MCAS Cherry Point Air Show 2018
“Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem.” – Ronald Reagan.
Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point held their bi-annual air show May 4th through the 6th. I discovered this show through a friend and have been attending since 2012. Although it is a six hour drive for me to Havelock, NC, it is one of those can’t miss shows every two years. This is also my first show as a media member on behalf of Photorecon.net. I teamed up with Scott Zeno and Alice Leong as the primary photographers. We hope we can take you to the show if you couldn’t make it yourself.
MCAS Cherry Point is the largest Air Station in the Corps, Headquarters for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing and home to Marine Aircraft Group 14, three active AV-8B Harrier Squadrons, one training, two remaining EA-6B Prowler squadrons and a KC-130J Squadron. It is also a maintenance base so you’ll catch glimpses of non-based Ospreys, helicopters and Lightning II’s peeking out from hangars. Construction began in August 1941 clearing swampland and treating for Malaria. The air station was commissioned May 20, 1942, as Cunningham Field, named in honor of the Marine Corps’ first aviator, Lieutenant Colonel Alfred A. Cunningham. The base was later renamed Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, after a local post office situated among cherry trees.
Friday Twilight Show
Some bases offer a Friday evening show and you can really immerse yourself in an air show weekend. The weather for the Friday twilight show was ideal with plenty of late day sun. On static display were two Harriers from VMA 231, The Ace of Spades and VMA 542, The Tigers in colorful, one-off paint schemes. The Warlords of VMFAT 501 brought a blue trimmed F-35B from MCAS Beaufort for static which was moved to a demo slot by Saturday morning. The Marines also had an EA-6B Prowler, F/A-18C Hornet, KC-130J Hercules, AH-1W Super Cobra, UH-1Y Venom, CH-53E Super Stallion, MV-22 Osprey and a large grouping of amphibious assault and construction equipment on display. Further down the ramp was an F-15E Strike Eagle from nearby Seymour Johnson AFB, T-38 Talons from Whiteman and Laughlin Air Force Bases, and T-6 Texan IIs from the Navy, Air Force and Canada. Notable civilian statics included the B-17 “Movie Memphis Belle”, an American Airlines DC-3, “Flagship Detroit”, a Douglas C-54, “Spirit of Freedom”, TBM Avenger “Doris Mae”, P-51D “Red Nose”, and the North Carolina Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association with a number of period airframes. A special shout out to Station Fuels! I had a good time chatting with them and was given their unit patch for my collection.
The Twilight show kicked off with Jerry Conley’s new desert camouflaged de Havilland DH115 Vampire, the world’s first single engine jet fighter. Rob Holland was next in his highly aerobatic MXS. It was nice to see him back flying again after his Texas forced landing incident in March which destroyed his plane. With music from the 2nd Marine Air Wing Band, a flag jump was conducted by the Black Daggers from a based KC-130J of VMGR 252, “Team Otis”. Now, with night setting in, Team Aeroshell took their T-6 Texans aloft for a brightly lit and noisy 4 ship routine. Also performing at night was Randy Ball in his afterburning MiG-17F, Matt Younkin in his Beech 18, and the Super Salto Jet Sailplane. I may have missed some performers as it became chilly and breezy so I bailed.
Saturday morning was nice and sunny but a thin layer of clouds moved in. Although mostly overcast, the sky remained bright. All acts could perform their high shows. The show opened with a flag drop while the 2nd Marine Air Wing Band performed. For the photographers, the sun is out in front and to the right making some photos difficult. Early performers were the Salto Sailplane, AV-8B Harrier demo, Bill Leff in his final season performing in the T-6 Texan, Jerry Conley in the Vampire, Matt Younkin in the Beech 18, local boy done good, Hubie Tolson, from New Bern, NC, in his Sukhoi 31 aerobatic plane, and the Canadian Forces Snowbirds. Not the fastest or loudest demo team but truly unique and beautiful formation flying.
After a short break in the flying, the afternoon session began with a tactical parachute jump from the Black Daggers. By now the sun is behind the crowd line. The yellow Sub Sonex Micro Jet put on an enjoyable display demonstrating speed and quick turning abilities. Team Aeroshell performed their fast paced demo and then things got really fast with Randy Ball’s MiG-17 demo. Rob Holland defied the laws of physics in his routine and then raced every front row photographer’s bane, the Shockwave Jet Truck. Impressive, yes, but you front rower’s know exactly what I’m talking about. There were some other ground acts like Precision Exotics sports cars and turbine powered motorcycles but they never passed close to the crowd line to get a good look at them.
At this point, 2 Harriers and a Prowler are launched from Cherry Point to appear later and then it was time for the F-35B Lighning II demo. They ended up using the low-viz airframe and not the colored one. Using the lift fan and pivoting nozzle, the F-35B performs a rolling takeoff in a short amount of runway. Very similar to the Harrier routine, the F-35B makes a series of high speed passes before slowing down and reconfiguring for vertical flight. The demo moves to show center and demonstrates the hovering ability and agility before a lift fan landing.
The next demonstration is my favorite. The Marine Air Ground Task Force Demo (MAGTF). The United States Marine Corps is the first to fight. The MAGTF demonstrates all the Marine Corps brings to bear in a quick reaction force. Our first glimpse is a simulated air refueling with a KC-130J, 2 Harriers from Cherry Point and 2 F-18C/D Hornets from MCAS Beaufort. Then, a UH-1Y Venom helicopter approaches and a 4 man Recon Team fast ropes in. This team radios the conditions and directs the application of air support. The Hornets and Harriers appear to clear the skies of enemy aircraft and suppress ground artillery. The Prowler makes a fast run simulating a High Speed Anti-Radiation missile launch, killing the enemy’s tracking radar. With air and ground threats neutralized, a pair of Ospreys lands deploying two squads of Marines. A heavy lift CH-53 Super Stallion sling loads a HUMVEE to location. An AH-1W Super Cobra and Venom helicopter orbit to provide air support. Amphibious Light Armored Vehicles begin to appear and the Marines have advanced forward to your door while you were watching the action. I could watch that demo all day long!
Finally, The Blue Angels were there. One notable event happened as Number 1 developed a maintenance problem and would need to change aircraft. Number 1 and Number 3 both landed. Boss now flew the number 3 jet and Three flew the number 7 jet. This took about 15 minutes. After takeoff, they flew around a bit to regroup and then the Narrator picked up the routine from Echelon Parade. I found it amusing and wondered where do they pick up the routine? Do the other jets have enough fuel to finish the show? Should they scramble a KC-130J? (That would be so cool!) Do they have a special music playlist for a maintenance delay like this? The show did run to its completion. If you didn’t want to leave just yet, you could attend a concert at the mouth of a hangar from country singer, Jordan Davis.
I did not attend the show on Sunday as it was raining hard in the morning but Scott and Alice did. The Sunday schedule would have mirrored the Saturday show. The show did go on with a late start and the Prowler flyby featured a lot of vapor! If there was a missed opportunity at this air show it was not allowing the Prowler to take a victory lap. The Moon Dogs of VMAQ-3 will deactivate in May and the Death Jesters of VMAQ-2 will follow a year later, prior to the next show at Cherry Point. As a photographer, I would have appreciated and treasured a banana pass as we will likely never see a Prowler fly again.
Every air show takes a lot of people to do a lot of work to open their gates to the public. Thank you, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point for a great show. See you in two years.