History Takes Flight at the Toledo Airshow

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The 2019 edition of the Toledo Airshow took place on a scorching weekend in Mid-July with temps soaring into the 90s. The show takes place at Toledo Express Airport, which is a mixed use facility in Northern Ohio that shares its runways between an extensive General Aviation area, a small airline terminal, and the USAF Air National Guard’s 180th Fighter Wing. Despite losing their headlining act in a VFA-106 Rhino TACDEMO to operational restrictions, a strong lineup for a regional show was scheduled to take to the skies and ramp at KTOL and filled the void left by the Super Hornet cancellation in an unexpected and fun way!

When the show grounds opened each day, the ramp was populated with a surprising array of static display aircraft including one special surprise. Ohio’s Air Force units were well represented, with a C-17, KC-135, and C-130 from around the state in addition to a Stingers F-16. Other noteworthy statics included a TBM Avenger, the Yankee Air Museum’s C-47 “Hairless Joe”, the C-54 “Spirit of Freedom” and numerous smaller warbirds. A pair of F-15Cs from the 104th Fighter Wing were on display alongside an A-10C from the 122nd Fighter Wing, a CF-18, and a pair of F-35s from the 62nd Fighter Squadron (Spikes) from Luke AFB. One of the F-35s present was a Norwegian Air Force jet that is being used to train Norway’s initial cadre of Lightning pilots. According to the crew, this was the first time one of their jets left Luke for an airshow, and it was great to see them getting out and sharing their jets with American audiences. The B-25s “Yankee Warrior” and “Georgie’s Gal” were expected to be on static display, but were added to the flying lineup, bringing a bit more round engine noise to the skies over northern Ohio!

The show’s program started off each day with Ohio-Native Rob Reider’s introduction of the Ladies For Liberty. The group filled the show with live WWII era singing, and completed their performance with the Star Spangled Banner. As the National Anthem boomed out of the speakers, paratroopers from US Army Special Operations Command Black Daggers were descending under canopy. Circled by Rob Holland in an MX2, the final two jumpers deployed the POW-MIA and US flags before executing perfect landings at show center as the final notes of the anthem rang out over the grounds.

The show’s flying was officially kicked off by the hometown squadron, as a four ship of 180th FW F-16s flew over in fingertip formation before performing an overhead break and a series of low approaches. Starting the show with a series afterburner go-arounds is a great way to set the tone for the day, and giving the chance for the hometown heroes to show off in front of their friends and family is always a positive aspect of a show!

Following the Vipers, noise of a different sort filled the box, this time in the form of a high-compression 6 cylinder piston engine in the front of Rob Holland’s aircraft. As Rob is still awaiting the new MXS-RH following his aircraft being damaged in a forced landing last year, he was flying a yellow MX2 formerly flown by Nigel Lamb that still wears elements of its original “Breitling” livery. Regardless of the aircraft swap, Rob’s teaser act was a great warm up, showing off his crisp, high-energy flying style ahead of his full routine later in the day.

As Holland came in to land, an Interstate Cadet entered the box right in front of the MX2! Luckily the only damage from the “collision” was the loss of an aileron on the Cadet, as recent prison escapee “Chuck Dramamine” struggled to fly and eventually land the 1940s era light aircraft. Despite the loss of a primary control surface, the intrepid inmate worked his way through the box, performing inadvertent aerobatic figures, dragging a wing on the runway, losing a tire (and an instructional flight book), cutting toilet paper thrown from the plane, and eventually a smooth landing. For those who haven’t figured it out, this was not a prison break, rather the comedy act flown by Kent Pietsch, one of the finest stick and rudder pilots in the industry today. This was the first of his three flights throughout the day, and was the first appearance by the yellow and red Jelly Belly sponsored Interstate Cadet.

Scott “Scooter” Yoak launched out in the P-51 “Quicksilver” and held north of the field to prepare for his act. While that was going on, the World’s Fastest Semi Truck fired up its three Westinghouse J34 turbines for its first act of the day. Darnell Racing’s Shockwave, driven this weekend by Chris Darnell, proceeded to rile up the crowd, driving down Toledo’s runway and popping the smoke and afterburners, creating a scene that had kids and adults alike running to the crowd line to watch what was about to come. Approaching the end of the 2 mile long Runway 07, Darnell spun the truck around and ran up the engines. Upon lighting the burners and releasing the brakes, Shockwave launched down the runway and reached speeds in excess of 300 miles per hour before popping the chutes, shutting down the engines, and coasting to a stop.

