Power In The Pines Air Show 2023
Story and photos by Don Linn
I haven’t been to a McGuire AFB air show in more than twenty years. I think my last visit to the sprawling air base in central New Jersey was before 9/11. After 9/11 I stopped going to air shows due the security restrictions that followed the attack on the Twin Towers and the fear a military air show would be a likely target for the bad guys looking to inflict mass casualties on innocent visitors. Before then I attended McGuire’s air show faithfully for at least 20 years. During those early years, late-1970s to late 1990s, the static display was always packed with aircraft; the number of display aircraft could number twenty to thirty aircraft of all types. It was an aviation photographer’s dream.
But that was a different time, it was after Vietnam and life was a bit less chaotic and there were no domestic terrorist threats. So, it was with great anticipation to be able to return to McGuire and revisit the past experiences of the exciting static display and see the Thunderbirds fly once again.
The 70th ARS from Travis AFB sent KC-10A. 85-0033 for static display at McGuire’s Power in The Pines Air Show. The 70th ARS will be the last KC-10 squadron after McGuire retires its last KC-10 on June 21, and will then have the distinction to retire the last KC-10 during ceremonies at Travis AFB on 30 September 2024 marking more than 30 years of KC-10 service.
This show is a salute to the KC-10 ‘Extender’ tanker, to be retired on June 21st from the two Reserve squadrons, 76th and 78th ARS, part of the 514th AMW.
C-47 ‘That’s All Brother’, taxis to the runup area prior to takeoff for a 30-minute media flight before the Power in the Pines air show at McGuire AFB. This is the original ‘That’s All Brother’ that led the main airborne invasion of Normandy during D-Day. It was rescued from a scrap dealer before this historically important aircraft was destroyed.
I was invited to the media day on Friday, May 19th, arriving at 9:00 am, as instructed by Derek Vanhorn, Chief of Media Relations, to get on the media flight for C-47 ‘That’s All Brother’, a beautiful WW 2 C-47 with D-Day invasion stripes. I decided to pass on the ride. I know most would say I was stupid for missing such an opportunity, but I flew in a C-47 many years ago and knew what it was like. Also, truth be told, the old Douglas is over 75 years old and although obviously well maintained, I still passed. So, with the time I would have spent flying in the classic WW 2 troop carrier famous for leading the D-Day Invasion to Normandy, I walked the flight line photographing the static display.
The crew of DC-3C, N983DC, Yukon Sourdough, is busy setting up Friday morning before the rush of early spectators begins. The DC-3 completed a ten-year restoration project in late 2022 and is now on the air show circuit.
At this time in the morning, just after 9:00, the ramp had very few people about making photography easy. I suddenly heard the distinctive sounds of the C-47’s engine cranking up and headed to the restricted where the media flight was about to take off. Luckily, I was in time to see ‘That’s All Brother’ and B-25 ’Panchito’ taxi for take-off.
I was eager to walk the flight line, it was an opportunity to revisit my past and recall the airshows I attended in those days before 9/11. Instead of my trusty Nikon loaded with Kodachrome 64 from twenty plus years ago, I had my digital Nikon. I must admit I went kicking and screaming from film to digital, too old school I guess, but after ten years shooting digital, I wish we had digital technology back then, the quality is so much better. Friday morning was OK weatherwise, mostly cloudy with sun occasionally making an appearance, sometimes at just the right moment. For example, there was an attractive DC-3 from Air North on display, with ‘Yukon Sourdough’, a gold prospector character painted on the tail. The sun broke through the clouds just as I was approaching, crew members were preparing the old girl for the day’s visitors. It was a perfect photo opportunity and I shot it.
A distinctive Princeton Tiger scheme has appeared on several of the unit’s KC-135s since 1997 when the 141st ARS celebrated its 100-year anniversary. The Tiger’s scheme was painted as a tribute to the squadron’s first commanding officer, Capt. Hobart ‘Hobey’ Baker, a Princeton graduate and outstanding sportsman, whose team mascot is the Princeton Tiger, when the 141st Aero Squadron was formed during the closing days of WW 1.
The rest of the static display was sparse compared to long ago, but still there was an interesting assortment of display aircraft, understandably most from McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst units. These consisted of two KC-10s, one from McGuire and the other from Travis AFB. The McGuire KC-10s will be retired in late June and transition to KC-46 tankers and the Travis KC-10 will be the last KC-10 squadron and retire late in 2024, ending a more than thirty-year USAF career. Another tanker on display was a KC-135R from the 141st ARS, NJ ANG with a colorful Tiger painted along its fuselage. The Tiger scheme was originally applied to commemorate the squadron’s 100th anniversary in 2018. And there was one C-17 and KC-46 from McGuire units.
AH-1Z, 169826, HMLA-773 Det. B ‘Red Dogs’.
The crowd and clouds rolled in at the same time as I set up for a clean shot of the Viper, AH-1Z, 169823, from USMC-R HMLA-773, also located at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lake Hurst. The Super Cobra is the most recent in a distinguished line of Cobras first introduced during the Vietnam War, but the AH-1Z is much more. It is an update of the earlier AH-1W Super Cobra produced for the Marine Corps in the mid-1980s. It has far superior capabilities and shares 85 per cent part commonality with its UH-1Y Venom cousin.
