Tampa Bay AirFest, 2016
Photos by Bob Finch, story by Bob Finch with Ken Kula
The year 2016 marks three quarters of a century after the United States began its buildup of armed forces, when its’ leaders saw that the country would most likely become involved in the conflict in Europe, which ultimately grew into one of the main focal points of the Second World War. A massive amount of aviation infrastructure was funded and built in a short period of time in 1941, including many air bases that survive today. In different names and forms, military airdromes like McGuire AFB NJ, Corpus Christi NAS TX, Shaw AFB SC, Dover AFB DE, Cherry Point MCAS NC, Vandenburg AFB CA, and Tyndall AFB FL were all constructed and/or declared operational in 1941. MacDill AFB, in South Tampa, Florida, is another one of these bases, and it recently held it’s 75th AirFest air show. This was one of the first of many celebrations across the country that will honor 75 years of aviation history at an air field.
“Team MacDill” is made up of dozens of smaller units, including flying units that operate Air Force KC-135 and C-37 jets and a handful of NOAA weather research aircraft. MacDill is also home to the headquarters of both the U.S. Special Operations Command and the U.S. Central Command. The air show drew many diverse military aircraft and performers, with the USAF Thunderbirds the headlining performers. The Special Operations Command Para-Commandos were slated to parachute twice each day, a home-based KC-135 showed off, and the B-1B bomber flew a spirited display, on one pass presenting a double aileron roll!
Warbirds in the air brought diverse handling characteristics, and plenty of noise. Scott Yoak presented the P-51 “Quicksilver”, Jim Tobul flew his F4U Corsair and then joined Quicksilver in the “Class of 45” duet, Larry Labriola performed in his L-39 jet, the Geico Skytypers thundered about in their roaring 6-ship SNJ formation, Randy Ball demonstrated his afterburning MiG-17, and Jerry “Jive” Kerby flew aerobatics in his T-28 Trojan.
Civilians included a quartet of aerobatic performers, Michael Goulian in his Extra 330C, Rob Holland in his MXS, Kirby Chambliss in his Edge 540, and “Jive” Kerby in his RV-8 “Wild Blue”.
On the ground, a full ramp of aircraft were on display. Canadian Forces CF-18s, one in special colors commemorating (a common theme) 75 years of the 410 “Cougars” fighter squadron, joined many active and retired military aircraft. Air Force and Coast Guard helicopters joined examples of F-22, F-35 and F-16 and F-15 jets. An Air Force TC-135W trainer was displayed, as was a 403rd Wing C-130J Hurricane Hunter. NOAA hurricane hunters were present too, as a WP-3D and a Gulfstream IV were on display. A NOAA DHC-6 Twin Otter was also present, part of the nine NOAA aircraft that have called MacDill home since Hurricane Andrew destroyed their previous Homestead FL home in 1992. The aircraft will need to move from their current MacDill hangar within a year, and a local newspaper’s article noted that the local Senator hoped that they would be relocated to an airport in the same general area.
Warbirds on the ramp included the Valiant Air Command’s A-4 Skyhawk and C-47, the “Killer B” B-25 and assorted liaison and training craft from World War II.
Saturday’s show was curtailed due to thunderstorm activity during a three hour stretch from mid morning through early afternoon, but most flying acts were able to complete at least partial shows. Sunday’s weather cooperated much more favorably, and the celebration of 75 years of MacDill AFB’s opening was enjoyed by an approximate 120,000 spectators over the weekend.