The Jet Warbirds at Oshkosh 2010

The Jet Warbirds at Oshkosh – By Mark Hrutkay

Going to the annual EAA Convention at Oshkosh has become a part of every summer for a lot of us.  I’ve been taking my son since he was four years old.   My father went when I was seven (it was in Rockford, IL back then).  I haven’t missed a lot of shows in 43 years.  The “Fly In” has evolved into the “premier aviation event in the world” but the basic concept is the same.  There are airplane people meeting up with other airplane people to discuss and enjoy airplanes, flying airplanes and everything else that has to do with “airplanes” of all sizes and kinds.  Like a lot of others that come to Oshkosh, I have friends I only see once a year.  I may email them regularly, but you only meet face to face at Oshkosh.

With almost 1000 media attendees at the show, you are going to see every magazine, website and news outlet touting the EAA Convention for the next few months.   I’ll probably be writing at least a few stories about it, but it’s hard to cover something as broad as the EAA in story that’s shorter than the novel “War and Peace”.  I’m going to try and narrow the focus to the things you wouldn’t read about anywhere else.

One thing you can expect at the show every year is the latest and greatest.  If you have the latest or the greatest, you bring it to Oshkosh.  The airshow is always top notch, and is show case of masters of the art.  Sometimes the pilots are the stars and sometimes the planes are the stars.

Civilian owned former military jets are the highlight of any airshow.  They take a big commitment to operate.  It takes skill to fly one, and a lot of money.  There are literally truckloads of funds tossed into the restoration and maintenance of these birds.   Feeding them fuel at $4 a gallon or more (and hundreds of gallons an hour) is another major expense; this separates those who are rich from those who are simply well off.   Anymore, seeing two jets at a regional airshow is a pretty good turnout.  At Oshkosh, that isn’t enough, not even close to enough.

This year, the EAA facilitated and the aircraft owners put on a Jet Warbird show that was hard to beat.   It was so good, I lost count of how many jets were flying.  It was hard to count the number of civilan jet warbirds were on the field.   I’d guess there were more than twenty five there.  If someone said thirty or more I wouldn’t be surprised.  Here are some of the high spots.

While they are not civilians, the EAA managed to get the USAF to bring in something more than the usual demonstration teams.  They brought in Thunderbirds F-16 #7 and #8 for a few days for a special Warbirds in Review segment.  If you follow the Thunderbirds, you know its RARE to see a single Thunderbird jet anywhere.   Generally they only appear as a team and function as a team.  It’s really unusual when the USAF parks one of those planes where civilians can actually get near them.  I’ve been close to the Thunderbirds before because of media access and I’ve been in their hangars at Nellis.   Normally they are parked on the ramp away from the crowd during shows and spectators can’t get near them.  This year at Oshkosh one of those planes was in the Scotts Warbird Alley to meet up with two of Bob Baker’s P-51s.  Those Mustangs (“Sweet and Lovely” and the “Little Rebel”) were flown by two brothers (Bill and Buck Pattillo) in combat in WWII who happened to start the Thunderbirds while they were in the USAF.  More on them in another story…

The youth of today (which would be most people under 40 years old) don’t remember when the Vietnam era jets flew in active service.  These planes are so different than the current generation of fighters.   Straight turbojet engines are much better at converting fuel into noise than the quieter and more fuel efficient of the F-16s and later aircraft.  That’s like comparing a 1960s muscle car to a new Camaro.  Yeah the new one performs better but it’s not nearly as much fun.

There was the Collings Foundation that brought in their F-4 Phantom and TA-4 Skyhawk.  I’m sure that most of us have heard the story, that it took an act of Congress to get the Phantom to them.  That was not an expression either; Congress had to actually give permission for them to acquire a Phantom.  The sheer effort and expense of flying these aircraft from Houston to Oshkosh shows some real dedication.   Guys it was worth it.   The Phantom rivaled the Harrier for being the “Jet Star of the Show”.  The USAF is cutting back on the Heritage Flight Program.  They are using the last few Phantoms in that program as drones and in a few years (fewer than you think too), there will not be any flying USAF owned Phantoms.  Soon the Collings Foundation will have the only one left flying.

