OCEANA AIR SHOW 2022
Story by Bill Sarama, photos by Howard German, Bob Finch and Bill Sarama
Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach, VA, had their big Air Show on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, September 16, 17 and 18, 2022, and it was great. Friday was the Air Show Practice Day, with the morning reserved for Media and special VIP guests. In the aftenoon, starting at 1200, Oceana was invaded by about 5,500 5th graders and 1200 teachers from the Virginia Beach region arriving in about 100 yellow school busses for Oceana’s annual “STEM Educational Field Trip Day” – that’s For Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – whereby the kids view and hopefully take in some of the technology knowledge behind the advanced military planes on display here on the ramp as well as the intricate flying also on display here in the air. Oceana has been doing the STEM Learning Day here for over five years, excluding a two year gap for the Pandemic when the show was shut down in 2020 and 2021. The kids came in with brightly colored tee shirts in solid primary colors representing their special schools and sat in the VIP bleacher seats in school sections to watch the Practice Day flying show. It’s was almost like watching flight deck operations on an Aircraft Carrier where each member of the flight deck support crew wears a unique primary colored jersey indicative of the special job function they each have to to support the launching and recovery of aircraft on the carrier flight deck. Quite appropriate to see on a Naval Air Station Master Jet Base that NAS Oceana is! Saturday and Sunday were the public air show days. That’s when each day 150,000 air show enthusiasts and avid Plane Chasers, who were stuck at home with no air shows for two years due to the Covid Pandemic, came back to Oceana for a giant Reunion Party to have fun seeing the static display flight line and six hours of nail-biting high performance flying, with a little pyro mixed in for flavor! Gates opened for the public at 0800 and for each day we had cloudless blue skies and temps in the 80’s; perfect for high shows and great contrast for the white smoke trails. Judging by how long it took me to do a late departure from the Base on Saturday, I’d say it was the largest crowd this place has ever seen for an air show! And the people certainly got their fill of airplanes. As people entered from the West Ramp by Hanger 404, the first thing they saw were six colorful CAG F/A-18E/F’s lined up 3 x 3. There were some whispered complaints as people walked in “Where are all the airplanes?” But in fact, there were a ton-load of planes here at Oceana. I did a detailed survey: if you count everybody – the Hot Ramp, the Fly-By’s and the Static Ramp – there were in fact 58 airplanes here at Oceana. Not bad for a reduced show!
We’ll walk the Ramp in a minute but first some quick Oceana background. Naval Air Station Oceana is classified as a “Master Jet Base”. It’s under the jurisdiction of Navy Region Mid-Atlantic and is headquarters to Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic with the following Carrier Air Wings (CVW’s): CVW-1, (Tail Code “AB”, USS Harry Truman, CVN-75); CVW-3 (Tail Code “AC”, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, CVN-69); CVW-7, (Tail Code “AG”, USS George H.W. Bush, CVN-77); CVW-8 (Tail Code “AJ”, USS Gerald R. Ford, CVN-78). The airfield here is actually known as “Apollo Soucek Field”, named after a real Admiral, who, as a young Lieutenant in 1930, flying a Curtis biplane, set an altitude record of 43,166 feet. Oceana (NTU) runways include: 5R / 23L @ 12,008 feet; 5L / 23R @ 8,000 feet; 14R / 32L @ 8,000 feet and 14L / 32R @ 8,000 feet. The field serves as home to 14 deployable Strike Fighter Squadrons operating the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. There is also a Strike Fighter Fleet Replacement Squadron, an Aggressor Adversary Squadron, the East Coast F/A-18 TAC DEMO Team, and a Fleet Logistics Squadron.
