Westfield International Air Show 2017
The 104th Fighter Wing, “Barnstormers”, of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, are based at Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport, near Springfield, Massachusetts. The Wing hosted a fabulous Air Show on Saturday and Sunday, August 11th and 12th. Springfield is known for the home of the National Basketball Hall of Fame but on this weekend it became known as the home of what turned out to be one of the best military air shows on the East Coast. Of course having the Thunderbirds as the main act certainly contributed to getting nearly 100,000 people to come each day to the “Westfield International Air Show” as it was officially called. Both the base and the airport are serviced by Route 202, a 2-lane country road that doesn’t take much to jam up. The air show organizers were smart to open up the parking fields at 6:30 AM which led to a few early morning tailgate parties until the security show gates opened at 8:00 AM. The flying show did not begin until 11:00 but there was plenty to see on almost two miles of ramp space that Barnes opened up to show off seventy-two planes on both the Hot Ramp and the Static Ramp.
The theme of this air show, the first at Barnes since 2010, was a “Century of Air Power” and the “70th Anniversary” of both the USAF and the 104th FW. The 104th has been flying fighter aircraft at Barnes since 1947 and “has a proud heritage of excellence in providing ‘Air Power for America’ and emergency response for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts” to quote Col. James M. Suhr, Commander of the 104th FW. The Mission Statement states that the 104th is an Expeditionary Fighter Wing tasked to deploy where needed and to provide Air Superiority with their assigned F-15C Eagle aircraft. The Wing performs 24/7 “Aerospace Control Alert” with armed F-15’s, aircrew and required support to launch at a moment’s notice to defend the Northeast corner of the United States against “conventional and unconventional attack”. To this end, although the 104th Fighter Wing’s Runway Alert Barns were being used today to display aircraft and exhibits during the air show, the Wing had a number of F-15C fighters on Ready Alert with armed aircraft at the Westover Air Reserve Base, ten miles away on five-minute armed alert status ready to launch at any time while the air show was going on!!
It’s Saturday, August 12th, and it’s time for a big air show at Barnes Air National Guard Base, the first one here since 2010! Time for some ear-splitting noise, wild flying and 72 airplanes! Time for the Thunderbirds to beat up the runways. It’s Showtime!!! As you drive into the Main Gate at Barnes ANGB on Falcon Drive, off of Route 202, there are five Gate Guards along the entry road called “Tank Destroyer Boulevard” (really!). The first one you see right by the Guard Booth is a green A-10 Warthog mounted on a high stand in Euro-1 camouflage. Across the road on a concrete pad was an F-84F Thunderstreak (0-19480).
A hundred feet away was an F-100D Super Sabre (63-025) in Vietnam tan camouflage in a tan camouflage also mounted on a high stand. Further down the road and getting repainted in bright silver paint was their F-86H Sabre Jet (52-2041). And past the Refueling Yard was their silver T-33A Thunderbird / Shooting Star jet trainer. All the Gate Guards were representative of aircraft that were assigned to the 104th Fighter Wing here at Barnes ANGB. All of these planes on display were in beautiful shape and made for a nice entry into the base.
We parked next to the Headquarters Building where the PAO Office was. It faced the new Alert Facility that was all fenced in, but open for the air show with displays in the six alert aircraft parking spots. The Alert Barns are three double-plane hangars designed for quick launch access to the end of the main runway 2/20. The 104th now has seven maintenance hangars sized for the F-15 airframe. The rest of the base is in very good shape. To the south past the new Fire and Crash building is a new taxiway and a new ramp to the Mass. Army National Guard Aviation Unit with their six helos – three LUH-72A Lakotas and three HH-60M MedEvac Blackhawks. Further to the south is Runway 33/15, which was closed for the show and was being used to show off some of the heavy metal aircraft on static. The other end of 33/15 was being used to park the C-17A Demo out of Stewart. They had 72 aircraft at the show; some roped off in the hangers, some on the Hot Ramp to the far north, and most wide open on the static ramps. It was a mile and a half of airplanes, food, drinks, vendor stands and all the rest of the “air show stuff” people buy at air shows. The order was to wear your walking shoes, use the 30 SPF Sunscreen, and drink lots of water; the blue sky came out and it got hot!!
