Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst 2014 Air Show
For those in the mid-Atlantic region, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JBMDL) was our first air show for 2014. After 2013, with no military air shows due to the federal budget sequestration, and a long cold winter, this Mother’s Day weekend (May 10 and 11) show couldn’t have come soon enough.
The Department of Defense (DoD) hosts open houses to enhance public awareness of the military’s mission, equipment, facilities, personnel, and to promote positive community relations. In December 2013 JBMDL was notified they would be hosting an open house and air show. After five months of planning, Air Show Director, Lt. Col. Phil Lynch and his committee unveiled their plan. With lessons learned from their last (2102) air show, 2014 would be based on that template but bigger and more improved. Incorporating both civilian and military aircraft, this year’s theme was “Showcasing America’s Strength” and reaching out to the community, thanking them for their essential support.
Co-hosting the show was the 87th Air Base Wing (ABW) along with the 305th Air Mobility Wing (AMW). The 87th ABW provides installation management to JBMDL- the nation’s only tri-service joint base- as well as providing mission-ready, expeditionary airmen in support of on-going military operations. The 305th AMW extends America’s global reach by mobilizing and deploying C-17 Globemaster III and KC-10 Extender aircraft as well as generating aircrews for conducting strategic airlift and air refueling missions. In addition, the 305th controls one of the Air Force’s busiest aerial ports, with air operations at both McGuire AFB and Navy Lakehurst. The Wing’s motto is “Can Do”.
A week prior to the show, the media was invited to meet those in charge and participate in a behind-the-scenes briefing and roundtable discussion to see what it takes to produce an air show. Representatives from the Air Force, Army, Navy and USMC as well as security and medical personnel were on hand to answer questions. We learned that the budget for the air show came from base resources and would involve both active and reserve duty personnel. Even though they expected 50,000 vehicles to enter the base bringing 250,000 attendees for the two day show, normal base operations would still continue through-out the show weekend. Officials also had to take into account Burlington County’s susceptibility to severe and unexpected weather conditions that may precipitate visitors’ safe evacuation.
In order to make room for the for the show’s static displays, McGuire’s large ramp needed to be cleared of its thirty-two KC-10 and sixteen C-17 heavy aircraft. This mobilization exercise, during which the planes taxi down the runway one right after the other, is known as an ‘Elephant Walk’.
The term “Elephant Walk” is unique to the Air Force. Introduced during World War II, the Army Air Corps’ large fleet of bombers would regularly conduct attacks by sorties comprising more than 1,000 aircraft. Observers commented that the nose-to-tail, single-file taxi movements of the heavily-laden bombers paralleled the nose-to-tail trail of lumbering elephants on their way to the next watering hole. The term stuck as a part of the Air Force’s institutional language and was eventually used in Air Force regulations to define maximum aircraft surge operations. On Tuesday May 6 we were invited to witness this year’s Elephant Walk which involved one C-12 Huron, five C-17 Globemasters and ten KC-10 Extenders, being deployed to bases all over the world. This ramp clearing was both a training exercise, real-world mission and an essential event in preparation for the air show.
RAMP and HANGER DISPLAYS
With McGuire’s expansive ramp cleared of the “heavies”, there was plenty of room for static aircraft along with displays highlighting the bases’ various operational units and their capabilities. Every branch of service was present to greet the community and show what life is like in the military at JBMDL.
JBMDL’s military families were also looking forward to the open house. The exhibits provided them with an opportunity of exchange to better know the other services comprising the joint base’s total-force integration.
Among those various services was the Army’s 174th Infantry Brigade based at Fort Dix. The 174thprepares designated US Army Reserve, National Guard, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guardsmen for deployment of Overseas Contingency Operations in support of JBMDL missions.
Unique to McGuire is the eight-year old 621st CRW (Contingency Response Wing). The 621st is the only unit in the Air Force tasked with the mission of building a committed rapport with African nations with the goal of making them economically secure and less susceptible to terrorism. Along with teaching thirty-three different career fields, the 621st CRW opens up air fields for military basing and humanitarian relief efforts with the help of the its Mobility Support Advisory Squadron. Headquartered at McGuire, the 621st has detachments at Travis AFB, CA and Guam. With funding from both the Dept. of State and Dept. of Defense, the CRW performs forty to fifty annual missions with a complement of 1,500 personnel.