For those who love details, the Oceana F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Squadrons include: VFA-11, “Red Rippers”; VFA-31, “Tomcatters”; VFA-32, “Swordsmen”; VFA-34, “Blue Blasters”; VFA-37, “Ragin’ Bulls”; VFA-81, “Sunliners”; VFA-83, “Rampagers”; VFA-87, “Golden Warriors”; VFA-103, “Jolly Rogers”; VFA-105, “Gunslingers”; VFA-106, “Gladiators”, the Fleet Replacement Training Squadron and home to the East Coast TAC DEMO Squadron; VFA-143, “Pukin’ Dogs”; and VFA-211, “Checkmates”. The Reaerve Aggressor Squadron is VFC-12, “Fighting Omars, Call Sign “Ambush”. And the Fleet Logistics Support Squadron is VR-56 “Globemasters”, a Reserve Squadron flying the C-40A “Clipper”, a Boeing 737-700C. Besides the flying squadrons, there are also many other aviation support units at Oceana.
The “Hot Ramp” started just to the west of Hanger 404. The Hot Ramp is totally restricted to the public and anyone else without a Security Line Pass. It is where the 36 planes that are part of the flying show are based. Included in the 36 are Blue Angels #1 to #6, the US Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, that will perform at 1500. The “Blues” are lined up at Show Center, where Rob Reider does his outstanding show announcing along with the Air Boss, the Lil’ Boss and the other Team Controllers. To the far edge of the fenced-in Hot Ramp are the 15 F-18E/F’s that include the 7 for the Fleet Air Power Demonstration, 3 for the Friday Change of Command Ceremony, 1 for the VFA-106 TAC DEMO demonstration, 1 spare from 106 in case the Demo breaks, and 3 Hornets reserved as Ready Spares in case someone breaks. Far to the rear is Blue Angel #7, officially the “Duty Coordinator of the Shows” (the Narrator). On the far west grass apron was an SH-60B grey Seahawk helo out of Chambers that always shows up off-site to act as a SAR rescue helo with a para-rescue swimmer in case someone goes down in nearby water. To that end, all Base fire, crash and rescue apparatus, along with VBFD, were positioned along the entire field for any emergencies. Next were the two F-35C Lightning II’s from VFA-125, a Fleet Replacement Training Squadron based out of NAS Lenore, CA, that were the F-35C Demo Team for today.
Far back on the Hot Ramp was the F-16 Viper Demo Team of the USAF Air Combat Command with their two F-16’s that have a special story: It’s their F-16CM’s new strangely cool and newly painted planes of the Viper Demo Team that is now known as “VENOM” and is owned by the 20th Operations Group of the 20th Fighter Wing based at Shaw AFB, SC. The demo bird is also now ID’d as an F-16VDT (figure that one out!). The Demo Team operates as a separate unit under the 20th OG with its own Admin and Maintainers groups. Looking closely at this F-16, the VENOM color scheme now sports a mostly black fuselage on the upper surface and wings and part of the upper vertical stabilizer with grey on the lower belly surface, the nose and part of the horizontal stabilizer. The tail “SW”, the National Insignia and even the “Rescue” triangle below the canopy is in yellow. But the unique design feature is the fine white criss-crossing lines on the black that show up as snake scales going the full fuselage length and even curling up as a snake tail on to the vertical Viper tail. There are also yellow snake eyes below the front canopy edge. This kind of gutsy full aircraft paint-up is normal for the Canadians and some Northern NATO countries (re: “Tiger Meet”) but to see it on a USAF special demo bird is really unusual. It sure does match up with the team name “VENOM”. This new color scheme was put together by the 20th OG for the 2020 show season which unfortunately was cancelled due to the Covid Pandemic. The Shaw F-16 Demo Team is proud to be showing off “VENOM” this year. When the Snake does it’s thing in full burner, with its new Team Leader, Capt. Aimee “Rebel” Fiedler on the stick, you can feel the “Bite of the Viper” as you lose your hearing!
