Article by Roland Dansereau, photos by Bryan Mangan and Roland Dansereau
The USAF Air Demonstration Squadron, The Thunderbirds, were the featured performer during the 2023 Wings Over Houston (WHO) airshow held at Ellington Field/Spaceport/Airport in southeast Houston, Texas during October 14-15, 2023. As one of the larger shows in the U.S., WOH has a well-deserved reputation as a long-standing and well-supported community event. World events and operational commitments outside of WHO organizer’s control appeared to preclude several military acts from participating, and there were some last-minute schedule changes. Also, it needs to be stated that the Saturday the14th of October Annular Eclipse made for a unique day with thanks to the outstanding support from the Houston Camera Exchange. All entrance participants were provided with specialized sunglasses which allowed them to view the high noon Eclipse without potentially damaging their vision.
The show started both days with a local remote control (RC) club with aircraft and helicopters that demonstrated incredible power and maneuverability that doesn’t resemble aerobatic flying. The helicopter demo does not, in the very slightest form, mimic anything like rotorcraft performances whatsoever-a must see! The show formally opened Saturday after that with the RE/MAX Skydive Team carrying the US flag while Mike Gallaway circled for the National Anthem. For the rest of the day, the flying was basically an alternating cycle of solo acts and team acts with military and civilian demonstrations. While it was sunny with clear blue skies with Halloween approaching, winds were strong enough on both days to prevent the USCG MH-65D Dolphin SAR demo from using the hoist and rescue swimmer from showing its rescue capabilities. Nevertheless, the Dolphin demo however was excellent on both days. On Sunday, the parachute opening act RE/MAX had to cancel to winds gusting higher than 20knots.
The Mig-15 provided a spirited performance on Saturday showcasing the maneuverability of the aircraft to include an arcing gear-down roll. On Sunday, the reproduction Me-262 from Classic Fighter Industries, flew a delightful demo. The Smoke-n-Thunder jet dragster made a blasting appearance; it is driven by Bill Braack, who would race Mike Gallaway flying down the runway. The massive smoke clouds and punching, bright afterburner will never grow old! Mike Gallaway madly twisted the sky performing in his Extra 300/SX. John and Shane McGillis (father and son from Houston and home-based in Ellington) also performed using their Extra 330 LX aircraft as a dual act – showing outstanding paired flying, while also flying independent solo acts.
Tora Tora Tora and the CAF made a return show reenacting the attack on Pearl Harbor. The smoke and explosives (provided by both Explosive Ordnance Division of the CAF (EOD) and Tora Tora Tora Pyro) continue to do an amazing job of replicating the chaotic attacks in Hawaii. There was a special appearance by the chrome B-17G “Yankee Lady”, and the A-1D Skyraider “Uncle Ho’s Nightmare” from the Lone Star Flight Museum also flew a lengthy and delightful demo for the crowd on both days. A Reserve B-52H from Barksdale AFB, LA did a flyby on Saturday.
More flying included circuits of WWII bombers such as the B-17, B-25s, and then trainers like BT-13s, AT-6, SNJ-4 and 5 etc.
Military official demos included the F-35A from Hill AFB, UT (replacing the originally scheduled A-10C) and the heritage combination at the end of the ripping demo was with the P-51 Mustang “Bum Steer”. And the USAF Thunderbirds concluded the day flying a high-show and with a slight change-up for the timing of the high-speed sneak pass – always a thrill! And yes, people howl after getting surprised!
Some key highlights of the static display aircraft included a C-17 from McChord AFB, WA, KC-135R from March AFB in Riverside CA, P-8 Poseidon from VP-45 from NAS Jacksonville, FL, the WC-130J weather bird from the 53rd WX Reconn Sqdrn, Keesler AFB, MS, One F-35A (not two) from the 33FW at Eglin AFB, FL. local AH-64D/E from the 149th Aviation Brigade at Ellington Fld, local F-16C from Det 1 (which sits alert at Ellington), 138FW from Tulsa, OK as well as the MQ-9 Reaper of the 147 Attack Wing also at Ellington Field, a CH-47 and NASA had their local WB-57 and T-38 on display. RAVN (private contract red air company) had two BAE Mk.67 Hawks on the ramp and an L-39ZA Albatros with three different camouflage paint schemes.
The Collins Foundation had their famous F-4E, F-100 and A-4 jet aircraft on display. A Lepard tank was on display from drivetanks.com. It is privately owned and you can go to the business in Uvalde, TX and drive and shoot one of twenty-plus vehicles and artillery pieces. But bring your checkboook, because a main-gun round from one of several types of historical Main Battle Tanks runs about $2K!
Warbirds included B-17, C-47 “That’s All, Brother”, B-25 “Devil Dog” and “Yellow Rose”, Gruman HU-16 Albatross “Zeus” from company Seaplane Crossings, all Tora Tora Tora, Commemorative Air Force aircraft (not just from across the country, but also the Houston Wing), planes from the Vietnam War Flight Museum and individual owners. Many of these flew as well.
While the full list of expected participants (static or flying) is not known, the following had cancelled: All F-18s, T-45 Goshawk, T-6A Texan II and F-15Cs from the 159FW, LA. Contrary to the outdated website for the Wings Over Houston airshow, the A-10 and C-17 did not participate in the flying display, and as with previous shows, the Oklahoma ANG 138th FW Set 1 F-16s stationed at Ellington as the host unit for the Defense Air Sovereignty Alert mission did not participate – again. The E-2D Display that the show advertised also did not appear. Also, the local 147 Attack Wing has been flying the MQ-9 since 2017, not the MQ-1 that they continue to list.
For photographers, the morning sunrise shoot and the photo pits were well-coordinated, well-positioned and supported. They provided unique opportunities for great images, and were open to feedback in improving their opportunities for customers. One final note, humidity on Friday the 13th of Oct was 90% that facilitated visible shock cones on highspeed jet passes. On Sat and Sun, it was 60% or less and did not provide conditions conducive to sonic puffing.
Look for the next WOH airshow with, most likely, the US Navy Blue Angels in October of 2024.