Baltimore’s Autumn Air Show in the Park
Story and Photos by Daniel O. Myers
For those in the Northeast United States; falling leaves, cooler temperatures and shorter days denote the end of another air show season as formations of Canadian geese take flight, heading south for the winter.
Autumn’s offering of comfortable crisp days, clear blue skies and no humidity make for perfect weather to enjoy an air show as well as spend a day in the park. And that was the atmosphere at the October 15-16, 2016 Baltimore Air Show which celebrated the rich naval traditions of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, its contributions in the defense of our nation, and the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.
The 2016 Fleet Week show followed two similar past successful events at Fort McHenry National Park and Baltimore Harbor. In June 2012, Maryland and the city of Baltimore recognized each other’s significant role in the War of 1812 and Francis Scott Key’s penning of our national anthem. That two day air show featured the U.S. Navy Blue Angels as well as multiple military acts flying over the Patapsco River, next to Fort McHenry, as part of a weeklong celebration dubbed the “Star-Spangled Sailabration.” Culminating Maryland’s commemoration of the bicentennial of the War of 1812, Baltimore again celebrated in September 2014 as the “Star-Spangled Spectacular” with the return of Tall Sailing Ships, Navy gray hulls and the Blue Angels showcasing another two day air show over Fort McHenry.
For 2016, those entering the Saturday and Sunday air show at Fort McHenry National Park were subject to no available public parking and extreme security procedures. However, the practice show permitted the public freedom of vehicle entry and unencumbered enjoyment of the show. The forty-three acre national park contains a visitor center and historic Star Fort, surrounded by wide expanses of green grass and wide walkways with park benches along Baltimore’s outer harbor and Patapsco River seawall. The small practice show crowd allowed those attending the opportunity to move about freely along the show-line (waterfront) making it ideal for photography. On Thursday the Blue Angels did their usual “Circle and Arrivals” flying in single, two and four-ship formations as they orientated themselves with the area and show-lines. Later in the day they returned in their six-jet formation to fly a complete practice show.
Starting around noon on Friday, Air Boss Wayne Boggs and announcer Rob Reider were in place atop Boggs’ show control trailer to take charge of the skies over Baltimore. It was a picture perfect day for an air show with all of fall’s majesty; clear blue skies, crisp autumn air and warm sunshine. Fort McHenry’s park atmosphere was a comfortable change from a hot concrete airport ramp. The show opened with civilian performer Scott Francis executing exciting Sliders, Hot Spins and Barrel Roll maneuvers in his MX-S. Scott’s routine extended forces on him and his plane from +12 G’s to -6G’s that ended with a hovering at center show. Following Scott’s act, the GEICO Skytypers, flying in their familiar precise diamond and solo formations, filled the sky and drenched the river with smoke from their six SNJ-2s. Next, from Atlantic City, NJ, the U.S. Coast Guard swooped in with one of their MH-65 Dolphin rescue helicopters. Stopping at show center the MH-65 deployed a rescue swimmer into the Patapsco River. Upon recovery of the swimmer, the Dolphin moved to the harbor side of the park and repeated the exercise. Both demos were so close- just feet from the park’s river wall walkway- they drew comment from announcer Rob Reider, “That is the closest SAR demo I have ever seen!”
Scheduled to perform for the weekend but not appearing for the practice show was a fly-by the U.S. Navy’s newest anti-submarine hunter, the P-8 Posiden. Unfortunately the Canadian CF-118 demo had mechanical problems and did not fly all weekend. However, there were no issues with the F-22 RAPTOR- that never fails to impress. F-22 demo pilot Major Dan “Rock” Dickinson revealed to the audience the awesome capabilities of the Langley AFB, VA based fighter. Following “Rock’s” performance, he was joined by the United States’ newest stealth fighter from Luke Air Force Base, the F-35 LIGHTENING flown by Maj. Will “D-Rail” Andreott. The two jets flew in close “Heritage Flight” formation, commemorating the Air Forces’ history and saluting our nation’s veterans. Saturday and Sunday, the two modern jets were accompanied by the P-51 Mustang.
During the show, strolling along Fort McHenry’s seawall, show-goers were able to come in direct contact with the Blue Angels’ and other performer’s support personnel. It was a rare opportunity, not usually found at other venues, for the public to meet and converse with the various demo team’s safety officers, maintainers and staff.
Headlining the show and final act of the day, the Blue Angels were in fine naval form. Their blue and gold F/A-18s seemed so close you could look right into the pilots eyes as they passed over the fort and military ships docked in the harbor. With “smoke on”, the jets glistened against the backdrop of the city’s skyline, and the clear air above the river where spectators watched from their anchored boats.
The air show was only part of the Fleet Week Festival of activities. Moored in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the public was invited to board a dozen U.S. and Canadian military vessels, which brought thousands of visiting sailors to the city. During the weekend, the Port of Baltimore also saw the commissioning of the U.S. Navy’s most technologically advanced destroyer- DDG 1000 USS ZUMWALT. The naval commissioning ceremony is a centuries old tradition that marks entrance of another proud ship-of-the-line into a nation’s naval forces.
Meanwhile back on land at Martin State Airport, located in nearby Middle River, MD, an Open House was held with static aircraft displays as well as providing visitors a place to watch the show aircraft take off and land and a chance to meet the Blue Angels pilots who autographed their hand-out brochures.
Show organizers ranked the 2016 show another success and are looking forward to the same in 2018.