Story and photos by Scott Jankowski
EAA has always enjoyed a very strong relationship and partnership with the U.S. Military and 2023 was no different. No less than four different Single Ship Demo Teams were part of this year’s flying display. In this article we will take a closer look at the U.S. Air Force F-22 Demo Team and the U.S. Navy EA-18G Growler, F/A-18F Super Hornet, and the F-35C Lightning II Demo Teams.
The United States Air Force F-22A Raptor Demo Team made an appearance at AirVenture this year and flew a modified airshow routine due to the limited size of the airshow box at Whitman Field. The team is part of the 1st Fighter Wing and is based at Joint Base Langley-Eustis Virginia and flies a pair of the 5th Generation Fighters. The F-22 first flew twenty-five years ago and was produced from 1996 to 2011 with a total production run of 195 aircraft. The F-22 can carry both air to air and air to ground weapons in its internal weapons bays. The team flies approximately twenty-five air shows a year with the show season lasting from March to November. The F-22A was also featured in the Heritage Flight flying alongside the North American P-51D Mustang and the Douglas A-1E Skyraider.
The U.S. Navy three demo teams on hand at AirVenture 2023, the first being the Boeing EA-18G Growler Demo Team. The team is based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island WA and is part of VAQ-129 known as the “Vikings.” VAQ-129 is a Fleet Replacement Squadron or FRS and is tasked with training al EA-18G Aviators and for developing SOPs for the maintenance and operations of the aircraft. VAQ-129 was established 62 years ago in 1961 and has flown such iconic Electronic Warfare aircraft as the Douglas EA-3B Whale and the Grumman EA-6B Prowler. Two aircraft flew in the afternoon airshow and also participated in the U.S. Navy Legacy Flight flying alongside the Chance Voight F-4U Corsair, the Legacy Flight is similar to its Air Force counterpart the Heritage Flight.
The second of the single ship demo teams was the Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II flown by VFA-125 better known as the “Rough Raiders” and based at Naval Air Station Lemoore CA. VFA-125 is the Fleet Replacement Squadron or FRS for the F-35C similar to VAQ-129 is for the EA-18G. The squadron received its first 5th Generation F-35C’s in 2017 and has operated them continuously since. The difference between the “C” model and the “A&B” models is quite evident with the “C” model having the larger wingspan and a heavily modified and strengthened landing gear to allow for carrier operations.
The final single ship demo team to take the skies over Oshkosh was VFA-122, better known as the “Flying Eagles” and also based at Naval Air Station Lemoore CA flying the Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet. VFA-122 is also know as the West Coast Rhino Demo Team and is also a Fleet Replacement Squadron or FRS. VFA-122 was the first U.S. Navy squadron to operate the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and has done so since 1999 and operates over 80 of the aircraft making it one of the largest units in the world. They flew a non-aerobatic demo on Saturday.
Single Ship demos are always an exciting and very welcome part of AirVenture year after year. When you add in a Heritage of Legacy Flight, it adds another layer of excitement and enjoyment. These demos do a fantastic job of highlighting just a small part of the capabilities of these amazing aircraft and the men and women who fly them. Look for additional AirVenture coverage to come. Until next time, “Blue Skies To All!”