Always a helicopter guy, a result of my time with the DE Army Guard as a Huey (UH-1D/H) mechanic, I wanted to check out the Super Huey Venom and Super Cobra Viper from USMC-R HMLA-773 ‘Red Dogs’, also located at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lake Hurst, and under the command of Marine Air Group-49. I was not disappointed. The Super Huey and Super Cobra are vastly different from the Vietnam era, which at the time was state-of-the-art. The Venom and Viper are high performance aircraft capable of far more. Often working in teams, the Super Cobras provide close air support and fire support missions in all weather. The Super Huey can provide close air and combat support, search and rescues mission and serve as command-and-control platform above the battlefield. Each helicopter was fitted with an assortment of weapons. A CH-53E Super Stallion form HMH-772 was also on display but surrounded by JR-ROTC cadets and sadly unable to photograph.
Sitting quietly on the McGuire show ramp on media day is a visitor from nearby NAF Washington/Andrews AFB, C-130T, 164597 from Naval Reserve Squadron VR-53. When the show opens to the public on Saturday the big ‘Herc’ will be open for business with its ramp down and filled with eager visitors.
The 119th FS of the New Jersey ANG, sent two of their Vipers for static display. The 119th is based at Atlantic City Airport.
In the middle of the display area were the only fighters. A pair of F-16Cs from the 177th FW, 119th FIS, NJ ANG, based locally at Atlantic City Airport and two T-38C Talons from the 90th FTS based at Sheppard AFB, TX. One, T-38C, 69-7077, painted in a USAF Heritage Scheme representing the 90th Pursuit Squadron as it served in the CBI during WW 2.
Next in the lineup was a glossy gray C-130T from VR-53, ‘Capital Express’, a Navy Reserve Squadron based at nearby NAF Washington/Andrews AFB. I remember when the squadron flew C-118s, the impressive big four engine Douglas Liftmaster, the military version of the DC-6 civilian airliner.
This pristine Cessna OE-1 Bird Dog “Donna-mite’ represents a USMC FAC during the Vietnam War, complete with rocket pods. During the Vietnam War Marine OE-1s provided FAC services for the Marine Air Wing aircraft operating from Da Nang.
Parked near the T-38s was a beautifully restored Cessna OE-1 Bird Dog finished in a USMC Vietnam era scheme complete with rocket launchers. The Marines used the OE-1 in both Korea and Vietnam. During the Vietnam War Marine OE-1s provided FAC (Forward Air Controller) services for the Marine Air Wing aircraft operating from Da Nang. I have a special interest in the OE-1; my first ride in a military aircraft was in a Bird Dog with the DE Army Guard in 1966.
As the morning became afternoon, the sun gave way to clouds making the afternoon mostly cloudy, and added to that was a light smoke haze emanating from wildfires in nearby Ocean County. Although not ideal for photography, it was still fun to watch the flying displays. First up was the Army Golden Knights to open the show, I thought it may have been too windy, but the team jumped on schedule and looked great slowly descending with the American flag proudly flying and colored smoke trailing from their boots.. Following the Golden Knights were the fly-by of KC-10 with a simulated refueling of a C-17 and following that was the KC-46. They flew in trail and made several passes before landing.
A ‘Red Dogs’ UH-1Y Venom, or Super Huey, from HMLA-773, Det. B. HMLA-773 is a subordinate command of MAG-49 based at McGuire AFB and is divided into three locations. Det (-) New Orleans, Det. A at Robbins AFB and Det. B at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, the three detachments are the largest HMLA squadron in the Marine Corps.
The helicopter demonstrations were exciting to watch. First up was the USCG MH-65 dropping a Coast Guard swimmer down a cable to make a simulated basket rescue. This was soon followed by the HMLA-773 Super Huey and Super Cobra demonstrating their Close Air Support capabilities and then HMH-772 in the big CH-53E picked up a HUMVEE and carried it away.
Wearing its distinctive Viper snakeskin scheme is the F-16CM Viper Demo jet. The clouds and haze Friday and Saturday prevented a good shot of this colorful F-16.
But the most impressive flight demonstrations were the fighters. There were three main fighter demonstrations. First up was the F-15C from 104th Wing, MA ANG in an F-15 Eagle flight demonstration. This was followed by the F-16CM. The F-16CM was painted in the striking Viper snakeskin scheme. Too bad there was no opportunity to photograph it in a good light. But the haze and clouds prevented that. Last were the Thunderbirds, always a perennial favorite in their red, white, and blue F-16s flying in close formations. They were not disappointing.
Sadly, while the flying demonstrations were exciting the watch, the weather prevented any chance for photography. The combination of haze from wildfires and cloudy skies made the aircraft backlit. The Saturday show was the same and it was Sunday before the skies cleared and the clouds finally passed by and the smoke haze was nearly gone. Too bad I couldn’t be there. I had two out of three days available for the show, as luck would have it I couldn’t be there for the best day. Maybe next year.