Heritage Flight Training Conference 2011

A busy flight line at the Heritage Flight Training Conference 2011.

On March 3-6, 2011, vintage warbirds and United States Air Force aircraft from across the country came to Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona for the annual Heritage Flight Training Conference.

During a large number of airshows around the country, part of the flying schedule includes a “USAF Heritage Flight”. This Heritage Flight will usually consist of one or two warbirds of USAF heritage and a current USAF fighter aircraft. Every year Heritage Flight aircrews meet to learn and practice flying together.

The purpose of the Heritage Flight Training Conference (HFTC) is for warbird pilots and USAF demo pilots to fly together in preparation for the up coming airshow season. The flight curriculum revolves around getting pilots to fly formations together at relatively slow speeds. It also allows for newly selected USAF demo pilots to practice their single aircraft airshow routine, a routine that displays the capabilities of their respective aircraft. This routine is followed by the multi-aircraft “Heritage Flight” flyover. The flyovers usually include several passes in front of the crowd and then a final pass from the rear of the crowd and a dramatic break over show center.

The conference starts with an all classroom session on day one. The remaining three days are spent flying formations. Formations that start with two and three ship formations and ending with four ship formations.

The warbirds component to Heritage Flight consisted of P-51s, a P-40, and a P-38. All these aircraft, at some point, flew in the USAF. At this years HFTC, were many veteran warbird pilots including Greg Anders flying a P-51, Kevin Eldridge flying the Planes of Fame Air Museum’s P-40, and Steve Hinton flying the P-38 “Thoughts of Midnite.”

Planes of Fame’s Air Museum’s P-40.

P-51 Mustang “Fragile but Agile.”

“Thoughts of Midnite” P-38.

The USAF aircraft at this year’s HFC comprised six demonstration teams which consisted of:

  • A-10 East and A-10 West (flying the A-10 Warthog)
  • Viper East and Viper West (flying the F-16 Viper)
  • F-15E Strike Eagle
  • F-22 Raptor

A-10 Demo Team East (note Gulf War Iraqi helicopter kill marking).

Close up of the A-10’s kill mark.

The Crew Chiefs for A-10 Demo Team West

One of A-10 Demo Teams West Pilots – Captain Joe Shetterley.

F-22 Raptor Demo Team.


In addition to the warbirds and the six demo teams, the legendary McDonald Douglas F-4 Phantom is also a member of the Heritage Flight Program and makes frequent appearances at airshows around the country. There were four Phantoms from Tyndall AFB in Florida and Holloman AFB in New Mexico.

F-4E Phantom flightline.

Phantom fly-by.

Holloman F-4E and “Thoughts of Midnite.”

Phantom vapor during a high speed pass.


Before flight operations started, the media was allowed out on the flightline to take early morning photos of the aircraft and speak with the crews and pilots of the aircraft that were participating in the conference.

While walking the flightline taking photos, I had the opportunity to speak with the crew chief of one of the Tyndall F-4s, Vic Gortman.

Gortman is a retired USAF F-4 crew chief who retired in 1992 after 16 years of service. Gortman spent his time as a crew chief at Luke, Seymour Johnson, Osan, and Eglin Air Force Bases. After retirement, Vic applied for and was offered the job of crew chief on the QF-4 project at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.

Vic described the F-4 as a plane built for combat durability and not for easy maintenance and crew chiefs! When asked about how the F-4 flies when compared to some of the more modern aircraft out on the ramp, he said that the F-4 is like a 1957 Chevy and the F-15 is like a 2005 Corvette!

Including his second career as QF-4 crew chief, Vic has been working in, on, and around Phantoms for 30 years. Even after 30 years of seeing the half a century old Phantom fly all over the world, Vic said it still gives him “chill bumps” (I think that’s a southern definition of goose bumps!) to see this plane fly.

Vic and his fellow QF-4 crew chiefs have done an incredible job maintaining and preserving these beautiful pieces of military aviation history.


Crew Chief Vic Gortman in front of one of his F-4Es.

After almost 2 hours of walking the ramp, media personnel were escorted back to observation area where we would be able to watch all the ground activities, launches, departures, and flights from all aircraft involved in the Heritage Flight Training Conference.

Over the four day conference, part of the course curriculum is for the pilots to fly in the aircraft they will be flying formation with. In addition, other USAF VIPs are given familiarization rides in dissimilar aircraft.  One such ride was Air Combat Command’s Director of Operations Major General David Goldfein. Major General David Goldfein has combat experience and the unfortunate experience of being shot down. On May 1, 1999, then Lt. Col. Goldfein was flying his F-16 supporting combat operations in support of Allied Force in Belgrade, Serbia. During this night combat mission he was shot down by a Serbian surface to air missile and was rescued that night by USAF search and rescue.

Chief Pilot Kevin Eldridge with Major General David Goldfein as his backseater.

F-16 and P-40 in a two ship formation (with Major General David Goldfein in backseat of the P-40).


With HFC 2011 complete, warbird and USAF fighter pilots will now go forth and entertain thousands of spectators at airshows around the county with the Heritage Flight.

Photorecon would like to thank the Public Affairs group at Davis Monthan (commanded by Colonel Williams Nichols) that made Heritage Flight Conference 2011 and our attendance possible. A special thanks goes out to:

Scott Knuteson from Air Combat Command Public Affairs for his professionalism and responsiveness to the needs of the media. Scott  spent a considerable amount of time making sure the media had what  they needed and went to every effort to meet and exceed our requests.

Master Sergeant Heather Legg who did a remarkable job attending to the needs of the media and provided some excellent information.

Tech Sergeant Russ Martin for being an excellent escort and allowing us the latitude and flexibility to take some outstanding photographs while out  on the ramp.

Lastly, no Heritage Flight Training Conference would be complete without Michelle “Ambush” Clougher. Ambush is currently the Chief of Public Affairs Internal at Langley AFB, VA and has been with Air Combat Command for 26 years. Year after year Michelle does an outstanding job with the media and pilots. We greatly appreciated her wealth of knowledge, her willingness to share information, and her support of the media at this   event.

For further information on the Heritage Flight Training Conference and/or Air Combat Command, please go to the following link:


Phil Myers

Phil Myers, a military aviation photojournalist with a passion for telling stories and documenting the history of military aviation. In addition to his website publications, Phil’s articles and photographs have been published in several magazines. Phil resides in Southern California.

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