Hawaii’s 2012 Kaneohe Bay Air Show
The 2012 Kaneohe Bay Air Show was presented aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii on Oahu.
The Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) offered a great stage to present an air show to tens of thousands of spectators. Brooding volcanic mountains rose to the left, part of the vast blue Pacific Ocean reached out to the right. Warm trade winds kept the air temperature moderated, and tropical clouds in a changeable sky offered shade from the near-equatorial sun.
Unfortunately, this stage was 2400 miles west of the coast of California, and over 3800 miles from our air bases in Japan. That’s a long way from home for any North American air show performer, and for remote-based U.S. military units across the Pacific Ocean. Fortunately, there are some outstanding civilian and military aviators living in Hawaii, and timely logistical support provided by military airlifters and aerial tankers allowed mainland and Japan-based air show performers to take part too, presenting an action-packed show in our 50th state in late September.
MCAS Kaneohe Bay’s past contains riveting military aviation history. Originally a Naval Air Station, it was attacked on December 7, 1941 eight minutes before the main attack began at Pearl Harbor. More than two thirds of the thirty six Navy PBY seaplanes that were based at the station were destroyed in the attack; damage to concrete structures in the current Hangar 101 is still visible today. Navy Chief Petty Officer John Finn earned a Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism here during this action. The base hosted a major gunnery school and instrument flight training facility for the Navy and Marines during World War II. In 1952, the Marines took control of the base after the Navy moved out. This is the sixtieth year of Marine Corps operation of the Air Station, which incidentally coincided with the Centennial of Marine Corps Aviation.
To allow some smaller civilian performers and their aircraft to take part in the show, a C-5B Galaxy assigned to the Air Force Reserve’s 439th Airlift Wing from Westover ARB took a group between California’s Travis AFB and MCAS Kaneohe Bay. The massive transport would serve as a static display aircraft during the air show too. Jacquie Warda’s Extra 300 needed some last minute disassembly of its empennage to fit inside… dimensions for a single seat aircraft showed enough room in the Galaxy, but her airplane is a twin-seat version, and slightly larger. Additionally, Kirby Chambliss’ Red Bull Edge 540, Michael Combs’ “Hope One” Remos GX Light Sport Aircraft and Neal Darnell’s Flash Fire jet truck also made the trip. The Blue Angels also left from California; Blue Angel #6, Lcdr. Dave Tickle said that their seven F/A-18s were refueled by a pair on KC-135 tankers 10 times during their 5.6 hour long trek. Other team members were transported by a Navy C-40 Clipper (Boeing 737 transport) or aboard the team’s C-130, “Fat Albert”.
There was a great assortment of aircraft and performers from Hawaii included in the show. In the air, locals Hank Bruckner in his CAP-10C, and Clint Churchill in his Extra 300L flew aerobatic routines. There were a series of passes from Vintage Aviation’s AT-6D , two parachute teams, a sailplane and radio controlled aircraft. Alan Miller, who is an accomplished warbird pilot and instructor, flew two different acts during each day in his 1946 Aeronca Champ. Collectively known as “Miller’s Mach 4 Mayday”, one part was akin to the familiar “flying farmer” routine and was performed at an amazingly low altitude and done barefoot – not even in flip flops! The other was a landing atop of his custom pickup truck at about 55 mph in gusty winds. Alan is part of the Hawaii Stick and Rudder flight training organization; and his stick and rudder skills were evident throughout the weekend. After his routines, he and his team drove their truck, with the yellow and red Aeronca still atop of it, into the spectator area and met with some of the crowd.
U.S. military participation came from around the world. The Pacific Air Force’s F-16 Demonstration Team flew in from Misawa AFB, Japan, and a Marine KC-130J, part of the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF), was based at Okinawa. The MAGTF simulated a small team of Marines delivering mortar fire from a pair of vehicles that were transported and supported by locally based HMH-463 Pegasus and HMLA-367 Scarface helicopters. There was plenty of pyrotechnics, and a huge “wall of fire” at the end – those Marines really know how to light up the area! The Navy’s Leapfrogs parachuted from a St. Joseph Missouri Air National Guard C-130, the C-17 aerial demonstration was flown by a nearby Hickam AFB-based aircraft, and the Hawaii Air National Guard featured a locally-based F-22 Raptor fighter on the ground. The Hawaii Army National Guard displayed a new CH-47F Chinook, the first Guard unit to receive the new version of the 50-plus year old design. Of course, many civilian performers wouldn’t have been able to perform in Hawaii without the help of the Massachusetts based C-5B. On the ground, a group of locally operated airliners, including Hawaiian Airlines’ first plane – a restored Bellanca CH-300 Pacemaker – were available for viewing. Locally based military airplanes and helicopters were arrayed on the big ramp, representing all five Armed Services… Marines, Navy, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard.
There were a large group of smaller civilian operated aircraft open for viewing too, with missions ranging from flight school trainers to helicopter tour companies. A surprise was the display of a civilian operated Korean War era Hawker Hunter jet, now supporting Hawaiian-based military units by performing target practice support and other duties on a contract basis. Civilians in the air included favorites Jacquie Warda (aka Jacquie B)in her red Extra, and world and national aerobatic champion Kirby Chambliss in his Edge 540. Luckily, the jet engine-powered Flash Fire jet truck didn’t get airborne, but it did put some dense white smoke in the air as it roared in front of the crowd.
A notable visitor was Michael Combs’ Remos GX light sport plane, which flew a series of passes during the show. Michael has now flown in all 50 states… a major goal of his “Flight for the Human Spirit” project that he began after recovering from a heart ailment that led to his being declared “clinically dead” more than once, a decade ago. His message is that it is never too late to follow your dreams! Hawaii was the last state he needed to land in, and he waited more than two years to finally fly his Remos aircraft there.
Hawaii , and specifically Oahu’s MCAS Kaneohe Bay was a great place to watch an air show. This year’s show mixed some very talented local aviators with nationally-known performers. That’s a main draw to an air show in Hawaii… unless you live there, you’ll see a whole group of pilots and aircraft you’d normally not see on the mainland… and vice versa too.
Plus, with a breathtakingly beautiful stage, it was a wonderful location to watch an air show.
Ken Kula October 2012
Many thanks to Marine Corporal Vanessa American Horse and 1st Lt. Diann Olson of the Marine Corps Base Hawaii Public Affairs Office for their support and opportunity to cover this “air show in paradise”.