Quonset Point RI 2017, and a Whole Lot More!
Quonset Point had an air show on May 20th and 21st in Rhode Island right on Narragansett Bay, and just a short drive from Newport. Some people will say it only had seven airplanes. That’s actually true if you count the military statics – two Eagles; two Blackhawks; a Texan II, an Apache and a classic Orion. But if you count everything – Hot Ramp; Cold Ramp; EAA Ramp; Dirt Ramp and military planes that were not allowed on any ramp (for some crazy reason) – there was a total of sixty-five air show airplanes. And that’s not even counting the Quonset Air Museum airplanes that are normally rolled out to the static ramp but are now in storage, sealed in white shrink-wrap preservative pending resolution of the Museum status after it closed last summer – not bad considering the Canadian Snowbirds bugged out at the last minute after Quonset Point and the Rhode Island National Guard printed up all those fancy Air Show programs with the Snowbirds on the front cover.
The “Rhode Island National Guard Open House Air Show 2017” was held at the Quonset State Airport on Quonset Point, in North Kingstown, RI, right off US Route 1 and right on the water about five feet AMSL at show center. There used to be a lot of big air shows around here not too long ago – South Weymouth NAS, Otis AFB, Hanscom AFB, Pease AFB and Brunswick NAS. Those air bases are all shut down and they’re all gone. Now Quonset Point is the only military air show around the New England Coast; it’s the “Only Game In Town”, for sure. The Rhode Island National Guard and specifically the on-site sponsor and support unit – the 143rd Airlift Wing based right here at Quonset State Airport – take pride in the fact that for almost 30 years they have continued to plan, execute, coordinate and produce one of the best Open House and Air Shows in the United States.
Quonset Airport (OQU) is a state-owned civil and military airport that is mostly controlled by the military at this point. A new military air traffic control tower wholly owned by the 143rd AW opened about two years ago and crash/fire/rescue is also totally controlled by the 143rd AW too. There are two active runways – 16/34 at 7,504 feet x 150 feet and 5/23 at 4,000 feet x 75 feet. The RIANG Base at the west ramp has six C-130J Super Hercules airlift aircraft assigned to the 143rd AW. The unit just had a second major new hanger built and other new base facilities constructed in an expanded site area. OQU has a single new FBO recently built next to the existing World War II NAS Control Tower building. For a while the 143rd AW was training Iraqi Air Force C-130 air crews and flight mechanics here at OQU. The Rhode Island Army National Guard also maintains a major Army Aviation Support Facility adjacent to the Air National Guard ramp for the 1st Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment flying the UH-60 Blackhawk. This Army Aviation Unit facility was totally rebuilt and expanded about three years ago with all new buildings, hangers and an expanded ramp. Because OQU is very close to Newport and the large Naval War College there, it gets many military visitors from Washington, DC, and as such gets many unusual aircraft visitors on its Transient Ramp. (A few years ago I actually saw Air Force One on the T-Ramp.) They also get occasional KC-135R tankers out of Pease ANGB and HC-144A “Ocean Sentry’s” out of Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod (the old Otis ANGB).
OQU is also is directly adjacent to a major nuclear submarine hull fabrication facility owned by the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics where complete submarine hull sections are manufactured in the large refurbished ex-hangers of the old Quonset Point Naval Air Station (QP) as well as in large new fabrication structures, and later placed on huge barges and transported down the coast to the final EB Submarine Assembly Plant and Docks in Groton, Connecticut. OQU is also next to the original headquarters for the US Navy SeaBees Construction Command in adjacent Davisville. It is now one of the largest Automobile Car Arrival Ports on the East Coast where huge Car Transport RO-RO Ships come in and unload cars right next to Runway 16/34. Davisville is also a good spot to watch arrivals from the west on short final. There also is a SeaBee Museum at Davisville Road at the airport entrance that is worth a visit. The SeaBees became famous for, amongst other things, inventing the “Quonset Hut” in WW2, a pre-fabricated quick-assembly structure that became famous in the Pacific Theatre in WW2. They were named after – you guessed it – Quonset Point!
Quonset State Airport is the old Quonset Point Naval Air Station, one of the largest Naval Air facilities in the US from1941 to its closing in 1975. Commissioned on July 12, 1941, and encompassing what was once Camp Dyer, NAS Quonset Point was a major naval air facility throughout WW II. Beginning in 1943, pilots of the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm were trained at Quonset Point to fly the Vought F4U Corsair. QP also trained pilots in the Grumman TBM Avenger Torpedo Bomber, of which George H. W. Bush was a famous student here and served later on Torpedo Squadron (VT-51) and was later based on the USS Jacinto as part of CAG-51 in the Pacific War. He also trained at nearby ANLF Charlestown where some pieces of the runways still exist. Another famous President-flyer who also trained at NAS Quonset Point in WW II was Richard Nixon, assigned here at QP for a few months for Officer Candidate School.
