DEFENDERS OF FREEDOM

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Ten miles South of Omaha Nebraska, adjacent to the city of Bellevue Nebraska, one will find Offutt Air Force Base. Offutt has a very rich history dating back to the late 1890’s when Fort Crook was constructed, as a matter of fact many of the original structures are still in use today. In 1918 flying came to Fort Crook in the shape of balloons operated by the United States Army Air Corps. May 6th 1924, the flying portion of Fort Crook was renamed in honor of 1st Lt. Jarvis Offutt. Lt. Offutt was Omaha’s first World War I air casualty, when he died in 1918 from injuries sustained in a training accident in France. In 1940 Offutt was chosen as a location for a bomber plant to be operated by the Glenn L. Martin Company. 531 B-29 Superfortresses would be built here including the B-29’s that would drop Atomic Bombs, Enola Gay and Bockscar. The newly formed United States Air Force would assume command of the base in 1947 and would become the headquarters for the next 40 years of the Strategic Air Command (SAC). In 1992 the Strategic Air Command would be disbanded and the U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) formed at Offutt. Today Offutt’s single 11,703 ft long runway 12/30 is home to the 55th Wing and the 595th Command and Control Group.

Part of Air Combat Command, the 55th Wing’s mission statement is simple “Global information and electronic warfare dominance Any time, Any place.” The 55th Wing is largest wing in Air Combat Command, and is the second largest in the Air Force overall. The 55th Wing is composed of 5 groups at Offutt and at various locations around the world including Kadena Air Force Base Okinawa Japan, and Mildenhall Air Force Base England. The group employs approximately 46 aircraft including 13 models of 7 different types of Boeing OC,RC,TC,WC-135 aircraft. These highly modified variants of the Boeing KC-135 are used as Open Skies, Reconnaissance, Intelligence Gathering, Training, and Atmospheric Testing platforms. All of the wings aircraft use the tail code “OF”. Three different Offutt based 135’s were part of the weekend events. 2 different Boeing TC-135W’s were seen with 62-4133 arriving after the Friday practice airshow and TC-135W 62-4129 being part of the flying display. The TC-135W’s mission is to train and keep pilots proficient. In the static display, Boeing RC-135V Rivet Joint, 64-14841 was present and is used as an intelligence gathering platform.

Also part of the 55th Wing, though not based at Offutt is the 55th Electronic Combat Group. The 55th is based at Davis Monthan Air Force Base Arizona and flies the Lockheed EC-130H Hercules. This version of the venerable Hercules called “Compass Call” is used as an electronic warfare and suppression of enemy air defense platform. The EC-130H has a crew of 13, with a total of 14 aircraft currently serving.

Rounding out the flying units based at Offutt is the 595th Command and Control Group. The mission of the 595th is to “Ensure U.S. strategic deterrence by providing aircrew, operators, and maintenance personnel for command, control, and communications (NC3) platforms enabling the National Command Authority survivable, real time strategic assessment and global strike capabilities.” The 595th flies 4 Boeing E-4B-BN Advanced Airborne Command Post, a highly modified version of the Boeing 747-200 Jetliner and serves as a survivable mobile command post for the National Command Authority. A total of E-4B’s are part of the Air Force inventory.

This past August Offutt Air Force base opened its gates to the public and hosted the Defenders of Freedom Airshow. This two day airshow and open house featured a static display including several front-line U.S. military aircraft as well as several civilian owned warbirds.

Notable aircraft in the static display included Northrop T-38C Talon 67-4951. This T-38 is part of the 87th Fighter Training Squadron and wears special 100th anniversary colors. The 87th is based at Laughlin Air Force Base and is one of the oldest squadrons in the United States Air Force with its history dating back to 1917. This unit is is assigned to the Air Education and Training Command, and is responsible for training student pilots to fly fighter or bomber aircraft. Approximately 500 T-38’s are still flown by the United States Air Force as an advanced supersonic jet trainer.

Boeing “Heavies” were all around the static display and included Boeing KC-10A Extender 85-0034 which serves with the 305th Air Mobility Wing based at McGuire Air Force Base New Jersey. This KC-10 is outfitted with a pair of Cobham wing mounted aerial refueling pods. Boeing C-17A Globemaster III 01-0193 was on hand. This C-17 serves with the 437th Airlift Wing and is based at Charleston Air Force Base South Carolina, it also wears Spirit of Strom Thurmond titles above the main entry door. Boeing KC-135R, 57-1461 serves with the 155th Air Refueling Wing, part of the Nebraska Air National Guard and is based at Lincoln International Airport Nebraska. The hometown unit was also represented in the static display in the shape of Boeing RC-135V Rivet Joint 64-14841. This aircraft is part of the 55th Wing and wears special Kadena Air Force Base inspired nose art. Rounding out the Boeing “Heavies” was Boeing B-52H Stratofortress 60-0017. This B-52 is based at Minot Air Force Base North Dakota and serves with the 69th Bomb Squadron.