Hiding in the Hot Ramp back row was the MH-53E (Echo) Sea Dragon from HM-15 “Blackhawks” out of nearby Chambers Field acting as the “Jump Plane” for the Navy SEAL “Leap Frogs” parachute demo team. Next, but a bit closer the the public line, was the red and black 1943 “Twin Beech”, a Beechcraft C-18S (C-45 Expeditor / AT-7C Navigator / AT-11 Kansan) flown Bobby Younkin. Next were the brightly colored “stunt planes” parked by the public wire close to the crowd: the white 1984 Start & Flug GMBH H101 Super Salto Jet Sailplane Glider, with a tiny jet engine mounted above the front fuselage that gets it to altitude, piloted by Bob Carlton; then the black, red and checkered Pitts S2S biplane driven by Skip Stewart; next, a beautifully painted biplane in a high-gloss pink, a 1980 Pitts Special S-1S flown by Jessica “Jessy” Panzer; then a bright yellow single wing monoplane, an Extra EA-330/SC flown by veteran stunt flyer Michael Goulian. Next, the Warbird for the Legacy Flight – a dark blue 1943 WW2 Goodyear Warbird, a FGI-1D (F4U-1D) Navy Corsair fighter, with a “530” on the nose, from the Commemorative Air Force , from the CAF squadron “Air Base Georgia” based out of Falcon Field, near Atlanta, Georgia. We also had a tight 2-ship USCG fly-by by two aircraft out of CGAS Elizabeth City – a Sikorsky MH-60T Jayhawk and a Lockheed HC-130J Hercules, both in the traditional CG white with the red nose band.
WEST STATIC RAMP:
The West Static Ramp had 13 aircraft starting at Hanger 404: First were the 6 Boeing (McDonnell Douglas) F/A-18E/F CAG Super Hornets all done up in bright tail and nose colors in two lines of three aircraft: an F/A-18F from VFA-34 “Blue Blasters”, nose 300, “AB” USS Harry S. Truman; an F/A-18F from VFA-213 “Black Lions”, 200, “AJ” USS Gerald R. Ford, “MUTHA”, a lion – dragon spirit image on the tail; an F/A-18F from VFA-11 “Red Rippers”, 11, “AB”, USS Harry S. Truman, a Rhino Boar art on tail, “1927-2022” on tail, “95th Anniversary” and “Still Pump’in” art work; an F/A-18F from VFA-32 “Swordsmen”, 100, “AC” USS Dwight D. Eisenhower; an F/A-18E from VFA-211 “Checkmates”, 222, “AB” USS Harry S. Truman; an F/A-18E from VFA-37 “Ragin’ Bulls”, 100, “AJ” USS Gerald R. Ford, with Bulls tail art; Next to the Super Hornets were some warbirds. First a special GA invitee, a white 2012 Vans Aircraft, a two seat, low wing, home built kit plane; then a 1949 Navy dark blue Douglas AD-4 Skyraider from Jerry Yangen’s nearby Military Aviation Museum on Princess Anne Road; then a 1952 Grumman FM-2 Wildcat also from MAM; next, a 1952 Cessna L-19A (O-1A, 305A) “Bird Dog”, from Viet Nam War fame as a FAC; next, a Northrop T-38C Talon, “FF” tail code, from nearby Langley, recently repainted in a gloss blue three tone camo of a Soviet Su-27 Flanker aggressor; then a white and red Beechcraft T-6B Texan II Navy trainer with an “E” tail from TAW-5 based out of Whiting Field in Milton, FL; finally, a blue and yellow 1942 Fairchild PT-19A open cockpit monoplane primary trainer locally owned.
Oceana for years has been known for having lots of stands selling everything from garage doors to all kinds of food and drinks (except beer!) on the Center Ramp and this show was no exception. But the best thing is that every squadron from Oceana and Chambers and even the CVW’s and the CVN’s, and even the SEAL Teams, are out here once again selling you everything. That makes the Center Ramp always a lot of fun. Just bring lots of cash!