Quonset Point continued as a major naval facility well into the Cold War. Prior to its closure in 1975, it had been home to numerous aviation squadrons, primarily land-based patrol squadrons operating the P-2 Neptune and carrier-based anti-submarine and airborne early warning squadrons operating the S-2 Tracker, the E-1 Tracer and various modified versions of the A-1 Skyraider. It was also home to the Antarctic Development Squadron 6 (VX-6) during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s operating the LC-47 Skytrain, the LP-2J Neptune, the C-54 Skymaster, the C-121 Constelltion, and eventually the LC-130F and the LC-130R Hercules, both capable of landing on Arctic ice runways. The LC-130’s are now all based at the NYANG 109th AW at Schenectady County Airport near Albany, NY.
In addition to the flying squadrons, QP was home to the Naval Air Rework Facility (NARF) for major airframe depot maintenance. With and still having a deep water port right near the runways, QP was homeport to several Essex class aircraft carriers in WW2 including the USS Essex (CV-9), the USS Intrepid (CV-11), (now berthed in New York), the USS Wasp (CV-18), the USS Lake Champlain (CV-39), and the USS Tarawaa (CV-40), as well as all their respective Carrier Air Groups (CAG’s) with all their fighter planes. As a matter of recent fact, about eight years ago there was a serious effort to bring the retired carrier USS Saratoga here to the old carrier piers at the end of the east runways and relocate the Air Museum to the ship. That effort was quenched when the current ship repair facilities were now firmly located on those piers and it proved impossible for them to give up their real estate. You can still see the large seaplane hangars (now used by EB for sub work), the old seaplane ramps and even the old ordinance bunkers, all at the east end near the runways. But that all ended in 1975.
Now there is the Quonset Point Air Show for 2017: At the east ramp near the show public parking, but not part of the show, were two military visitors – an F/A-18 Hornet (a visitor to the Naval War College?) and a USCG EDADS North America HC-144A “Ocean Sentry” out of Air Station Cape Cod at Otis ANGB. After you cleared the X-Ray Security Control Gate, the public was confronted with a giant Evergreen International Airlines Boeing 747-212B (N485EV). Evergreen has had a less than stellar recent history. However this freighter has a secret story that few even know about. Here it is:
That Evergreen International Airlines B-747 jet liner, (or at least that’s what the current paint job says), has a very unusual story behind it and was the subject of a feature article in the Providence Journal newspaper last June in 2016. Apparently the status of that B-747 remains unchanged a year later, and here it is at its second Quonset Air Show, still hiding its secrets. Before 2016, 485 was owned by Evergreen, was based at JFK and was previously owned for a while by Saudi Arabian Airlines before Evergreen got it back again. Apparently, per the Journal article, Evergreen Airlines, a cargo hauler that contracted with the USDOD and the USPS, as of 2015, went bankrupt and sold off all of its assets, including its aircraft.
Although still in EV colors and serial, 485 is now owned by Mr. Ari Scharf, nationality unknown, President of Franklin Exhibits, the New York based company started six years ago to produce major exhibits. It was reported that Scharf, a Boston native who now lives in New York, called the Quonset Airport Manager last spring for permission to bring in a 747 “to refurbish it”. Then the plane came in unannounced last June 15th here to OQU. Then last year he told the Providence Journal about his “Grand Plan” for 485: He wanted to retrofit it into a replica of VC-25, the Presidential airplane from the 89th AW at Andrews AFB known as “Air Force One”. Scharf has some financing in hand but could get more capital by selling the four engines on 485. He needed an airport with easy access to a barge dock near a runway, which Quonset has right near the east end of 16/34, so he can later transport the 747 after the retrofit is completed. He told the Journal that he chose Quonset not only for the nearby barge dock but also for “its central location in Southern New England where tourists can come to view the 747 ‘Air Force One’ Exhibit at the existing Quonset Air Museum”. After it stays at QP for a while, Schraf planned to put it on a large barge and ship it to Washington, DC for a more permanent exhibit down there.