Walking the Show Ramp from north to south, starting at the Hot Ramp, here’s how it looked: Greg Koontz personal red bi-wing Pitts Special stunt plane; Greg Koontz “Alabama Boys” yellow 1946 Piper J-3 Cub stunt plane with its white “Pick Up Truck Airport”; US Navy F/A-18C Hornet from Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-106 “Gladiators” TAC Demo Squadron out of NAS Oceana with a special commemorative paint scheme as a “Legacy Hornet” celebrating the legacy of VFA-15 “Valions”, which is scheduled to formally deactivate in late 2017, depicting the colors of VFA-15 “Valions” A-7E Corsair jets of the 1970’s at Oceana; a second VFA-106 F/A-18C spare demo jet; an A-10C Demo “Warthog” with the FT tail code out of the 23rd FW (ACC) from Moody AFB, Ga; a spare A-10C “Hog” also from the 23rd FW at Moody; a Douglas C-47 Skytrain “Dakota” W7 “Whiskey 7” from the National Warplane Museum at Genesco, NY, an actual plane that participated in the D-Day Invasion of Normandy in dropping parachute airborne troops of the 82nd Airborne Division on Drop Zone “0” near the Village of St. Mere Eglise in France;
a T-33A Shooting Star (T-Bird) ” Ace Maker II” (FT-452) Demo with Greg Colyer; a red 1940 Boeing B75N1 biplane of “Third Strike Wing Walking” with Carol Pilon, owner and famous wing walker; the North American RB-25-NA Mitchell Bomber (40-2168) “Miss Hap” from the American Airpower Museum at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, LI, NY, the oldest surviving B-25, having been the fourth off the North American Aviation Production Line in 1940 and was the personal VIP plane for General Hap Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces in WW2, another interesting fact – this aircraft was sold to Howard Hughes in 1951 and took Elizabeth Taylor to the funeral of her husband, Mike Todd; a General Motors-Eastern Aircraft Division (Grumman) “Wildcat”; a Vought F4U-5NL Corsair from VC-3; a beautiful Curtis P-40 Warhawk, “The Jackie C”, from the American Air Power Museum in Long Island; a P-51D Mustang “Quick Silver” in highly polished bare metal, with Bill Yoke, aka “The Resurrected Veteran”; a Douglas A-1E Skyraider in VAQ-33 colors; a 1945 Grumman TBM-3U “Avenger” with “She’s the Boss” nose art; and a 1969 Nanchang CJ-6 PLA trainer from China, black with a red star band.
Also, an F-22A “Raptor”, L-M, TY, 325th FW, (ACC), out of Tyndall AFB; an F-15C Eagle, MA, 104th FW, MAANG, “Town of Foxboro” nose art; an F-15C Eagle, MA, 104th FW, MAANG, clean; an A-10C Warthog, IN, 124th FW / 163rd FS, (ANG), “Black Snakes”, Ft. Wayne, Ind, Snake-head nose art; an F-16D Viper, 2-seat, DC, DC Air Guard,”Capital Guardians”, JB Andrews, 121st FS / 113th FW; F-16C Viper, DC, 121FS/113FW, JB Andrews; a CAP aircraft, O-Grippsland GA-8 aircraft model, a regional CAP asset based at Bangor, ME; a Northrop T-38A “Talon”, EN, 80th FTW (AETC), Sheppard AFB, TX; and a Beechcraft (Pilatus PC-9) T-6A Texan II, blue and white 2-seat trainer, EN, 80th FTW (AETC), Sheppard AFB, TX.
Now the reason why it was called an “International Air Show” — Canadian Forces / Forces Canadiennes CF-18C, (F-18A-19-MC), 425 Squadron, CFB Bagotville, (188762); a CF-18C, Canadian Forces / Forces Canadienne, 425 Squadron, CFB Bagotville, (188786).
Now here’s what the Alert Barns had today besides tables handing out lots of brochures on everything: a 1964 Piper PA-28-140 owned by the City of Westfield; a 1970 American AA-1 also locally owned, blue and yellow as a pretend trainer, “Army Air Corps” side logo; a Mig-15-UTI, red, 2-seat trainer, 69 on the nose, red star on the tail, a/c built in Poland in 1953 for the Polish Air Force, owner- David Sutton, founder of Red Star Aviation out of Reading, PA, pilot- Carl Vernon, (Sutton also owns a V-Tailed Fouga Magister, a Mig-17F and a Mig-2 besides the 17); a PT-23A Army Trainer, “Harnell Field, Ark.” as side logo; a white Pitts biplane on display with a blue eagle nose, white star and red streamer side art; a pale yellow 1958 Cessna 175 Skylark seaplane “Bullwinkle” / “2-3 Mike” tail art; a 1942 blue and yellow PT-17 “US Army” trainer, bi-wing open cockpit; and a 1949 T-28 Trojan, AD tail code, in Vietnam tan cammo colors;
Walking past an array of food and vendor stands, even a nice beer stand, we get to the intersection of the new ramp that leads to the Army National Guard Aviation Unit. Naturally they have their helos on ramp display here at Taxiway “H”: brand new LUH (Light Utility Helicopter) – 72A Lakota helo, so new that the inside smells like a new car, three on base; an HH-60M Blackhawk MedEvac helo, three on base; a Gate Guard restored AH-1 Cobra Gun Ship, “1st / 110th / 26th Yankee Division” logo on side.