McGuire’s KC-10 maintenance hangar was unloaded, then restocked full of exhibits including an extensive display from Fort Dix’s U.S. Army Reserve Museum. Several Tuskegee Airman were also on hand to meet the public and sign autographs. The nation’s “Greatest Generation” population continues to decline. Unfortunately there is no accurate accounting as to how many Tuskegee Airman are still alive.
The vacated flight line also allowed for the accommodation of forty static display aircraft. As promised, spectators were able to view more aircraft this year (sixty-five, including performers) as opposed to forty-eight in 2012.
Like giant behemoths guarding each end of the huge ramp, McGuire’s heavy aircraft; KC-10s, C-17s, and KC-135s, joined a Dover C-5M, E-3B AWAC and a B-52 from Barksdale, LA. The B-52 ‘Buff’s nine member crew was available to the public including pilots, Elsie Manley, Ryan “Hot Rod” Russell and Marissa “Siren” Whittaker. Marissa’s flight career began with the T-6, MC-12 and T-38. Although her initial desire was to fly the F-22 ‘Raptor’, after just eighteen months of training she transitioned to the B-52. Talk about a fast track! Ryan Russell joined the Air force in 2008 and has been flying the B-52 since 2011. Both “Siren” and “Hot Rod” love flying the B-52 and wouldn’t trade it for the world.
One of the jets on the ramp drawing lots of attention was a MDANG A-10 flown by Drew Dougherty. Originally from Downingtown, Pa, Drew was joined by family members to watch his younger brother Curtis fly Thunderbird #4. Both brothers attended the Air Force Academy and were the first in their family to join the military. Drew has flown A-10s in Tuscon, AZ, Korea and England. Before joining the Thunderbirds, Curtis flew the F-15E at Seymour-Johnson AFB. It was the first time Drew got to see his younger brother Curtis fly with the Thunderbirds.
Hovering in from nearby Trenton, NJ the NJARNG brought one of their six newly acquired UH-72 Lakota helicopters. The UH-72 is an all glass cockpit airframe with computer stations in the rear. The NJARNG flies government and civilian police agencies, performing drug interdiction and border protection missions. The NJARNG still retains about two dozen HH-60 Blackhawks, with about half of those deployed overseas.
U.S.M.C. MAG-49 HMLA- 773 was on the ramp with their newly received UH-1Y accompanied by one of their AH-1Ws and a HMH-772 CH-53. HMLA- 773 was the last Marine Corps unit to fly the UH-1N and is expecting to soon procure another “Y”. Unfortunately due to budget cuts, there was no MAG-TAG (tactical-air-to-ground) simulated flying battle as in 2012.
Other static aircraft included; VR-64 C-130H, NJANG F-16, MAANG F-15, T-1, T-38, C-21 and RC-12. Also, Warbirds B-25, C-47, C-123, L-4 and L-9. All aircraft were procured by the base air show committee with a priority on using base resources for both flying and static displays.
With David Schultz- President of David Schultz Air Shows- controlling the skies, The U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachutist Team soared to show center with the American flag to the playing of the national anthem. That was followed by civilian performers Mike Goulian, Jelly Belly & Kent Pietsch, Third Strike Wingwalker and Andrew McKenna. Exciting close formation flying was provided by the Raiders YAK/CJ Aerobatic Flight Demo Team and GEICO Skytypers. On Sunday, some fortunate Thunderbird maintenance personnel got to fly backseat in GEICO’s T-6s. JBMDL’s own flew by with C-17, KC-10 and KC-135 aircraft. Employing a C-17, the 404th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne) did a mass drop simulating an army assault with troops and humvees. Warbird participation included high speed solo acts by the Spitfire and P-51D Mustang before they joined for a duel demo. Air Boss Schultz kept the show moving when he called for the F-16/P-51 USAF Heritage Flight. Prior to and after the Heritage Flight, F-16 pilot Major Mark “Juice” Whisler did three hot low passes in front of the crowd. Finishing out the show were the headlining U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds in their red, white and blue F-16Cs.
McGuire AFB, and now JBMDL, has been hosting air shows off and on since 1945. This Mother’s Day weekend open house and air show exceeded expectations and 2012 attendance levels (180,000) with more than 300,000 spectators attending. Kudos to the 87th ABW, whose normal responsible is daily flight-line production, which took on the task and logistical responsibilities of procuring the flying and static aircraft as well as the military public displays. The base draws its air show crowd from a four state area is already making tentative plans for 2016.
Article by Daniel O. Myers
Photos by Robert Finch and Daniel O. Myers