NAS Oceana’s 2011 Air Show

The 2011 NAS Oceana air show was a roller coaster full of ups and downs… though no fault of the organizers and participants.  Tropical moisture invaded the Virginia Beach area, and remained a major impediment to flying for the entire weekend.

During Friday afternoon’s practice show, dark and foreboding thunderstorms raced just north of Apollo Soucek Field.  The storms crept closer, finally affecting the airport as the Blue Angels were in the middle of their practice show, and ultimately deluged the grounds only a few hours before the evening’s twilight show was to commence.

Amazingly, there was a break in the rain, and a limited evening air show occurred.  A vivid rainbow appeared for a moment across the city of Virginia Beach, too.  The skies remained waterlogged, and a rare “vapor show” by the Blue Angels’ C-130 (Fat Albert) at sunset gave room to be optimistic, although the weekend’s weather forecasts  weren’t calling for  “prime” conditions.

Saturday morning, an elderly C-9B Skytrain II and a modern Boeing C-40A Clipper were to open the show with a series of fly-bys.   Although the morning dawned with a high ceiling and decent visibility, conditions deteriorated soon after sun rise, and ugly, low-based clouds rolled in before the flying was to commence.  The decision was made to have each jet make an IFR approach to allow it to pass in front of the crowd.

Both crews performed a PAR approach to get below the cloud base, perform a touch and go landing, and then depart the area.  The air show operations personnel and announcer Rob Reider somehow patched ATC’s PAR frequency into the show’s public address system, and the spectators had front row seats to listen to both jets being “talked down” through the PAR approaches, complete with some “edge of your seat” audio from ATC (“well right of course, correcting…”, “on course, on glide slope”, and so on…).

Both jets’ landing lights came into view just short of the runway, exactly on course for their touch and go.  The synergy of sight and sound proved to be quite entertaining, and offered a bit of intrigue as one wondered where you’d first see a jet break out of the clouds. Soon, rain began to fall, and for the rest of the weekend, intermittent stretches of flyable weather gave way to rainy and misty conditions, with lots of low scud in the area.

As safety was paramount, there was much coordination between the air boss, base weather officials, and performers as to what the next 30 minutes worth of weather would bring… such as if there was any lightning nearby or heavy precipitation on the doorstep.Some acts did fly, although the airfield attack sequence and fleet flyby were cancelled on Saturday.

All was not lost though, for a few of the pilots in their solo jets were able to fly (Air Force F-16, Marine Harrier, and Navy F-18 Hornets), and some serious vapor was squeezed from the air.  If you dared to expose your camera to the elements, some great opportunities for action photos were present.

The static display ramp was rather full, containing aircraft ranging from a triple-kill New Orleans-based ANG F-15C and various Centennial of Naval Aviation “throwback” schemed planes to local flying schools’ civilian aircraft.  Representatives from most of the numerous Navy and Marine flying units based in the Norfolk and Virginia Beach areas were congregated within a long row of tents, creating a shopping mall for squadron memorabilia.

You could purchase anything from “challenge coins” to shirts, DVDs, models and a multitude of other mementos.  You could talk to a wide range of Navy and Marine service members at the same time, and even with some of the service members’ spouses who staffed the booths while their opposites were deployed around the world.

Most of Friday’s practice show and part of the evening show was completed, but the much of the remaining weekend’s flying display was curtailed.  Those pilots and aircraft that could fly gave spirited performances though, complete with loads of vapor.  Both a pro and con, for some spectators it meant getting “up close and personal” with a plane, even though it meant standing under its’ wing while waiting for the rain to stop.  For others, instead of turning their gaze skyward to watch aircraft in flight, it offered a chance to talk with the people who live and work aboard the base.  There was still a lot to do at the NAS Oceana air show, even if the flying was condensed by some up and down weather.

Ken Kula

Thank you Ken for a Great report hope your gear is dry once again. Joe ………………………………………………………………

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Ken Kula

Assignment and Content Editor, writer and photographer A New Englander all of my life, I've lived in New Hampshire since 1981. My passion for all things aviation began at a very early age, and I coupled this with my interest of photography during college in the late 1970s. I spent 32 years in the air traffic control industry, and concurrently, enjoyed my aviation photography and writing adventures, which continue today. I've been quite fortunate to have been mentored by some generous and gifted individuals. I enjoy contributing to this great site, and working with some very knowledgeable and equally passionate aviation followers.

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