After a mile of walking in 85 degree heat we are now at the South Ramp for more airplanes. Here there is another Hot Ramp on the other side of the crowd line orange snow fence. Planes here include: the GEICO Skytypers, six SNJ-2’s (T-6 Texans) in beautiful shape; the Trojan Horsemen with their six 1949 North American Aviation T-28 Trojan trainers, colors included two in “Navy” dark blue, one as a “Navy” trainer in white with day-glo orange, one in “Air Force” grey, and two in “Navy” light grey; next to the Trojans was a Piper-24 Comanche crew plane; another Greg Koontz American Champion Aircraft Corporation 8KCAB monoplane “Champion Decathion” crew plane; a red Pitts Special S-1S bi-wing stunt plane with Jason Flood; a red Extra 330LX, 2-seat stunt monoplane by Embry-Riddle with Matt Chapman; and an Extra 330SC blue and silver aerobatic monoplane single seat stunt plane by Whelen / Goodyear with Michael Goulian, actually a local resident from Massachusetts.
Runway 15/33, which was closed for the air show, was the home of the “Heavy Metal” planes at the far south end of the static ramp. The Big Birds at this end included: a Lockheed-Martin C-5A Galaxy from the 439th AW (AFRC), “Patriot Wing” tail band, from Westover ARB, in Chicopee, MA, about 10 miles away on the other side of the Connecticut River to the east, a quick trip over for sure!; an F-15C Eagle, 104th FW / 131st FS, MAANG, “Town of Hadley” nose art; an F-15C Eagle, 104th FW / 131st FS, “Town of Agawam” nose art; an A-10C Warthog, 75th AMU, FT tail, 23rd FW, “Flying Tigers”, Moody AFB, Ga, shark teeth nose art; the C-17A Globemaster III Demo Team Aircraft from Stewart ANGB, Newburgh, NY, “Stewart” tail band, 105th AW, 137th Airlift Squadron, parked remotely at the east end of 15/33 for easy show take off; C-130J, Super Herc, 143rd AW, “Rhode Warriors”, RIANG, Quonset Airport, RI; a KC-135R, Stratotanker, 157th ARW / 133rd ARS, “Live Free or Die” motto, Pease ANGB, NH; a F-15C, 104th FW, Demo Bird-1; another F-15C, 104th FW, Demo Bird-2, both fighters remotely parked at east Taxiway “F”.
And, almost forgot – parked over by the VIP chalets and the Announcer / Air Boss Show Control Stand was the USAF Air Demonstration Squadron, “The Thunderbirds”, with their six red, white and blue F-16C Vipers and one remote spare F-16D two seater that was used to give the Westfield Fire Chief a “BO” ride on Friday, a ride I’m sure he will never forget! That’s it! That makes 72 airplanes!
And now…THE AIR SHOW!
OK, now for some flying! That’s why 100,000 plane-crazed people showed up on Saturday. The grass parking lots off of 202 opened up at 0630 AM for Dunk’in Doughnuts and Coffee tailgate parties. The two public south security gates opened at 0800. And they kept coming in, thousands. Early Saturday morning was cool and cloudy with a low cloud deck, iffy WX for the High Show for sure. I positioned myself for a while down by the south end FBO, because the FBO was having a roped off DV Party and had the Air Boss frequency up on their loudspeakers. It was fun and interesting to listen to the Air Boss and still be able walk around a little. The Air Boss was good at controlling ground taxi, unauthorized ramp walkers, and later really good at controlling, separating and setting up the flying displays, both the solos and the multiple birds in the air at one time. The scheduled start time was 1030 but everyone held to see if the low cloud deck would break.
The first taxi movements were the two demo F-15’s ( “Killer-1″ and ” Killer-2″) rolling out of taxi way “S” and holding short of the 2/20 midfield for the show opening launch. They later taxied south to 02 for a full runway low burner launch. The two A-10’s (“Hog-1″ and Hog-2”) taxied out from the north Hot Ramp and went into position and held, The Army Guard Jump Helo (“Jump-1”) launched from the Army Guard Ramp at about 1040 with the Black Daggers Parachute Team to test the ceiling. “Jump-1” reported the cloud deck variable at 1.1 to 1.8. The Jump Master was looking for 2.0 minimum. The UH-60 did seven passes until 1055 and finally aborted the opening jumps because of a lack of optimum jump ceiling required at 2.0.
The Hogs and the Eagles held to the west for the 4-ship TAC demo later. Greg Koontz went up and held to the south. Jason Flood next did his stunt demo with his red Pitts S-1S. The Hog 2-ship demo next did a 4-pass attack CAS demo with pyro followed closely the two F-15’s with another CAS pyro attack. It got a little wild for the Boss when the Wing Walker act was holding on the south runway 2/20 and the 4-ship TAC demo was inbound on a short final from the south positioned for immediate landing. But the Boss called for a “No Delay” launch of the wing walker plane and everything was cool!
