AVIATION ON THE WAY TO OCEANA
Are you heading down to Oceana this September on US-13 south through DelMarVa? Hope so! It’s been a quiet two summers for plane chasers and our beloved air shows with most shut down because of the “Great Pandemic”. But if NAS Oceana stays on, and we do head south again, well, the drive really can be more interesting than just sitting at the traffic lights on 13 and avoiding those red light cameras they just added to most of the traffic lights. Or also watching out for those “Sheriff” cars when you get around Cape Charles VA area. But there is really is a lot of aviation stuff to see before you hit the big bridge to Norfolk.
1) First Stop: New Castle Airport (ILG) in Delaware off US-13 right after you get off of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. New Castle Airport is the home of the 166th Airlift Wing (166AW / 142AS), Delaware Air National Guard, Air Mobility Command, with their eight Lockheed C-130H2-LM turboprop Hercules tactical cargo aircraft. The unit also has a beautifully restored F-86F-25-NH Sabre gate guard at the Main Gate. This DEANG base was quite a busy spot in the 2020 Presidential Campaign with Joe Biden living in nearby Wilmington with Biden and many VIP visitors coming and going. Even now you may get lucky and see Joe coming in on Air Force One (usually the C-32 / B-757) to stay at his Wilmington house for the weekend. The New Castle lot in front of the old Terminal used to be free; now they charge $3.00 for a short visit. When you park you can go to the south lot fence line that gives you a good view of any C-130 action, usually best on Duty Weekends. There used to be two MiG 21’s based across the runway and for a while, ten used grey Aero Vodochody L-39 Czech trainers that someone brought over. They’re gone.
If you like a little history, the 166th AW has a good story to tell. The 166th Hercs ramp is at the northwest end in back of the Tower, fairly visible with a good 10×50. The 166th AW has an interesting lineage: Opening in 1943, the “New Castle Army Air Base” primary mission in WW2 was to “Facilitate the movement of aircraft overseas for delivery to the British and Allies”. It became famous for its historic “Women’s Airforce Service Pilots” (WASPS) women’s test and ferry pilots during WW2. (There is a small display in the Terminal Building in honor of the mission of the WASP women pilots based here at New Castle.) In July 1946, the 328th Troop Carrier Squadron started up at New Castle with C-47 Dakota transports with an early tactical airlift mission. In September 1946 the new 142nd Squadron started up here with Republic F-47 “Thunderbolts” including two L-5’s and two AT-6 trainers. 1947 brought the addition of several more C-47’s and even a Martin B-26 “Marauder”; a busy base! In February 1951 the base was federalized for the Korean War and received Republic F-84C “Thunderjets”. In September 1951, the unit transitioned to the newer Lockheed F-94 “Starfire” jet interceptors and became the 142nd Fighter Interceptor Squadron under the Air Defense Command (ADC). In 1952 the base was an Air Guard base again and surprisingly reverted back to propeller-driven North American F-51H “Mustangs” and now designated as the 142nd Fighter-Bomber Squadron. Then in 1954 this unit received brand new Lockheed T-33 “Shooting. Stars” (the “T-Bird”) and new North American F-86A Sabre jet fighters. (There’s a restored F-86F Sabre now doing Guard Duty at the Main Gate – photo by Horace Sagnor.) In March 1962 a big change took place with the unit now becoming the “166th Transport Group” and receiving the large prop-engined Boeing C-97 “Strrofreighter” cargo planes. In May 1971 the unit became the 166th Tactical Airlift Group and converted to the brand new C-130A Hercules prop-jet breed of cargo aircraft now under TAC. On October 16, 1985, the 166AW started converting to eight brand new factory fresh C-130H Hercules. In 1995 it became the 166th Airlift Wing under the Air Mobility Command (AMC). And now, after 35 years with the C-130H, the 166th is now a prime candidate to receive the new C-130J Super Hercules as a replacement. Stay tuned!