Having taken off prior to Shockwave, a glint in the sky soon approached and materialized as the Mustang known as “Quicksilver” in the hands of “Scooter” Yoak entering the aerobatic box over Toledo Express Airport. Scooter pays tribute to the heros that flew the mighty Mustang into combat during WWII and Korea, showing off the grace and power of America’s premier fighter of the era. Quicksilver wears a paint job filled with symbolism, with the most notable features being the invasion stripes in honor of D-Day and the impeccably polished bare aluminum that makes up the majority of the aircraft. Performing looping and rolling maneuvers, the P-51 fills the skies with the sound of the Packard-built Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12 that is so well loved by the fans of warbirds. Among the maneuvers performed by Yoak, a 5 point roll is executed as a way of saying “Thanks” to each of the armed forces, and a 16 point roll shows off both the Mustang’s agility and the skills of the aviator at the controls. Quicksilver exits the box to hold having flown what this author thinks is one of the more aggressive demos in a P-51 on the airshow circuit today.

Sticking with the World War era warbird theme, Jim “Torque” Tobul enters the box next flying the Corsair known as “Korean War Hero”. The sound of the P-51’s Merlin is swapped out for the F4U’s distinctive round engine growl as the bent-winged naval fighter dives into the box for a series of aerobatic figures. While this particular Corsair didn’t see action in WWII, she did fly over 200 combat missions from carriers over Korea in two separate tours, hence the name. KWH has throwbacks to her combat days as part of her current livery including her number (416) and squadron markings from VF884 and VF653. It is an amazing experience to see a warbird with combat pedigree not just being displayed at airshows, but flying a fully aerobatic demonstration. “Torque” echos so many in the warbird community when he states that he sees himself not as the owner, rather the caretaker of this priceless piece of history, one that he hopes will be kept flying for generations to come and remind everyone of the sacrifices made by those who fight for our freedoms.

Rejoining on the wing of Quicksilver, Korean War Hero becomes ½ of “The Class of ‘45”, an airshow act that provides the rare opportunity to see two of the most recognizable aircraft from the era in tight formation. Scooter in the P-51 leads Torque in the Corsair through a series of passes in echelon and trail formation, allowing the symphony of the Merlin and Pratt R2800 to tickle the ears of the spectators. The act provides a few outstanding photo opportunities, as well as a heritage flight-style break in front of the crowd, and even an opposing head on low pass! Following the conclusion of the demo, each aircraft made photo passes from each direction alone, before the Corsair recovered and the P-51 held behind the crowd to wait for its next appearance over KTOL.

The next two aircraft to take to Toledo’s runway were one of the 180th FW F-16s and Dean “Cutter” Cutshall’s F-100F Super Sabre. Behind the crowd, the two fighter jets rejoined with Scooter in the P-51 for a very special series of passes. The F-100 and F-16 represent two generations of Ohio Air Guard fighters, with the unit having flown the “Hun” from 1971 through 1979 before being replaced by A-7s prior to today’s F-16s. Seeing multiple generations of Stingers history in the skies over their home base was a unique moment, and having them led by a P-51 was the cherry on top! The aircraft flew a pass in a wide vic formation and performed a heritage flight style fan break. The P-51 and F-16 performed a low pass and recovered prior to the launch of the next portion of the show.

Joining Cutter in the Northern Ohio skies was none other than Randy “Bandit” Ball in the MiG-17 1611. Randy had initially been slated to perform his standard high-G Viper inspired demonstration, but the loss of the VFA-106 TacDemo and the Tailhook Legacy Flight gave the organizers a bit of freedom to shake things up a bit. The crowd was treated to a tailchase/dogfight demonstration between two early generation jet fighters, with the F-100’s signature afterburner pop and the MiG’s burner spitting out a streak of flame that flickered like a snake’s tongue.