The Warbird Heritage Foundation brought in their A-4 Skyhawk.  The WHF Skyhawk was flown by Paul Woods for its airshow debut.  The history of this airplane was pretty impressive.  It was restored by Jim Robinson from Houston in the late 1980s.  He flew it and quite a few other jets with the “Combat Jets” Museum.  They made several trips to Oshkosh among other airshows in the early 1990s.  Mr, Robinson finally donated ALL the aircraft in the Museum to the EAA.  The EAA put them on display in their museum and eventually sold most of them off.  This airplane was returned to flight after over 15 years of sitting on the ground.  For those who understand “use it or lose it”, that is an eternity for a jet, requiring an incredible amount of work to make it fly again.  This Skyhawk has only recently been returned to service and looks great.

Putting the Colllings Foundation and the Warbird Heritage Foundation together resulted in a flyby that would be hard to repeat with a Phantom with a Skyhawk on either wingtip.

Dr. Richard Sudgen brought in a Candair F-86 Sabre MK6, which was the ultimate version of the F-86, from Driggs Idaho.  His Sabre was freshly out of restoration and making its first airshow appearance too.  The F-86 was flown by Dale Snodgrass with a Skyhawk on each wing tip; which was another rare and very crowd pleasing experience.   Doc also has the only civilian owned and flown FJ Fury (which is often called the “Navy F-86”; actually it’s a totally different airplane and flew before the F-86).   That Fury is also the only flying Fury in the world, and it’s very unlikely there will ever be another one.  It flew in the show.

There was once a time when it was pretty common to see a Harrier fly a demo at an airshow.  With two wars in progress and a limited number of aircraft, I understand the Marines have cut back to four Harrier demos this year.   Oshkosh didn’t get one of them, they got something better.   A gentleman from Virginia, Art Nalls, brought HIS Harrier in for the show and flew several demo flights.   Art was a Marine Harrier pilot and a Navy Test Pilot School graduate.  If you read through Harrier emergency checklists, the vast majority of them end with the single word “Eject”.   Mr. Nalls has the distinction of making the only deadstick Harrier landing when he was in the Marines, which to me would mean he’s a heck of a pilot.   He found two British Sea Harriers that were for sale, bought them and restored them.  I had the honor being in Culpepper Virginia a couple of years back when this plane made its first public flight.  At Oshkosh, it was THE star of the show.  When Mr. Nalls flew the Harrier, everyone on the field took a minute off from what they were doing and paid attention.   A short takeoff, a few high speed passes, some hovering and a vertical landing makes a great demonstration of this very rare bird.

Another unique type of aircraft flying were a pair of MIG-21s, the supersonic opponent of the F-4D Phantom in Vietnam.  There was a single seater and a two seater on the field and both flew in the airshows.  A rare Alpha jet was in the show, this is the current primary trainer in the German Air Force.    There were several T-33s that flew during the shows, including a highly polished one owned by the Commemorative Air Force.  I understand that the aircraft was restored by a man who wanted to fly it to transition into his newly restored L-39.  That L-39 was just completed and he flew it in from the Los Angeles area.  One T-33 in particular was restored in USAF colors in a “winter” camo scheme of black, gray and white.  The aircraft was really striking and stood out.

Because of limited space, the jet show is something that you will probably not hear much about elsewhere, but here at we think the time and effort that went into it is important and the people that put it on deserve some recognition.   Time to look at the photos….

I would like to thank Dick Knapinski of the EAA for his assistance in making this story possible.  By agreement with the EAA, we are not allowed to sell any of these pictures.

Sorry guys.  As usual if you want to contact the author;  I’m at TNMark@Me.Com.

Mark Hrutkay

Mark has been a member of the International Association of Aviation Photographers (ISAP) for several years and attends all their events and seminars. He has won several awards for his work and has been published in several aviation magazines, domestic and foreign. You can contact Mark Hrutkay at TNMark@Me.Com.

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