In the meantime, the Quonset Air Museum closed last summer because their old hanger’s roof started to cave in. If it is true that Schraf has some capital, maybe he can fix the roof or help to finance a new Museum building not only to show off his Air Force One B-747 but also to house those 25 Museum warbirds now sitting in the rain and snow by the old Museum hanger. (Hint, Hint!). It is also true that the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy Museum Ship and its Navy and DOD approvals are slowly making their way through the maze of Washington DOD review agencies and the USS JFK may soon get refurbished and find its way up to its new home at the Coddington Piers near Newport across from the Quonset Airport. Some of the stored Air Museum’s airplanes may find their way to the JFK flight deck when it finally gets up here to become a museum ship like the USS Intrepid in New York.
However, there is also a local story circulating around QP that various groups want to have a Quonset Point Air Museum at the Airport separate from the JFK Carrier Museum that would be only for airplanes that were historically connected NAS Quonset Point. Schraf also told the Journal that after he recreates “Air Force One” VC-25, and exhibits it for a while at the QAM, he will ultimately take his VC-25 down to Washington, DC, where he already has a developer committed to exhibiting the plane until 2023. He said back in 2016 that the 485 retrofit work would take five months to complete and “would start in a few weeks”. But that was last June and EV-485 still sits on a remote ramp at Quonset Point. And you thought it was a 747 Air Freighter!!! Editor’s note: Evidently the aircraft has begun to receive her new colors, a few short weeks after the show!
Now back to the Air Show Ramp: Just past the Boeing 747, there was a wingless dark blue Marine F9F-2 Panther jet from VMF-311 sitting on a flatbed trailer with “Capt. Ted Williams” (Re: Baseball!) stenciled under the canopy. It is owned by the JFK Carrier Foundation and one day it will find its way to the flight deck of the JFK Museum Ship in Newport. Further down the ramp were two F-15C’s from the 104th FW, MAANG, out of Barnes ANGB, MA. One Eagle (AF-79064) had a green star under the canopy for killing an Iraqi IL-76 in the First Gulf War. Heading west, there were a series of static displays – ten EAA light planes; a CAP C-172; a grey Navy SNJ-5; a T-6 in Vietnam colors; two Army UH-60 Blackhawks from the 1st Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment, RI-NG, based here at QP; the Air Museum’s beautifully restored F-14A Tomcat in VF-101 “Grim Reapers” colors; two C-130J Hercs from the on-base 143rd AW RIANG; a T-6 Texan II from the 87th FTS from Laughlin AFB, TX; an AH-64D Apache from Ft Drum, NY; two flight school lights; a P-3C Orion from VP-30 “The Pro’s Nest” out of NAS Jacksonville – a rare bird soon to be replaced by the new P-8 Poseidon and supplemented with the MQ-4C Triton UAV Drone; finally, two Army RI-NG Gate Guards – an AH-1F “Cobra” Army Gun Ship and a UH-1V Med Evac “Dustoff” Huey with a Red Cross.
The “Hot Ramp” was at the 143rd Ramp behind the restricted orange mesh fence. These were the guys that did the flying part of the show. They included: a RI-NG Blackhawk for the morning Media Flights; another RI-NG Blackhawk that served as the show SAR rescue helicopter; two F/A-18F Super Hornets from VFA-106 “Gladiators” out of Oceana that were the Hornet Demo Team; two AV-8B Harriers from MAG-14, 2nd Marine Air Wing out of MCAS Cherry Point, NC; two F-16C’s from the Viper East Demo Team out of Shaw AFB, SC; six SNJ-2s from the Geico Skytypers out of Republic Airport, LI; the Mark Murphy flown FG-1 (F4U) Goodyear Navy Corsair; Randy Ball’s Mig-17; the two C-130J’s that were to be a part of the afternoon Combined Arms show; and finally the six stunt planes all safely hidden in the large 143rd hanger. Then there was the “Dirt Ramp” to the far west at the end of 16/34 that had most of the helos for the Combined Arms Demo – a CH-47F Chinook from the CT-ANG out of Bradley Airport, CT; and five more UH-60 Blackhawks from the RI-NG here at QP. I say “Dirt Ramp” because when these guys all took off together they generated a huge dust cloud similar to what you have seen on the TV in desert operations in Iraq. Two AH-64’s from Ft. Drum stayed on the pavement too.
