Pax River Air Expo 2018
Naval Air Station Patuxent River is celebrating their 75th anniversary and held their Pax River Air Expo on June 2nd and 3rd, 2018. I attended the practice show on June 1st, which was well attended for an event not open to the general public. NAS Patuxent River is home to Headquarters, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School and the Naval Air Warfare Center. This Base is the center for testing and acquisition of Naval Aviation Systems. All of the test squadrons together host 140 aircraft of 40 different types or series on base.
The base is situated on a peninsula in southern Maryland between the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay at the mouth of the Patuxent River. It was mostly sunny with high temperatures near 90 degrees on the Friday I visited. The forecast for the rest of the weekend was not as nice. Since NAS Patuxent River does not host an annual or bi-annual airshow, I make sure to attend the show whenever it is offered. Pax River has two very neat features for the airshow enthusiast. Sunlight that remains behind you the whole show and moves from right to left, and the most unique static display aircraft out of their own hangars. Even the tree line across the runway gives the show a cozy feel.
The beginning of today’s NAS Pax River started in 1937 when the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics sought to consolidate the aviation test programs out of Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Dahlgren and Norfolk, Virginia. The selected area was Cedar Point in southern Maryland due to the remote location on the coastline and distance away from congested air space. The existing property was prime farmland with vacation homes and family properties. Due to Wartime Urgency, the Government took the land under Eminent Domain and began construction of the base in April,1942. One year later, the base opened. When dedicated in 1943, it was termed “the most needed station in the Navy”. It was originally called Naval Air Station at Cedar Point but concern that the name would be confused with Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina, the adjacent river was used in the name. After World War II, the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School stood up in 1958 and the Weapons Systems Test Division in 1960. In 1959, four Naval Test Pilots from Patuxent River named John Glenn, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard and Scott Carpenter became four of our Mercury Seven Astronauts.
The Museum’s F-4J Phantom II
The historical developments go on and on but I can sum it up in one statement. If it is a Naval or Marine Corps aircraft or system, it will be tested here. This is good segway to tell you about the non-profit Pax River Naval Air Museum outside Gate 1. It features many orange tailed artifacts of retired test vehicles such as an F4D Skyray, an RA-5 Vigilante, an F-14 Tomcat, an A-6 Intruder as well as the Boeing X-32 Joint Strike Fighter, just to name a few.
Friday Practice Show
Once on base, your eyes dart from one static target to another, planning your photography route as they are arranged on triangular running taxiways and a closed runway. There is always one static aircraft in the compass rose seemingly in the middle of the grass. Most of the static aircraft are roped off. Sometimes a rope can be a photographer’s best friend but in most of these cases, the rope was too tight on the aircraft. Nonetheless, Pax River put out a number of interesting statics including a P-8 Poseiden and an RQ-4 Global Hawk drone from VX-20 up near the hangars. An MV-22 Osprey of HX-21 “Blackjack” was displayed neatly with the propellers in the stow position. On a taxiway, four helicopters also under HX-21 were displayed. Two MH-60 Sea Hawks, a UH-1Y Venom and an AH-1Z Viper. We did not see the new CH-53K Heavy Lift helicopter. On the compass rose was a P-3 Orion marked for the Naval Research Laboratory. Next on this taxiway was the F-35C test aircraft with numerous white data point decals. Rounding the corner, we find not only two color birds from VX-23, “The Salty Dogs”, but their Lincoln limousine too, complete with a tail hook and catapult launch bar. Nice touch! The first Hornet was a B Model with a colored tail. The other Hornet was an F Model and has bold light blue coloring up to the front of the cockpit with features of the Maryland flag and a really Salty Dog on the tail.
Rounding out the static aircraft were those of the Test Pilot School. There was a Leonardo TH-119 single engine, IFR training helicopter to replace the Bell TH-57 Sea Rangers and a UH-72 Lakota helicopter. There was also a De Havilland Otter, T-6 Texan II and a T-38 Talon. One notable civilian static aircraft was a turbine powered DC-3 fitting right in here with an overall white and orange livery.
It was hot and sunny with some passing white and gray cumulous clouds but everyone was able to perform their high shows. The Warrior Flight Team got things started with their Navy heritage inspired paint on L-39 jets, “Vandy 1” and “Roman 86”. Later in the day, they were seen giving rides to customers which raises money for veteran charities. Scott “Scooter” Yoak put his P-51 Mustang “Quicksilver” through her paces with a solo display and would return later for the Class of 45 routine. Bill Stein performed his solo routine in the Edge 540 and raced a Lamborghini from Precision Exotics. Art Nalls brought the noise with his privately owned Sea Harrier demonstration. Rob Holland then dropped in from a hold point performing his high energy solo routine. Afterward, he also raced the Lamborghini from Precision Exotics. Jim “Torque” Tobul performed a solo routine in his F-4U Corsair, “Korean War Hero,” while Scooter launched for an airborne hold. Torque and Scooter now join up for my favorite act on the airshow circuit. The “Class of 45” features the penultimate fighters of World War II in the air together. Photographic dreams can come true.
After a pause in the action, it was time for some girl power with Patty Wagstaff in her blue Extra 300 and the Misty Blues all woman parachute team. I have not seen Patty in a long time. Even though she is only scheduled for 6 airshows this season, she keeps busy running an aerobatic flight school in Florida and I recall her flying wildfire missions in the last few years. She still has the skills to thrill.
Rob Holland and Bill Stein returned to the air with a formation demonstration called “Seeing Double” and then had an interactive routine with Shockwave. One of the photos I took featuring a parked Blue Angel 4 has Shockwave’s white cloud behind it.
Then it was time for the Blue Angels. Both of the two seat F/A-18 Hornets were used in today’s demonstration and both back seats were filled by some Navy pilots. Because it was practice with the two dual seaters, the order of the six Hornets was 1, 7, 3, 4, 7, 5. Being close to the water seemed to embellish the vapor and they always look good in contrast to a sunlit Blue Angel.
I thank Naval Air Station Patuxent River Public Affairs for their assistance to me on Friday and, as always, to all the people that make an airshow like this happen.