The Ghost Rider at Oshkosh 2017
EAA’s AirVenture, held at Oshkosh Wisconsin, has to be the longest continuously running aviation event in the world, dating back to September 1953 (as a part of the Milwaukee Air Pageant, at the now Timmerman Field). America’s longest serving front line bomber in the USAF is the B-52, entering active service in 1955. The current B-52s were built in about 1960 and later. The EAA has been putting on airshows longer than the B-52 has been protecting our country.
I attend about 15 or so major aviation events a year. History-wise I’ve been coming to EAA since 1966 and have only missed one Oshkosh show in the last 30 years. Every weekend I see things that thrill the crowd, which I’ve seen dozens of times before. Occasionally there performers who still excite me after seeing them dozens of times. In the past there was Jimmy Franklin, Delmar Benjamin, Wayne Handley, Bob Herendeen, and Bob Hoover. Currently there is Scott Yoak, who is a P-51 master who flies the Mustang like Hoover did. These pilots are who get the crowd on the their feet and not an eye strays from their planes.
Flybys lose their charm over the years, unless its something special. The most special of all time was the Constellation flyby at Oshkosh in the early 1990s. The MATS Connie and the Save A Connie made a tight impromptu formation pass. I was at airshow center and saw it happen. Even now there are people who can tell you where they were at when that pass happened. Nobody who saw that one has forgotten it. Similarly people don’t forget the Concorde or SR-71 both of which have made memorable EAA appearances.
With rising costs, the military doesn’t participate in airshows like they did in the past. There was a time that all bases had open houses with lots of flying and static displays that made for great public relations. Now the “demo” teams are cut back, you may see some static aircraft here and there on the ramp. There is a Heritage Flight at most of the bigger shows. A pass by a B-52, a B-1, or a B-2 is a rare event. You can see the occasional B-52 on the ramp, but they never fly during the show.
A bomber flyby is a rare thing and the crowd loves it. I’ve been to a few shows where they had a pair of bombers making passes. One made 2 or 3 passes, cleared the area and then the other flew by. EAA changed all of that on July 29, 2017. They really changed it.
The B-29s showed up, FiFI and DOC. They made a couple formation passes, probably the first time that has happened since the 1950s. Then the show started.
The EAA got a B-1, B-2, and B-52 all in the air at the same time. They made individual passes, they did formations.
They thrilled the crowd in a way that I have not seen since who knows when. It was INCREDIBLE, AMAZING, I run out of ways to describe it.
Yet they all missed a detail, my buddy Steve Savino was looking at his pictures and said check out the name on the B-52… “Ghost Rider”.
A famous line from the movie Top Gun was “Ghost Rider the pattern is full” just before Tom Cruise buzzed the tower. Well the pattern was full at Oshkosh with the Ghost RIder and nobody mentioned it. I didn’t hear it from the announcer (even the official USAF announcer), none of the other media guys mentioned it, I didn’t see it on Facebook and I’ve been keeping an eye out for nearly 8 months.
You see the Ghost Rider is a B-52H I’ve wanted to see for a couple years. It’s rare, very rare. A few years back B-52H 61-007 was in the news, it was the only B-52 to return from the dead. In 2015, it was removed from storage at Davis Montham AFB in AZ. It went to Barksdale AFB where systems from another burned B-52 were installed. Then to Tinker AFB for more maintenance. A normal B-52 heads to Tinker AFB every 4 years for programmed depot maintenance which takes about 30,000 hours. The USAF spent 45,000+ hours returning this airplane to service. It was the first B-52H to be returned to service and if needed there are 12 more airframes still in storage.
Still, nobody seemed to say anything about it. Maybe I’ve gotten too far into aviation history that I miss the simple things…. NAAAHHHHH….. The B-52, including Ghost Rider, will remain in service until at least 2040, maybe 2050, pushing on 100 years. A simple design with the space to upgrade electronics and other systems and haul a lot of bombs made it outlast its contemporaries.
The EAA will still be around 30 years from now and probably forever. When the B-52 needs a place to do a flyby there will be an airshow in Wisconsin, generally starting on the last Monday in July which the Ghost Rider can thrill people who aren’t even born.
The 2018 AirVenture in Oshkosh will be held July 23rd to July 29th. Tickets are available at https://www.eaa.org/en/airventure/eaa-airventure-tickets Come and join us for this great event. You can contact the author Mark Hrutkay at TNMark1@GMail.Com