The Quonset Flying Show began promptly at 1000 with the singing of our National Anthem while a single jumper from the Army Special Operations Command exited a 143rd AW C-130J jump plane holding at 10,000 feet in a clear sky, while Sean D. Tucker in his Team Oracle Challenger III custom bi-wing red stunt plane circled the jumper who was trailing the American Flag. Next up was another Team Oracle stunt plane – a red and white Extra-300 mono-wing piloted by Johnny DiGenera, a United Express pilot flying aerobatics for ten years. Then came Nelson Powers with his red and black Jack Links 300L. The USMC AV-8B Harrier from the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, 14th CAG from Cherry Point, NC, went up next with a fine demonstration of thrust vectoring that ranged from high speed passes to vertical flight with circular, sideways, back-up and vertical dead stop STOVL flight control examples. It was great to watch, but just wear those ear silencers. This rare jump bird will soon be replaced with the F-35B, a 5th Generation STOVL Lockheed Martin “Lightning II” Jump Jet, the world’s first supersonic all-weather STOVL stealth multi-roll aircraft.
The F-16C Viper Demo Team East out of Shaw AFB with Maj. Waters on the stick was next with a loud aerial demo that left you further deaf after the Harrier demo. Then, to regain our hearing, we had a quiet 2-ship stunt demo with Rob Holland and his MXS-2R and Michael Goulian in his Extra-330SC. Then, after your hearing came back, the Shockwave Jet Truck blew out your eardrums one more time, with loud bangs and lots of white smoke. Everyone was next saying “I feel the need for Speed” and the US Navy satisfied that need by next launching the Hornet Demo Team’s F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-106 “Gladiators” from NAS Oceana in a full afterburner vertical climb out, and 15 minutes of high speed action except for the High Alpha Slow Pass, executed while they played “Slow Ride” by Foghat (“Slow ride, take it easy”). Tom Cruise, where are you? The Hornet Team came with two planes and two 2-man crews that alternated announcing and flying duties so everyone got a chance with the two demo flights during the day. “Purple” and her RIO “Hot Gun” went up first. Later in the day, “Duck” on the stick and “Shunnel” as RIO went up. For some reason, the female demo pilot – Lt. Daniel “Purple” Kenle – got the most attention from the Air Show Announcers. Leave it to the “Hot Stick” to steal the show from “Hot Gun”! Love those Navy Call Signs!!
Next was a sky diving display by the full Special Ops Para-Commando Parachute Team from McDill AFB, FL followed by a two-ship demo by two AH-64 Apache attack helos from Ft. Drum, NY. Then came the Combined Arms Demonstration including: two C-130J Hercs from the local 143AW; five UH-60 Blackhawks from the on-base RI-NG, Company A/C, 1st Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment; and a CH-47F Chinook from the 1st Battalion, 169th Aviation Regiment, CT-NG, from Bradley Airport, Hartford, CT. It was quite a twenty-minute fully choreographed demonstration of air assault tactics with attack, vertical drops, enemy suppression, close air support, troop insertion and extraction both with the C-130’s and the Blackhawks performing. This was truly a planned combat mission and because of the timed and coordinated TOTs (Time Over Target) of each aircraft, required full mission planning as if it were an actual combat scenario; this stuff just doesn’t happen – it has to be fully worked out and practiced for the demo to be both safe and flawless. Well done troops!
At the end of the Army Assault Demo, Mark Murphy went up in his Goodyear FG-1 (F4U) Navy gull-winged Corsair fighter, called “Godspeed” in honor of Sen. John Glenn who flew a similar aircraft. John Klatt was next with his Jack Link’s bi-wing jet WACO “Scream’in Sasquatch” powered with a prop on the nose and a CJ-610 jet engine mounted to the belly. Its air frame was structurally reinforced for jet-powered high-G turns. Then the Jet Truck did another ear-busting race and was clocked at 260 mph. Randy Ball was up next with his Mig-17 Demo. The little MiGs were a feared adversary of the USAF in the Vietnam War and gave the F-4s and the F-105s lots of trouble up North. This MiG can go to 53,000 feet, do 703 mph at .92 Mach and do eight G turns. It was flown by twenty countries; three still continue to fly it in 2017.
The air show ended with more repeats to make up for the Snowbirds No-Shows: Sean Tucker again with his Oracle Challenger 3; the AV-8B Harrier again; Rob Holland one more time; the F/A-18F Hornet second demo with “Duck” and “Shunnel” flying and “Purple” doing the announcing for this one; Michael Goulian one more time; and the Final Final act of the day – the second F-16 Viper Demo. By 1630 it was over at QP. But it wasn’t over! There was to be a Night Show at 2030 down the coast at Narragansett Beach for some “Burner Delight”.
Some wanted more and they headed south down to the Beach for the Night Show. I headed to Newport for some R&R after ten hours of airplanes. This Reporter landed at the “Smoke House”, an open-air bar right on the water, for some of their fancy famous “Jar Drinks” and later to the “Red Parrot” for a nice fish dinner. What a day! See you next year at the Quonset Point Air Show 2018.