. The MH-60 special ops helos from “Dusty Dogs” and “Night Hawks” launched for a later Special Ops insertion demo. Then two Hornets came back in for a 1 v 1 head-to-head ACM demo. Next we had a CAS “Fast Ass CAS” demo with a JTAC Controller calling in air strikes to clear an LZ for a helo SOC insertion. Kathy-11 was Cleared Hot for a 4-bomb pop-up run on an enemy troop formation. Four perfect pyros on the mark. Kathy-12 was brought in for a “Welcome To The Fight” call. Joining in was Kathy-21 and Kathy-22 also cleared hot with lots of pyro bombs and black smoke going off. They needed some 20 mike-mike so Kathy-11 and 12 were brought back in to the fight by JTAC for a Precision Strafing Attack. Thank you “Precision Pyrotechnics” for a great strafing simulation demo! Kathy 21 and 22 came back for a BDA visual pass and the LZ was determined safe for the insertion and a brief ground action for a classified SOC mission. Insertion was completed for the SeAL Team by two SH-60W special ops helos. The LZ was hot again and helo “Dusty-41” had to soften up the LZ with some Hellfire missiles and some 20mm strafing guns. Now we had a safe LZ and the extraction was complete. However Kathy-11 and 12 were at Bingo Fuel and F/A-18 tankers were called in. We had a refueling demo from two tankers – Canyon-31 and 32 with probe-and-drogue lines to the Hornets. And that was a cool “Sierra Hotel” 20-minute Combat Demo.

Next up was the Skyvan with the USA SOC “Black Daggers” and Skydive Suffolk for some free fall formation jumping and low break always for some on-target high speed approaches and landings. Next the seven Hornets came back in formation for the 7-ship fly-by with a 6-ship delta and the solo doing a high speed right break over the crowd. The 6-ship came back for a 400 kt high speed carrier break to land dropping down to 120 kits for a spaced carrier landing sequence and “Calling The Ball” with the LSO. After the 7-ship flight was was safely recovered on deck after successful 3-wire traps, the Hornets did a nice slow taxi past the crowd line back to the Hot Ramp. Next the L-39’s from the Warrior Flight Team launched to hold to the west. Then the FM-2 “Wildcat” launched for a demo and recovery. The L-39’s came back for their demo. Mark “Crunchy” Burgess in “Vandy-1” and Bill “Pirate” Mills in “Roman-86” did some nice 1 v 1 ACM demos and a neat “Banana Pass” – an aggressive low level high speed knife edge “photo pass” very low to the ground with wings 90 degrees vertical up. They did a nice “Rolling Scissors” ACM “fur-ball” maneuver and more 1 v 1 air combat and finally a simulated carrier break with a Wave Off and a Bolter with a final 3-Wire Trap on deck. Both sticks are retired Hornet and Tomcat drivers so this whole thing was pure fun for them.

Bill Leff’ was next in his silver T-6 literally doing his final performance of his outstanding air show career – Thanks Bill for some great aerobatic shows. Then it was Bob Carlton in his Jet Glider – first noise, then quiet – followed by Kent Pietsch in his little yellow Interstate Cadet (L-6) “Jelly Belly” and Yes, he finally did land on top of the Camper Runway Truck! GEICO launched to hold to the west and later did a 6-ship line abreast computer controlled dot pattern example of their famous skywriting technique. The F-22 Demo next did a burner take off and went up for an unusual performance – amazing how they can stand that Raptor on end and hold stationary in the vertical without moving then rotate mid-air, then flip on end, do a controlled flat spin, fall back tail first, flip, and go straight down. All in a days work, right? The Skyvan was back up with the two jump teams again for another free fall demo. The GEICO Skytypers joined up with the 6-ship Delta and a low opening pass from behind the crowd, then did a nice demo of WW2 ACM and CAS moves. The Canadian “Snowbirds” CT-114 Tutor 9-ship next launched first with a 5-ship delta alternating with two opposing double “solos”. They then went into a 4-ship diamond and did a series of cool slow maneuvers with the 5 planes: 9-ship high roll and loop, opposing solos, and various combinations of 4, 5, 7, 1v1 and 9-ship maneuvers with the best being the final 9-ship criss cross spin break to land.

Then we had the Vought F4U “Corsair” demo. The announcer Rob Reider pointed out that this plane was made famous by the TV Show in the 60s “Baa Baa Black Sheep” about VMF-214 “Black Sheep Squadron” of F4U Corsairs commanded by Major Greg “Pappy” Boyington and his band of misfit pilots that went on to win many dogfights with the Japs in the Pacific War and become famous for their many combat victories. After the Corsair recovered, the F/A-18F from VFA-106 “Gladiators” launched to do the Hornet Demo. Chris “Hi-Lo” Walker was on the stick and Mark “Chinz” Garcia was flying the back seat as the “Wizzo”. Hi-Lo had some neat moves: a 700 kt 0.98 Mach high speed burner pass, a vertical “Pirouette Pass”, a “Square Loop”, an “Inverted Whisper Pass”, a “High Alpha Pass” where he got it down to 105 kits without stalling (stall was about 102 kits!)’ the noisy “Minimum Radius Turn”, a flat pass with a burner 360 “S” turn and a Carrier Break to a low transition to a Touch-and-Go Bolter and a Go-Around with a final 3-Wire Trap, Great Show Hi-Lo! The F4U Corsair and the F/A-18F then teamed up for a patriotic Heritage Flight with appropriate music and description by Rob Reider. Michael Goulian went up next with his Extra 330SC for a fine aerobatic performance. The Heritage F4U and the F/A-18F next taxied close to the crowd line, stopped, turned 45 degrees, and both aircraft simultaneously folded their wings. Chris Darnell next got his 1945 Jet FireTruck “Aftershock” close to getting airborne just before releasing the drogue chute to stop. The crowd loved the flames, white smoke and explosions. Finally at 1500, without “Fat Albert”, the “Blues” launched for their traditional show with unique music for each maneuver, moves that many of us have memorized by now. My favorite: the “Delta Loop Break Cross” with music “Dreams” by Van Halen (“We’ll get higher and higher, Straight up we’ll climb…”).

YES, 2018 was a great Oceana Air Show. Lets all join up again in 2019 this year on September 21st and 22nd for for another great Oceana Air Show! See you on the Flightline!!!

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