Each aircraft had an opportunity to make a pass on the other’s six, before making a formation photo pass, and solo photo passes. PhotoRecon was able to fly a telemetry equipped Garmin Virb Ultra 30 in the cockpit of the MiG for Friday’s practice flight, looking over Bandit’s shoulder through the MiG’s windscreen at the F-100. The F-100’s fuel state dictated a recovery soon after the last pass, and Bandit was left to perform an abbreviated version of his solo demo. Loading the silver and red swept wing bird up with up to 8 G’s, Randy showed off the incredible maneuverability of one of the most maneuverable fighters in the history of jet combat and demonstrating what a formidable foe Mikoyan-Gurevich had created by adding the afterburner and making some aerodynamic changes to the legendary MiG-15.

MiG Video Link: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1320875374738654

Returning to the modern aerobatic theme, Jacquie B smoked out the runway on takeoff in her Extra 300L. Her demo consists of a series of aerobatic maneuvers showing off the maneuverability of the unlimited class monoplane, as well as her skills as a pilot. Jacquie has been flying aerobatics for over 20 years, including 4 years of IAC competitions and some time racing in the biplane class at Reno! The silver iridescent stars that break up the red paint job on the aircraft are a nice touch, changing colors and shimmering throughout her 10 minute performance. Jacquie flies to inspire the next generation of aviators, and strives to help young girls realize that it’s more than fine to “Fly like a girl” and make your dreams come true!

Soon after the Extra cleared the runway, Kent Pietsch and the Jelly-Belly Interstate Cadet returned for his next act, joined by a specially equipped pickup truck with a landing platform on the roof. That’s right, despite gusty winds, Kent was going to attempt to land on a moving truck with the vintage high winged taildragger, as if they’re not already difficult enough to land on a nice, large runway! After some passes to gauge the conditions, Pietsch synched up speeds with the truck below and attempted to touch down. The first pass was a bit on the slow side, and the 800 pound Cadet got thrown around a little too much by the wind for a safe touchdown. On the next pass the aircraft set down nicely, but ran out of runway before the wheels got locked in. One final pass was enough to get the yellow and red Cadet to touch down, and a combination of rudder and throttle was used to get the wheels locked in as the truck rolled to a stop. After stopping for a moment as a member of the crew disengaged the locks, the truck sped back up and Kent lifted off, recovered, and prepared the aircraft for his final act.

A few minutes later, a mass of aircraft appeared behind the crowd. The wail of an air-raid siren boomed out over the PA as Tora, Tora, Tora reenacted the attack on Pearl Harbor along with top-notch historical narration. The show is described as “A living history lesson” and is dedicated to those who fought and died on both sides of World War II. 8 aircraft took to the skies, 7 on the Japanese side (Zeros, Vals and a Kate torpedo bomber) and a lone P-36 replica fighting back on behalf of the Americans. All of the aircraft are cosmetic replicas of period aircraft, most of which date back to the filming of the movie “Tora, Tora, Tora”, and are primarily based on North American T-6 Texans and Vultee BT-13s. As the aircraft split up into two racetrack patterns making attack runs, the Tora Bomb Squad began to set off dozens of pyrotechnic charges in the field in front of the crowd. Strafing effects, “bombs”, and even a wall of fire brought a touch of authenticity to the act. A series of photo passes marked the end of the performance as the smoke cleared and FDR’s famous “Day Of Infamy” speech was played, and yet another Tora airshow act was in the books.

The one and only Rob Holland was up next for his full act. Despite flying a borrowed MX2, there was no question who was flying, as Rob’s style is unmistakable! The next 10 minutes were a struggle of photography choices, as the settings had to be chosen carefully. Too slow of a shutter speed and the aircraft itself was blurry thanks to the extremely quick direction changes, too fast and the prop was frozen. For most acts the concern is simply getting prop blur while holding the camera steady… For Rob’s act, wingtip blur and tail blur is a real problem!