The afternoon airshow featured civilian, warbird and modern military performances and demonstrations. Scott Francis thrilled the crowd in the highly maneuverable MXS, N104MX. Kent Pietsch brought NC37428, the Jelly Belly Interstate Cadet. Kent actually lands and takes off in this aircraft from a ramp mounted on the back of a moving pick up truck. Matt Younkin flew his always impressive routine in N9109R, his Beech 18, better known as Magic by Moonlight.

Several different jet and prop Warbirds were in abundance, with several different types featured in the airshow. Highlights included, Team Aeroshell flying its highly polished airshow routine in their four Red and White North American T-6 Texans. The Commemorative Air Force had a pair of warbirds in the airshow. 1942 vintage Curtiss P-40N Warhawk, registration N1226N, flew several solo passes and formation passes with a P-51 and a T-6. 1945 vintage North American P-51D Mustang, registered N5428V, better known as Gunfighter also made several passes. Randy Ball brought his 1960 vintage Polish built LIM-5, N217SH. The LIM-5 is a license built Mikoyan Gurevich Mig-17F, NATO code name “Fresco” flew several spectacular afterburner passes.

Modern military aircraft also participated in the airshow, including 3 passes from an Whiteman Air Force Base Missouri based Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit. This B-2, 88-0329, is named “Spirit of Missouri” and serves with the 509th Bomb Wing.

Air Combat Command brought the noise in the form of the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Demo Teams.

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A pair of Raptors came to Offutt, 04-4073 a block 20 model and 05-4085 a block 30 model. Both Raptors are part of the 1st Fighter Wing based at Langley Air Force Base Virginia, which is one of the oldest in the Air Force dating back to 1918. The 2018 Demo Team Pilot, Major Paul “Loco” Lopez flew his usual impressive display of the Raptor’s capabilities.

The 61st Fighter Squadron based at Luke Air Force Base Arizona bought the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II to Offutt. This F-35, 11-5030, is noteworthy as it was the first to arrive at Luke in 2014. The 61st is a Fighter Training Squadron and is part of Air E ducation and Training Command. The F-35 was not certified to fly a full demo just yet but flew several solo passes before participating in the Heritage Flight with the F-22 and a P-38.

No airshow is complete without a United States Air Force Heritage Flight. The Defenders of Freedom Airshow featured a Heritage Flight with the F-22,F-35 and the Lockheed P-38 Lighting. The P-38 that flew this Heritage Flight is registered NX79123, a 1945 built L model lighting is owned and flown by the Fagen Fighters out of Granite Falls Minnesota. This P-38 proudly wears the nose art “SCAT III” in honor of Robin Olds, one of the most successful fighter pilots of all time.

The weather this weekend was hot and hazy, but definitely worth visiting one of the most important Air Force Bases in the country. A very special thank you to the 55th Wing Public Affairs office for their hospitality during my visit. Until Next time, “Blue Skies to All!”

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Scott Jankowski

Scott Jankowski - Franklin, Wisconsin Like so many others my love of aviation started when I was young, very young. I was only three years old when my Parents took me to my first air show here in Milwaukee, the rest you could say is “history”. I would read aviation magazines instead of Comic Books. I would prefer my Dad take me to the airport to watch airplanes instead of throwing a Football around. I grew up watching Convair 580’s, DC9’s and 727’s from the terminal here in Milwaukee, no Stage Three noise compliance back then! I started to seriously take pictures in the Mid 1980’s , for my birthday that year I finally had my first decent camera. I would head down to the airport with my pockets full of Kodak Film and take pictures of anything and everything. It did not matter if it was a Air Wisconsin Dash-7 or a 128TH ARW KC-135E if it had an engine I took a picture of it. I would drop those rolls off to be developed and three days later tear into the envelopes to see the results, which to be honest were not that good but there were a few keepers every once and a while. Fast forwarding to today with much better equipment and skills I spend as much time as I can at both General Mitchell International and Chicago O’Hare which are my Hometown Airports. While times and aircraft have changed the excitement is still as great as it was back all of those years ago. It makes no difference if it is 737, P-51, F-16, or Lear 35 I will not pass on any photo opportunity as you may not get that chance again. Even though my primary focus is on Commercial Aviation I still frequent as many Air shows as I can in the short Summer Season. I am fortunate enough to have EAA Air Venture in my backyard only being only an Hour and Half from my home. I routinely attend Air shows here in Milwaukee, Rockford, Chicago, Ypsilanti and the Quad Cities. I am very fortunate to be part of the Photorecon.Net and PHX Spotters Team and am looking forward to bringing everyone some Air show and Airliner action from the Midwest Region!

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