Quonset Air Show – Rhode Island’s Famous Air Show
Rhode Island’s Famous Air Show –
Although officially known as the “Rhode Island National Guard Open House Air Show”, local enthusiasts call it by another name – the “Quonset Air Show”.
Sponsored by the National Guard Association of Rhode Island, and steeped in history, “Quonset” is an eagerly awaited and well attended air show for aviation-starved New Englanders (and beyond) each year. Popular for a number of reasons, it boasts of a runway is closer to the crowd than at most venues. A star-studded list of performers reappears year after year thanks to great hospitality and enthusiastic spectators. The beautiful Narragansett Bay provides the backdrop, and hundreds of enthusiastic Rhode Island National Guard members provide a special New England hospitality at the show. If you’re an East Coast air show photographer or enthusiast, Quonset is a staple on your yearly events list.
Although Quonset airport is a busy joint use (civil and National Guard) airport today, most of its history is that of a naval sort. According to the Quonset Air Museum’s history page, Quonset Point Rhode Island is the birthplace of the US Navy. During the Revolutionary War, a guard was placed on the spit of land to watch for British warships that might sail up the bay and “raid coastal Rhode Island cities”.
The nearby town of Newport is home to the US Naval War College, and has been since its inception in 1884. Development of the area into a large Navy base occurred just prior to World War II. From then till shortly after the Vietnam War, Quonset Point was: home port for seven aircraft carriers and their air wings, a major anti-submarine and patrol air station, a busy aircraft overhaul and maintenance facility , and even the home to the Navy’s Antarctic development Squadron, better known as VXE-6.
The adjacent town of Davisville was the original home for the famous Seabees too. The term “Quonset Hut” came from the style of shelters that were constructed to house the 100,000 Seabees that were trained at the base during World War II. The area bases boomed throughout the 40’s, 50’s, and the 60’s, but by the late 1970’s, the military drawdown after Vietnam caught up with Quonset. The port, the air station, and the Seabees’ base were all closed and moved elsewhere across the country. Today’s Quonset Air Museum has made its home inside the one remaining hangar from the original Naval Air Station.
The National Guard has operated flying units from Quonset Point for decades. While many aircraft were originally operated from T.F. Green Airport (today’s major civilian airport in Providence), once the Navy moved out from Quonset Point, the National Guard moved in for good. The Rhode Island National Guard has operated a diverse group of aircraft, including OH-6 and UH-1 helicopters, P-47 and P-51 fighters, C-46 and C-47 transports, SA-16/HU-16 Albatross amphibians, UH-10 Helio Couriers, C-119 Flying Boxcars and early C-130 transports. Today, they operate Blackhawk helicopters and two types of turboprop transports. Annual air shows with Guard involvement have been around for decades.
The 2011 air show was impacted by low clouds and rain at the beginning of the weekend, causing a few acts to be marooned at nearby airports until the weather improved Saturday afternoon. Civilian performers alone made a star-studded lineup: Sean D. Tucker, Michael Goulian, John Klatt, the Red Bull Helicopter and Air Force, and the Geico Skytypers. Warbird displays included the Horsemen in their pair of Grumman F8F Bearcats, a TBM Avenger, and an Air Force Heritage flight with Dan Friedkin in a Mustang. Military performers included the Special Operations Command Black Daggers parachute team, a home town-based C-130J demo, and the Air Force’s F-16/Viper East demo, complete with a huge amount of vapor due to the coastal climate.
The Blue Angels were the headlining act, and the team looked sharp as returning leader Captain Greg McWherter put the team through their paces. There were some amazing amounts of vapor streaming from their Hornets too! Although not the headlining act, this might as well have been it – the famous Rhode Island National Guard Combined Arms Demonstration. Complete with Rich’s Incredible Pyro behind them, C-130s, UH-60s, and a C-23 performed most of their primary functions in a well choreographed display of air drops, troop insertion, vehicle transport, and of course, armed suppression of “enemy” forces in front of the home town crowd.
When there wasn’t anyone in the air (and those moments were few), there was more than enough to do on the ramp. The Quonset Air Museum displayed a number of restored and rare aircraft on the tarmac, including the final and only C-1A COD with twin tails, and the ultra-rare Curtis Wright XF-15C piston/jet powered fighter prototype that is nearing a full restoration. There was a T-39N and T-6B, both Navy trainers and both in Centennial of Naval Aviation colors, plus a pair of Virginia-based F/A-18C Hornets to name a few more.
The local Guard units made more of their aircraft available for walk-throughs and a chance for kids to sit in the cockpits… adults too!
Saturday’s event was well attended, even though low clouds forced much of the morning flying to be scrubbed. Sunday’s event brought a surprise for even the most seasoned Quonset air show veteran. Shortly after noontime, for the first time in history, the base officially announced that spectators not in the immediate vicinity were being rerouted away from the show. Parking was full, as was the ramp.
If there was any disappointment at the show, this was it… not enough room for the enthusiastic spectators to witness the famous Quonset Air Show!