A Main(e) Event in Vacationland
The Great State of Maine Air Show went off without a hitch in 2012, a far cry from the 2011 event that was severely impacted by Hurricane Irene as she churned up the East Coast. Fair skies and comfortable temperatures prevailed during the final weekend of August at the Brunswick Executive Airport. A large variety of performers, both in the air and on the ground, showcased aeronautical technology from yesterday’s history-making mounts to today’s cutting edge military and civilian aircraft.
The airport, a former Naval Air Station, is perched at the foot of picturesque Harpswell Cove on Maine’s southeastern coast. Brunswick Executive Airport and its surrounding infrastructure (known as Brunswick Landing) is rapidly becoming a vibrant commerce center in Maine’s so-called Mid-Coast Region. Within a year and a half of civilian operation, almost two dozen light aircraft are already home-based at Brunswick, and business jets and turboprops are regular visitors. Parallel 8,000 foot runways offer a gateway to the Mid-Coast Region, which embodies the state’s nickname of “Vacationland”. Beside leisure activities, the area is home to colleges, shipbuilder General Dynamics’ Bath Ironworks, high tech companies, and some of Maine’s best seafood businesses (both the catching and eating varieties). Although there are still many reminders of its former naval air station past, (like the P2V Neptune and P-3 Orion gate guards), the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority (MRRA) has attracted a fixed base operator and installed an ILS all-weather landing system; both are big attractions for civilian aviation operators. The MRRA is responsible for attracting tenants that will re-use the remaining structures and land after the base closed too. Of major interest is a pair of relatively new, large hangars that dominate the wide ramps that used to be home to several squadrons of Navy P-3 Orion patrol planes.
It’s rare for an East Coast air show to attract West Coast aviators due to the distance they would need to travel from their home base. That wasn’t a problem at Brunswick, for there were performers from all over the country. Greg Colyer brought his “Ace Maker” T-33 (based in California), Jacquie Warda her Extra 300 (California), and Steve Oliver his Super Chipmunk (Arizona). A bit closer to the East Coast, performers from the mid western US included Randy Harris with his Skybolt 300 (Oklahoma), Greg Koontz his Piper Cub (Alabama), the CAF’s Tuskegee Airmen P-51C (Minnesota), the Darnell’s Flash Fire Jet Truck (Missouri), and the Texas Flying Legends warbirds (Texas via Minnesota). Those within the Eastern time zone included the Northeast Raiders from New Jersey, Mike Goulian in his Extra 330SC (Massachusetts), Rob Holland in his MX2-RH (New Hampshire), Dan Marcotte in his Ultimate 10-200 (Vermont), the Misty Blues Skydiving Team (Michigan), and Dan McCue in the Collings Foundation F4U Corsair (Maine). Of course, the Las Vegas Nevada-based Thunderbirds and the Virginia Beach-based East Coast F/A-18 Demonstration Team from VFA-106 had no distance issues with their jets.
An interesting group of aircraft were assembled as a static display. Many of these flew during the show too, giving spectators the rare chance to see them fly, and then get up close and personal to planes like the CAF’s “Redtail” P-51C Mustang, and the Texas Flying Legends’ FG-1D Corsair, P-51D Mustang, P-40N Warhawk, A6M2 Zero and B-25J Mitchell. Other civilian-owned aircraft on display included an amphibious Cessna T206, a Cirrus SR-20gtsx, and a L-39 jet. The first Kestrel K-350 turboprop aircraft was present too; Kestrel Aircraft has an engineering facility at the Brunswick Executive Airport. Military aircraft ranged from the large B-1B bomber, KC-135R tanker, and P-3C patrol planes to a smaller Air Force T-1A Jayhawk and a pair of orange and white T-6B Navy trainers.
The three day show began with a Friday evening event. The setting sun gave a dramatic backdrop to the performers as they raced towards dusk and then darkness. The Texas Flying Legends flew all five of their immaculate warbirds, and Warren Pietsch gave a short but exciting aerobatic demonstration in the Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero. This aircraft is authentic except for the Pratt and Whitney engine that replaces the rare Nakajima Sakae radial. Warren rolled, looped and made some very low passes in the World War II fighter, showing off the aircraft’s maneuverability (as well as his own pilot skills). The B-25 crew flew “Betty’s Dream” aggressively, at times looking more like a fighter than a bomber. All five pilots presented their aircraft in a very photogenic manner with banked fly bys, rolls and loops. Their 20-plus minute show is a must-see for any warbird enthusiast. Rob Holland, Dan Marcotte and Mike Goulian flew abbreviated routines, Jacquie Warda and Randy Harris flew their Team Chaos act, and Steve Oliver did his FireDancer Pyrobatic show, with plenty of fireworks emitting from his Super Chipmunk. The Northeast Raiders did their night aerobatic show too, with very effective lighting aboard their aircraft that looked like real fire belching from their engines. The night was completed with a fireworks display.
The daytime shows contained close to five hours of flying, with the Air Force’s Thunderbirds performing the grand finale each day. Team Chaos, with help from the Tora Bomb Squad and the Flash Fire Jet Truck, definitely got every child’s attention with all their smoke and fire. Two Navy F/A-18 Hornets flew, one giving a full flight demonstration, the other teaming up with Dan McCue in the F-4U Corsair for a Legacy Flight routine. In all, there were 16 flying acts, plus a jet truck and pyro event each day. While talking to various performers and flight crew, many had never ventured to Maine before, and were thrilled to be able to perform in the state. Of course, a few voiced their enthusiasm for the local lobster and seafood too!
NAS Brunswick was a busy base when it was operating; it took some getting used to seeing the big airport operating without a large Navy presence. Some of the local inhabitants aren’t quite used to the lack of Navy personnel either. While eating breakfast in the New Brunswick Diner before Saturday’s air show, one regular announced to everyone to make sure that we all said hello to the Thunderbirds crewmembers as they left after eating. This was fine, except that the trio of flight-suited pilots were the Navy’s VFA-106 East Coast Hornet Demonstration Team, who good-naturedly pointed this out as they highlighted their shoulder patches as they waved good bye. The Navy hasn’t been gone that long, has it?!
The civilian producers did a fine job of putting on a big air show with a wide range of flying acts and static displays. The Great State of Maine Air Show was definitely a Main(e) event during the summertime in Vacationland.
Article by Ken Kula
Photo credits: Ken Kula, Alice Leong, Scott Zeno