EAST STATIC RAMP
The East Ramp by the Control Tower had 9 static aircraft. The lineup was: a 1976 Cessna U-206F “Station Air” owned by the Virginia Dept. of Aviation (VDA); a 1974 Cessna “Skyline” 182, also owned by VDA; a Civil Air Patrol 2015 Cessna 172S “Skyhawk” from the CAP VA-095 Squadron based at the Chesapeake Airport; a Navy dark blue T-34 Beechcraft “Mentor” with a sharks mouth nose, one of two based here at Oceana for training; a very colorful E-2C Hawkeye of VAW-123 “Screwtops”, assigned to “ AC” USS Dwight D. Eisenhower based out of Chambers Field at the nearby Norfolk NS. It had a dark blue gloss tail with white stars with “AC” and “World Famous” text art. It’s nose art was the award winner with gloss white background, a blue CAG band with red and white stripes and stars. Wow! Then a Grumman C-2A COD “Greyhound” from VRC-40 “Rawhides” stationed on the USS Harry S. Truman, CVW-1, and based out of Chambers Field at NS Norfolk. Not to be outdone, it too sported a bright gloss tail with the top done in a red and yellow sunset and the bottom half being black with “2154 / 46” in bright red. Colorful!
Next on the East Ramp was a Sikorsky MH-53E “Echo” Sea Dragon from HM-15 “Blackhawks” out of Chambers. HM-15 is an Anti-Mine Counter Measures (AMCM) heavy lift helo with a long nose probe used for aerial refueling typically from a KC-130T Herc tanker.
Next, a US Army Boeing CH-47F Chinook heavy lift helo from B Co., 5th-159 Aviation, US Army Reserves, a “GSAB” General Support Aviation Battalion out of Felter Army Air Field at nearby Ft. Eustis, VA. And finally, and well known locally, the WAVY-TV blue and white “Chopper 10”, a 1988 Bell 206L-3 “LongRanger III commercial helicopter based at Portsmouth, VA.
There were two other “things”, not airplanes, but notable, on the East Ramp: a red VAFD Monster Fire Truck – yes, with the big tires and all – called “The Heat Is Coming”, originally a 1944 Seagrave engine and now uniquely powered by natural gas. The other was a 34 foot grey specialized Navy Patrol Boat 34PBO604 “Dauntless 34” built by Sea Ark Marine with 3 – 50 cal machine guns on the stern. It’s missions include Special Ops Insertion and Recovery, Patrol, Police and Security missions. It’s trailer transportable, has a aluminum hull and a max speed of 40 kts and looks perfect for the SEALS from Little Creek!
THE FLYING SHOW !!!
The 6-hour Flying Show starting at about 1030 was perfect for the long-lens guys and included outstanding military demonstrations and stunt flying acrobatic performances. First to launch was the MH-53E “Jump Plane” helo, taking off and circling to get to that ideal altitude of 10,000 feet for the US Navy SEALS “Leap Frogs” parachute team to jump from. Skip Stewart went up next with his Pitts Special S1S to do circles around the opening Flag Drop and National Anthem with a 3-man drop. Then there was a SEAL 8-man Insertion Demo in full battle dress. The MH-53E recovered with a high speed pass and a tight bank to land back at the Hot Ramp.
At this point, and only on Friday, there was a special Hornet 3-ship flying “Change of Command” Ceremony in mid-air for the CO’s of VFC-12 “Fighting Omars”, call sign “Ambush”. The flying participants included: the departing CO, CDR Scott Golich, the arriving CO, CDR Adam Stephens and the CAG, CDR Frazier. There was one Ambush aggressor bird in Splinter Camo and two low-viz grey Hornets using parallel runway takeoffs. At mid-field the fly-by coms included “I stand detached” and “Yes Sir, I am relieved of command”. A final 3-ship low pass diamond included a “Missing Man Formation” with the center ex-CO plane detaching from the diamond and going high while a full string of pyro and a big “Boom” made by the Firewalkers goes off as a final salute to the departing “Ambush” CO. Well done Omars!
