Marine Corps Air Station Yuma 2020 The Airshow That Never Happened
When I made my travel plans for an epic, double airshow trip to Arizona in the fall of 2019, COVID-19, generally referred to as Corona Virus, was not news, it was not even a thing. On the eve of my flight, the country was concerned but nothing had been closed down. Large groups were discouraged and the NCAA college basketball March Madness tournament was to be played without fans. The airshow was still a go. Late that evening, the NBA and NHL canceled the remainder of their seasons and a domino effect of cancellations and closures began.
As I touched down in Phoenix just after 9AMam on March 12th, my phone started “blowing up”, as the saying goes. Yuma announced that the airshow has been canceled and all visiting aircraft were turned back home. Additionally, I had won a ride, independent of my media status, in a beautiful 3-tone painted, 1945 North American PBJ named “Semper Fi”, which was also canceled.
Fast forward to Friday morning. It was bright and sunny but I did not expect any regular flying. I heard an F-35 takeoff while checking out of my hotel up the street. Maybe it was the U.S. Air Force F-35A Demo Team going home? I decided to take a little time at a popular viewing spot in the dirt off East 32nd Street at the approach end of Runways 21L and 21R. After a very quiet period, an F-35B with an unmarked tail returned in slow approach to a vertical landing with all the doors open. The biggest thrill of the morning!
It continued to be quiet but a friend scanning local frequencies said there would be a temporary flight restriction (TFR) in about 30 minutes. I was about to leave town but stayed to see what that was all about. Two F-35s could be seen head-on through the fence and one was starting. When it turned toward the runway, we saw the HL tailcode of the F-35A Demo Team. Captain Kristin “Beo” Wolfe performed a full demonstration! I believe a practice show was held for on-base personnel which explains the rest of the day.
After another, brief quiet time, more activity could be seen through the fence. Helicopters were warming up and we got another F-35 demonstration. This time, from VMFA-211, the “Wake Island Avengers” in the F-35B. There were actually two of these demonstrations, exactly the same, but about an hour apart. One of the aircraft had a prominent American Flag painted on the underside of the lift fan door. By this time, it was clear that we would see some flying. The crowd in the dirt grew as cars continued to pull in.
Another highlight of the planned show was the deactivation of the “Guardians”, the based Search and Rescue detachment flying UH-1N Helicopters in rescue white and orange paint. We had numerous opportunities to photograph them as passenger flights occurred all afternoon. They held a ceremony on their local ramp that we could see from afar. These were the last photographs to be taken of them in action.
Other vertical lift departed the area but did not return for a demonstration. The four-bladed UH-1Y “Venom” and AH-1Z “Viper”, as well as an MV-22 Osprey departed but did not return for a planned task force demonstration as they would on show day.
Late in the afternoon, a Harrier performed a solo demonstration. Most of the routine was on base. There was plenty of regular Harrier action, though as the “Tomcats” of VMA-311 had multiple sorties this day, returning to land over Route 32. I laughed when I heard a “Four down and locked” call on the scanner. Only in a Harrier.
Some F-35Bs of VMX-1 also landed. The only based aircraft I missed were the F-5N Aggressors of VMFT-401, the “Snipers”. Although I have a few photos of these highly sought after aircraft from a previous visit, they certainly have my number. After a lull in activity, I decided to go up the road for a pit stop. Three F-5s appeared out of nowhere to land. I missed them all.
In between military operations, a few regional airline flights came in as MCAS Yuma shares space with Yuma International Airport, which has 4 runways.
The cancellation of the airshow, and many airshows up to this point, was disappointing and the timing was frustrating. I am happy to have seen the flying from outside the base but missed being inside for what was shaping up to be a great show and my first of the season. I also love the merchandising opportunities and brought a lot of cash but did not come away with any squadron t-shirts or patches.
I wish to thank Captain Gabriel Adibe and Miss Corrina Fajardo for their time and efforts leading up to the show and in the following, unfortunate chain of events during a developing global pandemic.