The performance was “interrupted” by Shockwave, as Chris Darnell’s semi, trailing smoke and fire down the runway taunted the MX2, goading Holland into a race. As Shockwave lined up at show right, the engines ran up and Rob approached. The MX2 rolled inverted just before the start line, and Shockwave got an uncharacteristically slow launch. While this writer was not on the finish line to make the definitive call, I think the plane got the better of the jet powered semi this time around! After a few more maneuvers, the victorious Holland set up for his signature landing, which features a hove r and a spin before a touch and go, roll, and finally touching down for good, putting a bookend on his performance at the Toledo Airshow.

Shockwave video link: https://www.facebook.com/mk16photo/videos/705582189900616/

Despite having initially been billed as static displays, a quartet of Wright R-2600 Twin Cyclone radials rumbled to life as a pair of B-25s taxied out for a flight. The Liberty Aviation Museum’s “Georgie’s Gal” led the Yankee Air Museum’s “Yankee Warrior” around the skies over KTOL for a series of passes. The repositioning turns performed by the bombers were among the most impressive this writer has ever seen, with bank angles that were pushing, or perhaps exceeding, 45 degrees as the bombers flew teardrop shaped patterns to come back over the runway with the bomb bay doors open as if they were ready to release their payload.

After the B-25s landed, high over Toledo, Kent Pietsch shut down the engine of the Jelly Belly Interstate Cadet for his final demo of the day. As the aircraft glided down, Kent repeatedly traded altitude for airspeed (and vice versa), performing graceful dead-stick aerobatics in the high winged taildragger. The wide range of piloting skills required to perform his acts really highlights what a fine stick and rudder pilot he is, especially when his final act is a 1 mile high dead stick energy management routine that ends with a touchdown and roll-out that places the spinner right in announcer Rob Reider’s hand as the aircraft comes to a stop!

The silence of a deadstick act was soon replaced by the unmistakable sound of modern afterburning turbines, as the hometown heroes went up to strut their stuff for an airpower demo. Four F-16s from the 180th FW were given the command to “scramble” as one of the unit’s pilots put on an impressive display of his voice acting skills. While much of the narration that followed was likely lost on 99% of the crowd, for the 1% who can speak 9-Line and pick up on some, let’s say “creative” radio callsigns were treated to a reasonable rendition of a JTAC under fire calling in close air support from the F-16s.

The four Vipers operated in two elements of two, using show center as the target point for a series of escalating CAS passes that included shows of force, simulated strafing, and simulated bomb runs, all complete with flares! That’s right, just as they’d do in a high threat environment with MANPADS in the area, the Stingers’ F-16s were popping off flares both on ingress and egress, as well as during a few break turns to avoid “hostile fire” from the ground. It’s one thing to see the hometown unit fly a few passes, or a formation with some of their past aircraft, but it’s quite another to witness the exact kind of flying they’d be doing to assist troops in contact on the ground in a close air support capacity. The addition of flares, which seems rare for airshows in this day and age and pyro really brought the demo together, and it was great to witness.

If that wasn’t enough, two of the pilots during Saturday’s demo were flying the F-16 for the final time, soon to be retiring from the Air Force. It’s hard to think of a better way to go out, tearing up the friendly skies over your home base, yanking and banking one of the most maneuverable aircraft to ever see combat, popping out flares and doing it all down at low altitudes in front of family and friends. Best of luck to the two officers in all their future endeavors, and the author would like to thank them for their service to this country!

In short, the 2019 Toledo Airshow was an outstanding example of a smaller show that punched above its weight class for both lineup and unexpected surprises. It is not every day that airshow fans are treated to a dogfight between multiple Vietnam era jets, nor a unique jet heritage flight, or a full on Close Air Support demo featuring flares and top notch voice acting and we can only hope that the next edition of the Toledo Airshow treats us to all of that and more when the smoke and noise returns to the skies above Toledo Express Airport!

The author would like to thank SMSgt Beth Holliker and her team for their assistance in covering this show, as well as fellow photographer Mike Lynaugh for pushing me to bump the shutter speed down further than usual for the warbirds! Additional thanks must be passed to Randy Ball and Erin Mae Kelly for helping provide unprecedented access to the cockpit of the MiG-17 as well as Chris and Brooke Darnell of the Shockwave Jet Truck for all they did to capture the footage that accompanies this article!

 

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