Improvise, Adapt, Overcome: The 2021 Cherry Point Airshow
Not only did Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point host an airshow on September 25th and 26th, but they pulled it together in only 9 weeks. I received an email on July 16th from MCAS Cherry Point announcing that they had secured the United States Navy’s, Blue Angels after MCAS Miramar canceled their airshow, and would open the gates for an 80th Anniversary celebration of the Air Station. This would be my first show on a military base in two seasons. Late Summer was a bad time in the Covid-19 peaks and valleys. Widespread cancellations were occurring. On August 20th, Naval Air Station Oceana canceled their show. MCAS Cherry Point certainly had the pressure to cancel but they stayed the course and delivered a great airshow.
Media members were permitted on Friday for practice day. Ultimately, we were placed in a central area that would be reserved seating the next day. The morning was a little cloudy but it cleared up under mild temperatures for the rest of the weekend. This was my first time in the area in late September rather than typical May. This edition did not have a Friday Twilight show as in years past.
Public Affairs was kind enough to escort us loosely to the final location, allowing us to photograph static displays already in place. Two surprises were the color bird of VMFA(AW)-224, “The Fighting Bengals” out of MCAS Beaufort and the “Electric Intruder”, which was formerly on display off the airfield. We watched the rest of practice day from this location and were returned to our vehicles. At this time, two F-22 Raptors arrived. The F-22 Demonstration Team was scheduled to perform but I heard they had a Covid issue and just sent jets for static display.
Saturday was bright and sunny. We braved a public spot at Airshow Left. As the crowd filled in, we could see that there was a lot of pent up demand to attend a large airshow. This location was close to the hot ramp and the early sun angle was good to the left along Runway 14L/32R.
The weekend show began with a performance by the 2nd Marine Air Wing Band culminating in a National Anthem and flag drop by parachutists of the “All Veteran Group Jump Team”, utilizing a based KC-130T Hercules. Stephen Covington circled the formation and performed afterward in his high revving, green Pitts S2 named “The Raptor”. The “Aftershock” jet truck, which looks like a fire engine, performed and had a race with Covington.
Local pilot, Hubie Tolson of New Bern, NC performed in his Sukhoi 31. His routine culminated in an inverted dead stick flyby of the crowd.
The next routines ratcheted up the noise level as the AV-8B Harrier and F-35B Lightning II performed nearly back-to-back routines. As the Marine Corps winds down the Harrier, who knows how many demonstrations are left. I was happy to photograph the VMA 223 “Bulldogs” performing the demo.
As for the F-35B, the “Warlords” of VMFAT 501 out of MCAS Beaufort conducted the demo and what I found odd is that outer station hard point mounts are left on the aircraft.
Lou Horschel flew a single ship demonstration in his TF-51D, “Mad Max”.
The MV-22 was demonstrated solo as well as participating prominently in the Marine Air Ground Task Force Demonstration.
The Drunken Farmer routine was conducted with a yellow Piper Cub. He used all of the airspace above ground level as it looked as though he disappeared partially into the runway which was at a slightly higher elevation.
Tom Larkin performed in his quick Subsonex Minijet. He and his wife travel from show to show with it in a trailer and then attach the wings. On Sunday, he flew directly over us on the media platform and we could have hit him with a tennis ball.
RJ Gritter performed in a smartly painted Bellanca Decathlon.
Randy Ball performed in his Mig 17, flying fast, flying low and even racing “After Shock”, which was a first for my eyes.
The Marine Air Ground Task Force Demonstration featured an amazing cross section of aircraft from Cherry Point, New River and Beaufort. An F/A-18C and F-35B flew top cover while a close air support team of a UH-1Y Venom and an AH-1Z Viper made strafing passes. A heavy lift, Sikorsky CH-53 Super Stallion landed along with two MV-22 Ospreys deploying ground troops who advanced to capture the airfield. All aircraft made multiple passes and the Venom and Viper closed formation for a pass. I always say that I can watch a MAGTF Demo all day. Obviously, this is my favorite part of the show.
The Blue Angels closed the show and are again featuring a routine by “Fat Albert”, their C-130J. I did not stay for their Sunday demonstration after seeing them on Friday and Saturday as I am always planning my egress from the show.
The shows were almost identical with a few time slot changes. On Sunday, we relocated to the provided media platform at airshow right.
It was a great airshow weekend and I was so pleased to be back on base. I have always appreciated the privilege but even more so after the last two years of cancellations. I am happy to report that cursory internet searches did not produce any headlines of a post-show breakout of infections.
I wish to thank the leadership of MCAS Cherry Point for the decision to go forward and the Public Affairs Team that helped us all weekend. Captain Schubert, Lt “Ace” Padilla, Lt. Eason, Lt Mogollan, Lt Rossi, Lt Sadler, and Sgt Lopez.