Airpower Over Hampton Roads 2018
The 2018 edition of Airpower over Hampton Roads was held at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton, Virginia, May 18th through the 20th. The weather forecast for the area was awful due to a stalled front. Due to the rain in the forecast, many people changed their travel plans, including some scheduled performers. I even made some changes but still wanted to come to the show even if I had to wear a full rain suit to walk around. Although not ideal conditions, Hampton Roads was spared the bulk of the rain and an airshow actually happened. Most notable was the return to flight of the United States Air Force Thunderbirds.
Joint Base Langley-Eustis is the oldest continually active air force base in the world. 102 years ago, a site which is now within the city of Hampton, was chosen for its open, flat land in close proximity to water and the Army installation, Fort Monroe. The airfield was built by the US Army and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), and named for American military aviation pioneer, Samuel P. Langley. As NACA became NASA, a continuous presence has been maintained on the north side as the NASA Langley Research Center. I even have some personal family history here as my Grandfather did a stint in 1947, living on base with my Grandmother and young father.
Joint Base Langley-Eustis is also home to Air Combat Command Headquarters and the First Fighter Wing. The Wing features two of the oldest fighter squadrons in the United States, the 27th Fighting Eagles and the 94th Spads, both 101 years old and flying the F-22A Raptor. There is also an aggressor squadron, the 71st Fighter Training Squadron, The Ironmen, flying T-38 Talons.
As a media member, I had a chance to enter the base at 10:30 on Friday. We were escorted beyond the fenceline for Thunderbird interviews. Thunderbirds 2, 5 and 6 made an appearance and spoke to the media. Afterward, we were turned loose on the ramp which was still being set up with vendors. One noticeable addition to the ramp from two years ago is the proliferation of sun shades to protect the Raptors. Those sun shades offered protection to many airshow patrons when the rain moved in. For now, though, it was just a breezy and cloudy day. That was the norm as breaks of sun were few and far between. Most of the static aircraft were under the sun shades. Only the larger ones were out in the open.
Static aircraft in the open included a B-1 Bomber in Nellis Weapons School markings but flown in by the 28th Bomb Squadron, a Marine Corps Reserve MV-22 Osprey from Naval Air Station Norfolk, and a C-17 from West Virginia. There was also a Bell Jet Ranger from WAVY 10 News, my channel of choice when I am in town. Under the sun shades were an MQ-9 Reaper drone from Creech AFB, F-16s from Shaw AFB, an F-15E Strike Eagle from Seymour Johnson AFB with mission markings, an F-22 Raptor, a T-1 Jayhawk, T-6 Texan II and T-38 all from Columbus AFB, and a Falcon 50 and OV-10 Bronco from NASA.
I was told that this OV-10 is the highest time airframe on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the first thing NASA did after acquiring it was to patch the bullet holes.
There were a couple of practice performances on Friday before the gates opened to the public. Due to the low cloud deck, all demos were low shows. Because the air was so moist, it was a vapor fest. In between demos, a few more aircraft arrived in the T-1 Jayhawk and the Golden Knights Fokker 27. The Raptor demo flew first, followed by the Geico Skytypers, Jacquie B in her Extra 300, Rob Holland and Bill Stein formation aerobatics and then the return of the Thunderbirds. We were told that there would be no flying for the night show due to the weather but a few acts did take to the air like Matt Younkin in his Beech 18 and the Raptor. It did rain later in the evening so I do not believe much happened in the air after that. There was also supposed to be a Friday night concert with Fantasia.
Still cloudy but dry, it was now confirmed that a number of warbirds did not make the trip. One of my personal favorite demos, the Class of 45 Corsair and Mustang canceled, the Heritage Flight Mustang canceled and the B-25 Panchito canceled. The cloud deck did not allow the Golden Knights to do their opening ceremony drop. Once flying did start, we were treated to a low show by the T-33, Ace Maker. Not only is this the final season for Bill Leff in his T-6 Texan, this was the final airshow! I was surprised when he announced that on the frequency. He is one of the great people in this business and I wish him well in retirement. Manfred Radius flew a low altitude routine in his Salto Sailplane which cuts the demo to half the time.
Matt Younkin put his big Beech 18 through the elephant walk and then it got fast and loud with Randy Ball in his Mig 17. I do not recall ever seeing wingtip vortices from his routine but the moist conditions made them happen this time. Bob Carlton demonstrated his Sub Sonex Microjet, then Rob Holland and Bill Stein both had solo demos before joining up in a formation demo. One of the races featured the Precision Exotics Lamborghini emblazoned with 27th Fighter Squadron Raptor stencils against Rob Holland. Later in the act, Rob and Bill dove on Shockwave just before a heavy rain came. It was funny to watch everyone charge the fence for Shockwave and then run just as fast for cover as it started pouring. Unfortunately, with more storms in the area, they canceled the rest of the flying for the day as well as the Saturday night concert. So, no Raptor or Thunderbirds on Saturday.
I stayed in town an extra night with the hopes that Sunday would be a better day. I awoke to clouds everywhere so I hit the highway for home. After all, Monday comes after Sunday. Despite the weather, I had a good time and am glad I decided to go. My thanks to all the personnel at Joint Base Langley-Eustis for their efforts to host this year’s show.