NAS Oceana Air Show 2014
With no military air shows last year, fans were anxiously awaiting 2014. Absence seems to make the heart grow fonder.
NAS Oceana, VA is not just a weekend air show but rather a week-long event drawing aviation enthusiasts from the local area, many states throughout the Union, Canada, and even from far-off nations. Most return year after year, scheduling their vacation around the annual September show. Home to the Navy’s East Coast Master Jet Base, daily operations offer a lot of flying activity, including the air show performers’ practice. On Thursday, it was the Fleet Fly-By, F/A-18 Tactical Demos plus the Blue Angels C & A’s and practice show. The GEICO Skytypers practice followed, with the Blue Angels’ solos joining in for a tight photo-formation.
The Friday media practice show was open to DoD card holders and invited guests only. Due to continuing budget cutbacks there was no Friday night show, but the public was encouraged to arrive early Saturday and Sunday, where the show opened with the Skydive-Suffolk Team National Anthem Flag Jump and Navy Jet Fleet Flyby. Albeit scaled down from past years, the traditional Fleet Flyby and Air Power Demonstration were flown by six ‘gray’ F/A-18s from VFA-32, three from VFA-106 and one VFC-12. The schedule of civilian flying consisted of Bill Leff T-6, Jason Newburg L-39 ‘Viper’ Albatross, Greg Shelton Stearman/ Wing Walker, Bob Carlton Salto Jet Powered Glider, Kent Pietsch Interstate Cadet, the Geico Skytypers Team and Shockwave Jet Truck racing Justin Lewis in his Micro Jet.
F/A-18 Tactical Demonstration
For 2014, NAS Oceana was the only air show to see the F/A-18 tactical demos; the purpose of which is to demonstrate the capabilities of the aircraft. Because the demos were being performed at the squadron’s home station and included no travel expenses, authorization was granted by Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic. The F/A-18C Classic Hornet was flown by Joseph “Goat” Krukar, the F/A-18F Super Hornet by Nate “Fonda” Miller and Weapon Systems Officer (WSO) Lt. Jason “IAD…S” Hoch. While it is possible to fly the F/A-18F without a WSO, U.S. Navy directives will not permit it. Along with other responsibilities, the WSO assists the pilot during high speed low-level flight. Ten weeks prior to the show, the pilots’ practice began with twenty trips to the flight simulator, flying three demo routines on each trip- sixty in all. The pilots then moved on to practice at Navy Dare Range, VA, where they flew five hours total starting at high altitude, gradually descending to ‘demo level’. After completing those proficiencies, they returned to Oceana, where they qualified in front of VFA-106 Commanding Officer Brent “Stretch” Blackmer and Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic Capt. Mark “Gerbs” Weisberger.
Closing out the show was the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron Blue Angels. Since they flew only three shows last year, the team was held over for 2014. Unfortunately Saturday’s late rain forced an abbreviated low show. Clearing skis on Sunday saw the Blues fly a near perfect high show. Saturday evening was the traditional Beach Blast featuring the Skydive-Suffolk Jump Team and several after-burner passes by a Super Hornet. The Blue Angels were also on hand to sign autographs prior to a free concert.
Static Display Aircraft
The show ramp emphasized locally-based aircraft. From Newport News Williamsburg International Airport, Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC) displayed one of their Kfir F-21 and Hawker Hunter Mk-58 jets. ATAC is the world’s largest civilian airborne training organization committed to training the U.S. Navy, Marines, Air Force, Air National Guard and Army. ATAC’s fleet of high performance tactical aircraft carries a variety of external pods, servicing the US military with tactical flight training and threat simulation. The Company provides advanced adversary support at all levels of the US Navy’s air-to-air training programs from Fleet Replacement Squadrons to the Navy’s “TOPGUN” program, and routinely participates in Large Force and Multi-National Exercises.
Virginia Beach’s Military Aviation Museum had several examples of their World War II aircraft on the ramp. These included a Goodyear FM2 Wildcat, General Motors FG-1D Corsair and Korean era A/D-4 Skyraider. The museum, located on nearby Princess Anne Road, is home to one of the world’s largest private collections (60) of World War I, World War II and Korean era military aircraft consisting of fighters, bombers, trainers and liaison planes. All of the museum’s aircraft are in flying condition; they’re beautifully restored and maintained by highly skilled technicians to their prior military condition with original parts whenever possible. Most have been restored at their Fighter Factory facility (Virginia Beach Airport) located next to the museum. In addition to various museum events held throughout the year, the aircraft attend air shows and special events around the country. Each year the museum hosts three of their own air shows. Their May World War II Warbirds over Virginia Beach show, the October World War I Biplanes and Tri-Planes show and, in June, the Flying Prom- which showcases vintage aircraft flying to music performed by a live symphony orchestra.
Along with the Museum’s planes, there were long lines of privately owned vintage aircraft. In World War II every naval aviator started flying a trainer like the PT-26, Boeing Stearman, SNJ-5, AT-6C, T-6, T-6D and T-6G before possibly moving on to a Beechcraft C-45. Future prospective pilots would have flown a T-34A, T-34C, or T-28B. Foreign nations were represented by a Bristol Bulldog, Chipmunk, Nanchang CJ-6A and Fuji IM-1.
Flying in from Norfolk NS was a VAW-123 ‘Screw Top’ CAG E-2C, Navy King Air and one of HSC-5’s eight (with two more expected) newly acquired MH-60S Seahawk helicopters. The MH-60S has replaced the aging HH-60H in the Combat Search and Rescue role. The MH-60S is also designed to perform vertical replenishment, special warfare support, airborne mine countermeasures and anti-surface warfare missions. Mission equipment includes a digital map, FLIR, HELLFIRE air-to-surface missiles and, 7.62 mm and .50-calibre guns fired from the cabin doors and windows. Looming large was a Delta 757 which serves passengers at nearby Norfolk International Airport.
Every year, photographers suggest the base should showcase the F/A-18 squadrons’ CAG birds, and then lament their absence. This year the show organizers responded to their pleas. Grouped in a diamond shape, similar to an aircraft carrier’s array, were ten CAG birds representing every squadron that was in port. These included: VFA-106C, VFA-106E, VFA-131, VFA-12, VFA-143, VFA-34, VFA-32, VFA-83, VFA-105 and VFA-103. The planes drew a lot of attention from the crowd who then made their way to the extensive row of squadron tents selling their swag.
On Saturday, the show drew a record high attendance of 180,000 and another 90,000 attendees for Sunday- proving that absence truly does make the heart grow fonder.
Photo Credits: Bob Finch