Westmoreland County Airshow 2019
The annual Shop & Save Westmoreland County Airshow took place on May 25th and 26th at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. This was my first time attending although I had known about this airshow for a couple of years.
What finally put the show on my list was the limited appearance Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier demonstration and the United States Air Force F-16 Viper Demo Team. At the time, the Viper Demo Team was to feature the first female demonstration team leader. Shortly thereafter, the military catch all, “A loss of confidence,” ended her short tenure. Major John “Rain” Waters rejoined the team after leading it the previous two years. “Rain” is a friend of us front row photographers so I welcomed the familiarity of years past. I saw in a Facebook post that a new pilot had just been certified. On the day of the show, we met Major Garrett “Toro” Schmitz. “Toro” was going to fly the demo in his first airshow. Welcome to the show, Toro! He actually flew two demos in the Saturday show.
Arnold Palmer Regional Airport (LBE) is approximately 90 minutes southeast of Pittsburgh in some picturesque rolling hills country. Renamed for the Golf legend and Latrobe’s favorite son in 1999, the airport is served by Spirit Airlines to 5 destinations. An early afternoon break was scheduled into the airshow to allow for one of those arrivals. LBE has a single runway 5/23 and the sun moves from behind and right to the front and left in the afternoon. I compare runways to those that I know and it is the same as Naval Air Station Oceana if you’ve ever been there.
Weatherwise, each of the days began sunny but clouded over toward the afternoon and had a few rain interruptions. Nothing was actually canceled due to the weather, just some delays. The participants in the parade were caught in a pop up storm on Sunday and were soaked.
I cannot discuss static displays without mentioning the oversized grocery cart hot rod, the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile and the Planters Peanutmobile on display. Because Shop & Save was the sponsor, food was featured.
Back to the aircraft, one static I really appreciated was a color bird Harrier from the Ace of Spades, VMA 231. They were the squadron flying the demonstration and brought four examples, two for static. The Spades will be the final Harrier squadron to convert to the F-35B. The west coast squadrons will convert completely before the east coast squadrons.
Other statics were two A-10s from Davis-Monthan AFB, a C-130J from Canada and one from the 193rd Special Operations Wing out of Harrisburg, the TBM Avenger, “Doris Mae”, C-47 “Luck of the Irish” (Their first appearance at an airshow), and the Berlin Airlift C-54.
In the Air
The opening ceremony each day was supposed to be a flag drop from Skydive PA, but I was far right on the hot ramp so I do not think I ever saw one. Mike Wiskas would have circled with them and then performed a teaser. On Saturday only, the P-51, “Bald Eagle” arrived and then flew a heritage flight with the F-16 Viper Demonstration Team. There were some RC modelers flying around and I saw a very nice and large EA-6B Prowler. The mid-show break occurred at about 2pm for the Spirit flight.
Then, Tora Tora Tora launched to a hold while the USMC AV-8B Harrier performed a demonstration. Tora Tora Tora returned for their act with pyrotechnics. We had a chance to meet the grounds crew in the morning as they prepared the explosives. Low ceilings prevented a parachute demonstration from Skydive PA and the Viper Demo team flew their second routine of the day. Mike Wiskas took off but cut his routine short as rain moved over the field.
After the rain delay, the Canadian Forces Snowbirds performed their full demonstration. Precision Exotics were giving high speed runs down the runway during breaks with a Ferrari painted like the Navy’s Jolly Rogers VFA-103.
Sunday was essentially the same lineup but the rain came earlier. In the afternoon, Mike Wiskas was finally able to perform his full demonstration. There was also a three pass flyby of a B-52 Bomber from Barksdale AFB.
With some better planning on Sunday, I made sure I was in front of a parked plane when Tora Tora Tora unleashed their wall of fire. I had planned on the Harrier but I was blocked by the Air Force setup which turned out to be fortuitous. Kneeling next to their Public Affairs Officer, we captured the wall of fire with the Viper Demo Team in the foreground. What a special opportunity.
I want to thank all of the wonderful people I met from Arnold Palmer Airport, David Schultz Airshows, the Viper Demo Team, “Toro”, VFA 231 and “Ralphie”. Westmoreland County Airshow will be on my list going forward.