Saturday, at this point, saw Jesse Panzer take up her brightly colored gloss pink Pitts Special S1S biplane, specially rated as +6 / -3g’s, go up for an outstanding performance of low and high aerobatics. Then we had the F-16 VDT Viper Demo Team from Shaw, with Capt. Aimee “Rebel” Fiedler on the stick, take her black snake colored Viper called VENOM (how appropriate!) up for a wild if noisy F-16 aerobatic demo for a wild ear-splitting crowd pleaser. Her final high speed pass came in at 700 kts just before a tactical left break to land. Well done “Rebel! Next, Bob Carlton went up in his jet-assisted Super Salto sailplane glider and did a nice quiet display of powerless loops and rolls with white smoke coming from the wingtips contrasting against the deep blue clear sky. Next, seven Super Hornets went up in a high performance burner take off with minimal separation to hold in a MOA off the coast prior to the Fleet Air Power Demonstration later. The MH-53E Sea Dragon then launched again to take the Navy “Leap Frogs” up to 10,000 for a free-fall demo. The jumpers were supposed to join up for a “joined wing” but we had an unplanned Emergency. Two jumper’s chutes got entangled and they had to break away and deploy their smaller day-glow red emergency chutes. These guys are Pros and they both landed safely and even hit the target “X” at Show Center using the red back-up chutes. Nice Save! Then we had a Coast Guard formation flyover with a Sikorsky MH-60T “Jayhawk” tight against a Lockheed HC-130J Hercules both out of Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, NC. After a second low pass, both returned to ECG.
The 7-ship Super Hornet Fleet Air Power Demo then came out of their off-shore hold and joined up as a 6-ship Delta for a slow low pass flyby and #7 coming back in-trail for a high speed burner pass. The 7-ship then came back and did a carrier break transition to land. Number one simulated a slow glide slope carrier approach with realistic radio coms with the LSO’s to simulate the final lineup using the Optical Landing System (OLS). “263, one mile, call the Ball…….Roger Ball”. No Trap. We had a touch-and-go Bolter, a Wave-Off and a Go-Around. The realistic landing approach coms we’re fun to listen to. And we had a real Hornet driver at the Announcer desk doing the “play-by-play” describing what was going on in detail, but Rob Reider, as always, provide very accurate descriptions of all of the Fleet Air Power Demo action.
Next we had a series of ACM low and fast dogfight simulations that looked pretty real! OK, “Fights On!” First a 1 v 1 horizontally head to head, ala “Top Gun”. Then a corkscrew vertical fight, then a 2 v 2. Then 2 in trail. Then a lesson on how to get a bandit off your tail if he’s on your 6 o’clock: “Ghostrider, check six!” Next a great CAS simulation of two planes protecting ground troops taking fire from approaching “Bad Guys” closing in. We had a FAC requesting close ordinance drops and an on-ground JTAC calling in CAS and the approaching F/A-18 Rhinos “Cleared Hot” for ordinance drop with target call outs using realistic combat radio coms with the ground JTAC and the air FAC. Low roll ins in trail for the attack were Cleared Hot and the Pyro Boys gave us assorted fireball explosions on each drop and even a nose gun strafe string of pyro. Then an example of coming in high and dropping low on target with a two ship in trail. Then a 360 turning bomb drop, of course with pyro. Then two side by side and one breaks left. We learn that there a lot of different ways to “Ruin the Enemy’s Day” on the ground with good Air Power! Bear in mind all through this we are listening to live and very real radio coms just the way it would really be in a fight in the air or on the ground.
