The 2015 Great New England Air Show
Westover Air Reserve Base Fetes 75 Years of Operations
The sky over western Massachusetts, at the foot of the Berkshires, was filled with the sights and sounds of the Great New England Air Show in mid May, 2015. The event celebrated three quarters of a century of military aviation history and security that the base, originally called Westover Field and now known as Westover Air Reserve Base, has provided for the people in the Pioneer Valley and throughout New England. Over the years, Westover’s role in defending our nation changed a few times, and may change again in the not-too-distant future.
The festive weekend started with the traditional Galaxy Council Breakfast Friday morning, which gathers current and former military service members, local dignitaries, and the general public for a hangar-sized breakfast and speaking engagement. Attendees could walk the air show static ramp after the indoor events were completed. The airport is a joint-use facility, and the civilian side of the operation remained open on much of Friday while the military side of the base closed for the events.
A sparkling flying display was assembled for the weekend. Military aerial performers included the Navy’s Blue Angels, Royal Canadian Air Force Snowbirds, Air Force F-22 Raptor, Army Golden Knights, Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 Hornet, and the home based 439th Airlift Wing (nicknamed the Patriot Wing) C-5B Galaxy transport. Sean D. Tucker and Rob Holland headlined civilian performers, while the Geico Skytypers led a handful of warbirds into the air, which included a dissimilar four-ship formation with the B-25 Mitchell Miss Hap, FG-1D Corsair Skyboss, TBM Avenger She’s the Boss, and the P-51D Never Miss. The Heritage flight contained the F-22 and Jim Beasley in his P-51D Bald Eagle.
On the ground, the static display contained some of America’s largest military aircraft. Boeing B-52H, Rockwell/Boeing B-1B and OC-135B Open Skies aircraft shared the ramp with a pair of New York Air National Guard transports – a C-130H and a C-17A. Of course, a locally -based C-5B was open for inspection, and an upgraded C-5M Super Galaxy from California foretold of what should be arriving at the base before the decade ends. A smaller jet, one of Vermont’s Air National Guard F-16Cs, was credited with shooting down an Iraqi Air Force MiG-23 in 1993. Big planes of the warbird community turned out too. The B-17G Yankee Lady joined Second Chance, a true World War II veteran C-47, and Spooky, the AC-47 gunship. A Grumman HU-16 Albatross amphibian was joined a group of smaller trainers and liaison planes too.
The base began operations in 1940, named after Major General Oscar Westover who died in a plane crash in 1938. During World War II, the facility provided training to heavy bomber crews and anti-submarine patrols. After the war, it’s strategic location close to the Atlantic Ocean and Europe led to it being re-tasked as a transportation hub, which provided logistical support for aircraft operating what would later be known as the Berlin Airlift. From 1955 through 1974, Westover’s key geographic location made it a prime B-52 and KC-135 base for the Strategic Air Command, and for interceptor operations of the Air Defense Command.
After those aircraft left, the base reverted to transport operations again, under the command of the Air Force Reserve. C-123, C-130 tactical, and C-5A strategic transports have all moved on, but the current 16 C-5B Galaxies of the Patriot Wing serve both within the U.S. and around the globe. On the horizon, things may change at the western Massachusetts base again. Plans are to cut in half the number of planes based here, from 16 to 8. The C-5Bs will be upgraded to C-5M Super Galaxies, and additional maintenance operations of the Air Force Reserve’s C-5 fleet may be accomplished at the base. Additionally, the base is one of four finalists in a competition to field some of the Air Force Reserve’s new KC-46A tanker/transport jets.
Over 375,000 spectators chose to attend the weekend-long air show. They got to see some of the past history of the base through warbirds, the present military capabilities of the U. S. and Canadian Air Forces, and heard of the possible changes to Westover’s mission in the coming years. Civilian performers added the icing on this birthday cake celebrating 75 years of the base’s service to the country.
Special thanks goes to the Public Affairs Office at Westover ARB, for their information and photo access while at the air show.