The 2012 Great New England Air Show
The Great New England Air Show, held at western Massachusetts’ Westover Air Reserve Base, was a salute to the Greatest Generation… those American men and women who came of age during the time between the Great Depression and the end of World War II. The organizers invited local surviving World War II veterans to the show, and at Friday morning’s Galaxy Community Council Breakfast, a few lucky people got to hear some of their experiences after the event. More than 60 aircraft participated in the show, along with bands and restored antique military vehicles. It was a grand salute to those courageous Americans who overcame some turbulent times.
Assembled on the sprawling ramp at the former SAC base was a comprehensive collection of many of the largest and mightiest U. S. military aircraft in current use. The home team (The Air Force Reserve’s 439th Airlift Wing) posted a pair of C-5s at either end of its ramp. In between, B-52 and B-1 bombers, KC-135 and KC-10 tankers, C-17, C-130 and LC-130 transports, and a TC-135S training transport (military B-707 version) were assembled. Add to that a FedEx B-727 and a C-123 warbird transport, and one stood in the land of giants! Additionally, not so large aircraft like four A-10s, a F-15 and UH-60 from the Massachusetts Air National Guard, a pair of T-38 jet trainers and a Marine MV-22 Osprey were present.
Aircrew were on hand to talk about their careers and missions with the 200,000 – plus spectators throughout the weekend, including some that had family in the area, or who had been members of the Massachusetts and Connecticut Air National Guard in earlier years. The 439th AW had loads of experts – maintenance, security, aircrew, etc. – on hand to talk about their missions and jobs on the base too. There were a few opportunities to see some new equipment, like the Schenectady New York based LC-130H ski-equipped transport sporting new eight-bladed Hamilton Sundstrand NP2000 propellers… one of only a pair of -H versions that have been upgraded thus far. Crewmembers told me that older -H transports may be retrofitted in the future to increase efficiency… including all their LC-130s that specialize in Arctic and Antarctic operations. Besides the props, the only changes to the aircraft are to the engine/prop controls; the engine remains unchanged. The prop’s efficiency offers added thrust that is likened to having a fifth engine, and is optimized for low altitude operation (not in the Flight Levels). Surprisingly, it also slows the aircraft slightly at cruise, due to the drag of all those propellers. The LC-130 is one of the last U.S. aircraft to use the JATO rocket system, and the new props may make the expensive rockets a thing of the past with the increased thrust it provides. The NP2000 propeller has been successfully retrofitted onto Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeye AWACS aircraft in recent years.
For the flying portion of the show, a large collection of warbirds were assembled, including pairs of F-4U Corsairs and B-25 Mitchell bombers, plus a P-51 Mustang, P-47 Thunderbolt, AT-6 Texan, PT-17 Stearman, , C-47 transport and TBM Avenger… all World War II vintage aircraft. Additionally, current military aircraft included a B-2 Spirit bomber flyby on Saturday, and daily C-5 Galaxy, F-15, F-18 Super Hornet and MV-22 Osprey flight demonstrations.
A host of civilian performers flew too, including Rob Holland, Mike Goulian, the Iron Eagles team, and the GEICO Skytypers team. The Black Daggers military parachute team jumped from a C-130J from the Rhode Island ANG. Weather conditions during the show weren’t perfect, but most of the scheduled flying still occurred. On the ground, the jet-powered School Bus and Outhouse drew everyone’s attention with bright flames during their antics. A great group of restored Army vehicles, including World War II tanks and half-tracks were assembled too, complete with uniformed re-enactors at the controls.
Finally, the Galaxy Community Council, which is the local civic group that helps sponsor and execute the air show, held its Friday morning breakfast event inside the base’s big Double Cantilever (better known as the DC) hangar. In attendance were many military veterans, including some very special members of the Greatest Generation… all at least 90 years of age. One, Edward Borucki, is a Pearl Harbor survivor. Ed told his story to a few fascinated guests after the breakfast ended, and one got to understand a bit more about this “Greatest Generation”. Ed was aboard the cruiser USS Helena when the attack began, and narrowly avoided being killed when a aerial torpedo hit his normal action station half of a minute after he had left to attend to some wounded shipmates. He lost 33 crewmembers that day. When asked if he was scared, he said he wasn’t… his training kicked in and he just did what he had to do, as did his shipmates. After the attack, his ship limped to California for permanent repairs. After some months, he was transferred to a seaplane tender. Two months after his transfer his former ship, the USS Helena, was sunk in a naval battle. After additional service aboard ships, Ed was sent to college and was steered into flight training. He said he actually did fly solo, but then the Navy cancelled the rest of his aviation training, as the service had enough pilots at that point in time to allow the discontinuance of his pilot training program. After the war he settled near Westover in Southampton MA, becoming a professional educator. Ed is one of only a handful of living Pearl Harbor attack survivors, and has made numerous trips back to Hawaii to remember his shipmates that were killed. His dedication is just one quality that I admire of the Greatest Generation.
As an air show, the Great New England Air Show presented aviation buffs with a great opportunity to view some seldom seen aircraft, and talk to many highly motivated aviators of this current generation. As a salute to the Greatest Generation, the event displayed some of the aviation advances that America has made through the hard work and perseverance of those generation members during some very difficult times. Either way, it was a privilege to be able to listen to and talk with the veterans and veterans-to-be, and attend the show’s salute to the Greatest Generation.
Story by Ken Kula
Photo credits: Ken Kula, Scott Zeno and Alice Leong