2) Second Stop: The Air Mobility Command (AMC) Museum at Dover Air Force Base, Dover, Delaware. It seems quite appropriate that as we leave the 166AW, an AMC DE Air Guard unit, we head down the street, relatively speaking, on a 40 minute drive south on US-13, to the AMC Museum, now publicly accessible at the south edge of Dover AFB. It’s easy getting here: go south on US-13, 13 become the new high speed DE-1. Go past Dover AFB and exit on to DE-9. The Air Museum is about one mile east on the left. Easy. The museum has almost 40 aircraft that in some way are associated with the the USAF Air Mobility Command. Most aircraft are outside and are beautifully restored and maintained. Some are in a restored WW2 hanger that includes offices, a library, storage, a gift shop, art exhibit mezzanine, a lunch area, and rest rooms. Adjacent to the display hanger is the restored Control Tower that used to serve the base years ago, Escorted tours to the top of the tower are available. The hanger has a restored B-17G Flying Fortress with a WW2 diorama display, a C-47 Skytrain, a CG-4A Troop Glider from WW2, a Kaman HH-43B Huskie rescue helicopter, a bi-wing PT-17 Kaydet trainer, a Laister-Kauffman TG-4A training glider, a BT-13 Valiant mono-wing trainer as well as other smaller displays. There’s a black and white T-37 “Tweet” trainer on a pedestal stand as you come in from the street. As you enter the museum parking lot, there is a ground level T-33 trainer on display. About 35 other planes are on outdoor ground level ramp display right next to the museum hanger. Outside there is also an engine display building and a restoration workshop building.
When you walk around the big planes, some of which might be open for walkthroughs, you’ll eventually bump into the massive C-5A Galaxy. You can’t miss it! Right next to the C-5A is a replica of a nuclear-tipped ICBM missile that was planned to be launched from the rear of a C-5 while the plane was in flight and at a high altitude. This actual C-5A was used in the testing of the missile launch capability of such lunch systems with this type of missile on display. Interesting story about this airplane: In October of 1974, this actual C-5 (69-0015) air-dropped a 86,000 pound ICBM like this one on display, from 20,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean to add one more option to the strategic missile inventory of the United States. In 1973, 69-0014 was the first factory new C-5A delivered to Dover AFB. It was retired to the AMC Museum in 2013 and repainted in the grey and white colors typical of all C-5’s in 1974.
Amazingly, as you walk into the outdoor plane display ramp from the parking lot, the first plane you walk past is the McDonnell- Douglas VC-9C (73-1682) VIP Vice Presidential transport plane painted in the traditional, Jackie Kennedy designed sky blue and white colors of the 89th AW that work out of Andrews AFB. It was used by America’s First Ladies as well as the VP’s and occasionally POTUS when he needed to fly into a smaller airport, for which trips it was designated as “Air Force One”. It did have the special coms necessary to be AF-1. This aircraft was operational from 1975 to 2011. Amazingly, It had only 16,300 flying hours, not much by airlift standards.
Besides the VC-9C, there are some other new aircraft on outdoor display. For a while the Museum was the caretaker of a Soviet Antonov An-2 bi-wing single engine transport in green and brown military camouflage. Unfortunately it was recalled by another museum that is its rightful owner, a sad loss. The red-tail Fairchild C-119G “Flying Boxcar” has been here for a while and was delivered to Dover in 1991. It served with the RCAF as 22118 and subsequently flew as a US fire air-tanker as N3559. It never served in the USAF but when restored as a “G” was given a fake USAF Serial No. 51-2881. (Don’t tell anyone!)
A recent new arrival is the silver C-119. This 119 was built as a C-119B and is currently painted as it was when it dropped M2 Treadway bridge sections to the Marines at the Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War in 1951. Subsequently the aircraft was modified to the C-119C standard with dual nose landing gear tires and vertical stabilizer dorsal fins. This aircraft was in storage at Edwards AFB prior to its arrival here at the AMC Museum. And the newest addition to the Museum and currently finishing up a complete rebuild here on the ramp, is the KB-50J Tanker. It was originally built as a B-50 bomber and modified by Hayes Aircraft into its current KB-50J configuration in the 1950’s. This aircraft was on display at McDill AFB in Florida prior to being recently moved to the Museum. [I thank Eric S. Czerwinski, Deputy Director of the Air Mobility Command Museum, Dover AFB, DE, for providing the above detailed information on the recent arrivals to the AMC Museum.]
3) Third Stop: The Delaware Aviation Museum at the Delaware Coastal Airport (GED) in Georgetown, DE, about one hour south of Dover. When you leave the Dover Museum, get back on DE-1 and head south. Down a few miles it becomes US-113. Near Georgetown, go left on US-9 east for about 3 miles, then right on “Airport Road”, to, Yes, the Airport, (Or, just set your GPS!) The Air Museum has only about six planes but it is the home base to our “Ol Friend” — “Panchito”, probably the most famous B-25J Mitchell bomber this side of the Mississippi. They keep it, maintain it and train crew members for it here for their beloved “Panchito”.