The very attractive Carol Pilon next did a fine wing walking act with “Third Strike” with she and her pilot both defying the forces of gravity. An Army LUH-72A Lakota helo did a few passes after doing highway traffic recon duty for the local police. The C-47 “Whiskey-7” launched next and held behind the crowd. After holding at the east end of the closed 15/33,
the C-17A Stewart Demo launched and did a fine tactical airlift extreme demo: first a combat short field take off at a 1,500 foot runway length, a high speed pass, an “S” slow pass with full flaps, a “dirty pass” with wheels down, a combat approach and short field touch down with a reverse move “K-Turn” back up — he actually backed up into his closed runway parking spot! Elon Musk would of been proud! The C-47 came in for series of low passes and held.
The B-25 “Miss Hap” went up and did a series of passes followed by the four Warbird fighters – P-51D Mustang, P-40 Warhawk, F-4U Corsair and the FM-2 Wildcat. “Whiskey-7” came back with a 6-man WW2 combat jump with the “Liberty Jump Team” reenactors all dressed in complete D-Day airborne outfits – all on target and no rolls!
Next was a series of multi-ship passes with pyro with the B-25, the C-47 and the four fighters concluding with a a 5-man C-47 combat jump. This was where the Air Boss really earned his fee – he had to control 6 multiple bogies approaching head on from different directions and at different altitudes and separate horizontal opposing laps – Well Done Boss! After they recovered the Warbird Show, the T-33A Shooting Star “Ace Maker II” did a neat high speed performance followed by the launch of the GEICO Skytypers who went into a remote hold as they usually do. By 1330 the low deck opened up and we had blue skies and “High Show” weather again.
The F/A-18C from VFA-106 “Gladiators” East Coast Hornet Demo Team out of Oceana took off next with a loud flat burner launch and went vertical and then back in with a high speed pass with a neat vapor cone generated by the hot afternoon humidity. After a series of typical demo passes, the Hornet did a “Carrier Break” and a ” Bolter” touch and go followed by a “3-Wire Trap” landing. GEICO came in next with their standard 6-ship combat ACM show with their great “Fleur-de-Lis” head-on Starburst low break over the crowd. They loved it! Matt Chapman was up next with his Embrey-Riddle Extra 330LX stunt monoplane for a fine aerobatic act.
The Trojan Horsemen and their six classic AT-28 “Trojans” did a formation take off and held to the west while the A-1E Skyraider and the Vietnam colored T-28 took off and did a few bomb runs and concluded with the pyro “Wall of Fire” Super-Blast, always a crown pleaser. After that 2-ship recovered, the 6-ship “Horsemen” rejoined for a fine mix of low level 6,4 and 2-ship passes.
Now with the blue CAVU sky, the Black Daggers US Army Special Ops Parachute Team went up in a LUH-72A Lakota for a 12,000 foot free-fall jump. We finally got that yellow Piper Cub with the fat tires up for Greg Koontz’s “Alabama Boys” act of crazy flying and then landing on the “Pick Up Truck Airport” while both moving at 50 mph – always fun to watch. The final warmup act was was the local Massachusetts boy Michael Goulian in his Zivko Edge 540 Extra 330SC “noisemaker” for a wild lead-in to the Main Act today.
Well now it’s 1500, time for the start of the Thunderbirds launch routine, cue music, lead-in Announcer ready, cue Announcer, but wait, it’s not the usual “Wrestle-Mania” voice, it’s a nice easy-going female voice, totally on target with all the ground and aerobatic detailed descriptions, a real nice change of pace for the Thunderbirds this year. The Thunderbirds did a lot of their usual routines, with some new ones, and gave the crowd a good show. The flying ended at about 1630 and the ramp closed at 1700. It was a great day of flying! Then I had the pleasure of being invited over to the Crew Party in a tent near the Headquarters Building. I actually sat next to Lt. Gen. L. Scott Rice, the Director of the Air National Guard at the Pentagon in Washington, DC. I never sat next to a 4-Star before and he told me he has been traveling this summer to see how the various Air Guard units are doing with their Air Shows they are putting together. General Rice is an ex-F-111 and A-10 Driver with 4,300 hours. He was Adjutant General and Commander of the Massachusetts Air National Guard was a past Commander of the 104th Fighter Wing here at Barnes, so you might say General Rice is a local boy who made good and came home to the 104th to have a beer with his pilot friends at the 104th FW Air Show Crew Party. Nice meeting you General Rice. Thank you General Rice and Col. James M. Shur, Commander of the 104th FW and also to Maj. Mary Harrington, Senior Public Affairs Officer for the 104th FW for a great Air Show and for great cooperation. We hope the “Barnstormers” do another Air Show real soon!!!