Next we had a real “Probe and Drogue” aerial refueling between a receiver with a Bingo fuel emergency and F/A-18 tanker, where the receiver’s pipped “Probe” actually made contact with the tanker’s “Drogue” hose basket funnel connector. We were told that what we saw was very difficult to do at 500 feet above the deck in choppy low level air like here at the Air Show. This was probably the first time that this was ever done at any air show. A normal refueling would take place at 15 – 20,000 feet and typically the tanker would pass 600 gallons or 2100 pounds as a typical measuring metric that would pass through the hose “Drogue” funnel basket and into the receivers extended “Probe”. The probe is a concealed pipe that is hidden in the front fuselage but then is hydraulically extended when needed for a refueling. Quite an example of “Passing Gas”!
The seven Super Hornets rejoined for a recovery landing, first the 4-ship diamond with a carrier break left, then a 2-ship with a similar left break, then 7 came in with a final burner high speed pass and a go-around to land. Quite a Navy Fleet Air Power demonstration! What we saw today was not easy. Even for an air show, it requires many hours of Mission Planning just like for a combat mission. All players have to be exactly where they are supposed to be at the specific time and location based on the Mission Profile. In this case, “Time On Target” is critical for mission success. Flight Officers have compared the Air Power routine to designing the choreography for a Broadway Play. PhotoRecon congratulates the pilots, ground crews and Air Bosses for planning and performing an outstanding Fleet Air Power Demonstration!
After all seven Hornets safely recovered and got ground crew checked, taxied and parked, Mr. Skip Stewart went up next with his black, red and checkered Pitts S2S biplane for a great set of aerobatic flying, ending with his own way of cutting the 3-Wire while flying two feet off the ground and on a 45 degree angle. Then Skip did something he accidentally discovered how to do at the last 2019 Oceana show. He got his “Firewalkers” pyro friends to set up a special big “Hi-Test” gasoline explosion and create a giant rising black smoke “Doughnut” ring that Skip did loops through as it gained altitude. Now that’s different! Next up was Bobby Younkin black and red 1943 Twin Beech C-18S (C-45 / AT-9C / C-45H Expeditor) flying a 10-seat passenger airliner as if it were a Pitts stunt plane, white smoke and all! Nice Bob! The blue CAF Vought F4U-1D Corsair warbirds went up next and held to the west. Once clear, the two F-35C’s from Lemoore launched for a 2-ship demo. Then No. 2 safely disappeared somewhere. Then the Oceana Super Hornet Demo Team from VFA-106 “Gladiators” did a nice single-ship demo. Next it was the Navy Heritage Flight with the F4U Corsair, the F-35C Lightning II and the F/A-18E Super Hornet joining up for a number of low quiet passes ending with the final 3-ship split after entering from behind the crowd line and the F-35 final high speed pass as the noisy best!
Saving the best Stunt Guy for last, Michael Goulian went up with his yellow mono-wing Extra 330SC with an unbelievable aerobatic show. Andy Proffitt next fired up his Hot Streak II Jet Truck with flames, noise and plenty of white smoke from those two ex-Navy T-2A Buckeye jet engines mounted on the rear of his ‘57 Chevy Pickup to race Michael down the runway. (Guess who won the race?) Well, then it was 3:00 PM (1500). Time to fire up those new F/A-18E Super Hornets for the part of the show that 150,000 plane-crazed people came each day to Oceana to see — THE BLUE ANGELS! If you’re a regular, you know most of the Blues routine. But we were surprised to see some new moves at the end: some vertical and horizontal multi-direction breakaways first with the Diamond then with the Delta. And, as usual, a nice Carrier Break recovery at the end with the Delta transitioning to a 6-ship in trail lineup with an 8 second separation for each plane. Nice going Blues, again!
Then came the most difficult part of this Air Show: 150,000 people in cars all trying to leave at exactly the same time!
PhotoRecon Aviation Magazine wants to especially thank Jackie Parashar, Public Affairs Officer for NAS Oceana and her PAO staff for her great cooperation and especially making a special effort in opening up flight line access for the Media at 0700 for the Friday Practice Day.
October 7, 2022