This B-25 had a crazy history: After WW2 ended, the present B-25J (44-30734)“Panchito” had a number of assignments until March 1954 when it was transferred to the NY-ANG 102nd Radar Calibration Flight, working out of Westchester County Airport in White Plains, NY. Then it went to 137th FIS-ANG at Charlestown, AFB, SC. In 1957 it went to the 115th FIS-ANG at Van Nuys, CA. Finally this aircraft ended its nomadic military career in May 1958 when it was sent to the Boneyard and classified as surplus. In the 1960’s it had some strange civilian missions: first as a forest service tanker, then as an orange grove sprayer and finally as a mosquito bomber, when it was known as “Big Bertha” in bombing those poor mosquitos, reportedly at ten feet off the ground! In 1978 it went to the “Super Sonic Transport Museum” in St. Cloud, Florida. After the Museum went bankrupt, the plane was acquired by the famous warbird restorer Tom Reilly and he moved the bomber to Orlando and restored it back to its original “J” configuration, completing the conversion in 1958. It now had its famous “Panchito” nose art from the 39th BS, 41st BG of the 7th Air Force in WW2 restored. Then it went to new owners in Texas, then to Geneseo, then to the Valiant Air Command in Titusville, FL in the late 1990’s. Finally…Finally…this now beautifully restored B-25J was purchased in 1997 by Larry Kelly of the Delaware Air Museum. Kelly was trained to fly Panchito by Tom Reilly, the original restorer, and Kelly became its first pilot flying out of Delaware. Panchito became an east coast air show regular after 1998 and through continuous loving and painstaking maintenance and crew training, the plane now remains our favorite warbird seen at a lot of east coast air shows. The first show locally this year for Panchito will be the Dover AFB Air Show, then Jones Beach, then Reading for sure! Want a ride? Sure, for a few hundred dollars!
The other five warbirds at the Georgetown Museum are: the spotted Aeronca L-16B that is similar to the L-3 and is called the “Grasshopper”; the polished bare metal twin-engined Cessna UC-78 “Bobcat”; the yellow DeHavilland Canada DH-82 “Tiger Moth”, an open cockpit bi-plane; the silver metal mono-wing DHC-1 “Chipmonk” and finally the mostly all white Cessna L-19 / 0-1 “Bird Dog” Army light observation plane similar to the L-3, looking like the current C-172. It’s a very informal operation in the repair and display hanger and usually the crew will let you walk around as long as you don’t bump into Panchito’s props!
4) Fourth Stop: American Legion Post 93, Pocomoke, MD (T-33A / F-94B): As you leave the Georgetown Airport, follow US-9 southwest to get back on to US-13 south. Just south of Pocomoke City, on the corner of US-113 and US-13, you will see a fighter jet in front of an American Legion. Turn left into US-113, go about 1,000 feet and take the first left, then an immediate left again on to By-Pass Road. Go about 500 feet to the dead end and you will be at the American Legion clubhouse building. At the front door you will see a strangely painted T-33A “Shooting Star” trainer that looks like a F-94B “Starfire” all-weather interceptor in all its original beaten up weathered glory. On quick observation, it looks like a Maine F-94B because: the position of the wing tanks are on the wing end centerline (the F-80C interceptor, the fighter version of the T-33, had the tanks attached under the end of the wing); it has capped machine gun ports on the nose; it has wing tanks that say “Bangor Air Defense Sector” and there is an Air Defense Command patch on the tail. Therefore it looks like a F-94B Starfire that would have been assigned 132nd FIS based at Dow AFB, ME, in the Cold War in the early 1950’s. (Dow AFB became the Bangor ANGB in later years, now home of the 101sr ARW). And Yes, Lockheed did develop the F-94 directly from the TF-80C that evolved from the P-80 / T-33 family. BUT, if it looks like a duck, it may NOT be a duck! Our Ken Kula noted some revealing facts on this bird: the serial number painted on the tail matches that of a T-33A one; an F-94 has a different radome in the nose and it has an early kind of afterburner shroud in the tail; in fact Bangor ADC used T-33’s as radar targets and training in the 50s and 60s and Mexican T-33’s actually had guns (called AT-33’s) for ground attack. [Is this an ex-Mexican ground pounder?] AND even RoadsideAmerica.com noted that “This T-33A Shooting Star served in the air defense of Maine during the Cold War. It subsequently spent years parked outside of the Montgomery Air Park in Gaithersburg, MD, before moving to here [Pocomoke American Legion] in 2000. OK, it’s really a T-33A.
5) Fifth Stop: NASA Wallops Island Flight Facility. OK, get back on 13 south and a few miles past the MD / VA line, turn left on to VA-175 east and after about 6 miles you will come to the NASA Wallops Flight Facility (WAL) runway approach. A half a mile away is the NASA Visitors Center with some interesting exhibits about the rocket launches from Wallops Island. Go up to the viewing area on the roof and you can just make out the NASA Launch Complex about 5 miles away on the coast to the southeast. To the west right in front of the Visitors Center is the airport complex that supports NASA space activities here. Adjacent is Navy housing and the Navy Aegis BMD Systems Research Facility. This airport is also noted for its C-2A COD and E-2C Hawkeye simulated practice carrier landings for planes and crews out of NAS Chambers Field in Norfolk. This is known as “Field Carrier Landing Practice” (FCLP). The long runway has a carrier “Optical Landing System” (OLS) light panel in place for practice carrier landings. The OLS is also known as the “Meatball” or commonly known as the “Ball”. (LSO orders – “Call the Ball.”) There is also a Flight Deck outline on the practice runway. The field also supports the “Over-The-Beach” airshow held yearly at nearby Ocean City, MD. Most show aircraft stage out of Wallops and head east to Show Center at the beach. Most of the time the airport is quiet. However a recent satellite shot showed the ramp busy with five E-2C’s, five C-2’s, two P-3’s, and a C-130. So I guess it can get busy here if you hit it right. Outside of the Visitors Center are a number of historic rockets that were launched from Wallops Island for research purposes for NASA. Another interesting thing is that near the runways are about 25 radar dishes of various sizes that are used for rocket telemetry and trajectory tracking, all easily seen from the rooftop viewing area.
The Wallops Island Flight Facility was previously known Naval Auxiliary Air Station Chincotegue until acquired by NASA in 1959 to support space launch operations. The ANAS here started in 1941 after German subs torpedoed two merchant ships right off the coast here. It became an anti-sub warfare base. Nearby Accomack ANAS was also created for ASW patrols and is now the Accomack Airport. The Navy formally established the ANAS Chincotegue in 1943 and various Navy ASW planes were based here. Great Story: It was reported that one young pilot being trained here, the future President George Herbert Walker Bush, got into trouble for “buzzing” the house of a young woman he had met at a dance! Cool Guy!
6) Sixth Stop: The A-4F “Skyhawks” Gate Guard at Accomack Airport. OK, back on US-13 again heading south. About 40 minutes south, just past the Eastern Shore Community College, make a right on to Parkway Street and after a mile you will arrive at the Accomack County Airport (MEV) where in front of their new rustic looking Terminal Building sits a beautiful and recently restored Douglas A-4F “Skyhawk” jet on ground level. The plane was previously owned by VFC-12 “Fighting Omars”, sometimes now called “Ambush”, their call-sign, a reserve composite Aggressor Squadron out of Oceana. For a long time VFC-12 had a light blue spotted camouflage. In late 2012, the old camo was replaced with the Russian Su-35 Flanker Prototype 2 “Arctic Splinter” camouflage when the unit transitioned to the F/A-18+. This A-4F Accomack Gate Guard was brought to the airport in 1995 in the traditional light grey low-viz color with “VFC-12” on the fuselage. And there it sat for years until Capt. James Metcalfe USN Ret., was visiting the airport about three years ago and noticed the deteriorating paint on the A-4F on display here. Its real owner, the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL, was also aware of its deteriorating condition. Capt. Metcalfe reached out to the Skipper of VFC-12 at NAS Oceana, Commander Royal (Rip) Gordon and XO, Commander Matt Renzell, who thought the aircraft repainting was a worthy project and assigned a crew to paint the A-4F at Accomack. The color was to be the current Arctic Splinter aggressor colors typical of the camo colors now on the operational aircraft of VFC-12 at Oceana. The Naval Museum approved the required Scope of Work Proposal. The Oceana paint crew brought the A-4F up to date and gave it the current VFC-12 Arctic Splinter color pattern. The updated camo colors include straight edge grey, white and charcoal shapes that immediately identifies it as a VFC-12 Aggressor as a Russian enemy fighter. The jet looks pretty cool in its new colors! Go see it!
7) Seventh Stop: The “Sand Pits”, the well-know observation area parking lot for watching F/A-18E-F landing approach patterns at NAS Oceana. Get back on US-13 south, cross the 22 mile long Chesapeake Bridge and Tunnel, a beautiful ride, head for I-264 East towards Virginia Beach, exit at First Colony Road, turn right, it becomes Oceana Blvd., and then a quick left turn into the little parking lot by the abandoned tracks that for years has been called “The Sand Pits” by aviation shooters. (The name? There’s a DPW lot nearby with a big sand pile!). If the wind is blowing from the west, the Super-Hornets will be landing from the east in from the ocean, into the wind, over the hotels, and on to runway 23-R and 23-L, 50 feet on top of your heads. It makes for a great afternoon. You’ll probably meet some other Hornet Lovers there shooting and watching the the F/A-18’s landing pattern.