USAF Viper Demo Team
2018 Rhode Island National Guard Airshow and Open House
By Ken Middleton
The USAF Viper Demo Team was a last-minute addition to the Rhode Island National Guard Airshow and Open House, held at Quonset Air National Guard Base, Rhode Island, the weekend of June 9-10. I was extremely excited and pleased when Major John “Rain” Waters, the demo pilot, contacted me a couple weeks before the show to let me know they had been added. I had seen the team in action at the 2017 show at the same location.
Come to find out, the Viper Demo Team, along with the F-35 Lightning II team (flown by Captain Andrew “Dojo” Olson), and a P-51 Mustang (flown by Andrew McKenna) were also scheduled to perform a fly-over at the horse race being held at Belmont Stakes, New York, on Saturday evening. So, Quonset was chosen as a staging point for the Viper Demo Team, which coincided with the airshow.
I had media access for the show and was on base on Friday June 8. Rain had told me they would not be arriving to Quonset until after the US Navy Blue Angels practiced that afternoon, as he had to perform a demo at their home base, Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, on Friday morning for a reunion.
Late Friday afternoon, Rain arrived and made several high-speed passes. He then joined up with Dojo for some formation passes with the F-35, performing the Heritage Flight minus the P-51 Mustang. At this point, the cloud cover moved in and made good photos a challenge. Additionally, the humidity level was low, so very little vapor formed on the Viper.
I went to the beach show at Narragansett Beach on Friday evening, and met up with Rain at the Dunes Club. Rain and the team are extremely welcoming and personable, and embody what the overall team is all about – they are true ambassadors representing the United States Air Force.
On Saturday, I was fortunate to be able to arrange time on the ramp with the team as they prepped for their demo. Being within mere feet of a demo team and their aircraft, and not to mention right next to the F-35 Lightnings and P-51 Mustang, is always a thrill. To see the interaction amongst all the team members is impressive.
As the team readied the aircraft and Rain performed his walkaround, I shot many photos. A fellow photographer and videographer, Mark Kolanowski, was also out there with me, and the team was busy installing small video cameras in the cockpit to capture Rain’s performance.
Soon, Rain fired up the Viper and then taxied out after the Mustang and Lightning II, which would all fly together as a Heritage Flight after Rain’s demo. The F-35 and P-51 departed the area and Rain performed his usual top-notch aggressive demo. Rain really knows how to handle the Viper, that was meticulously prepared by the maintainers. Again, the clouds moved in and photos were tough once more, and the humidity was low again as well.
Once Rain finished his demo, he joined up with the F-35 and P-51 for a few passes in formation. On their last pass from behind the crowd, Dojo broke right, Rain broke left and Andrew continued straight. It was quite impressive to see all 3 aircraft airborne in formation. They each subsequently did some high-speed passes before landing. By the way, that is extent of the F-35 demo this year – as part of Heritage Flights, but I heard in 2019, a more extensive demo will be happening.
I stayed on base as long as I could after the show Saturday, in hopes of catching the F-16, F-35 and Mustang all depart for Belmont Stakes, NY. I lucked out and got some of nice shots of all 3 of them departing late in the afternoon.
I have also included some photos of the 2017 Quonset Viper Demo Team, where they used the 50th anniversary Wild Weasel jet.
My extreme gratitude and thanks go out to the entire Viper Demo Team, for their assistance and hospitality! Also, thank you to the Rhode Island National Guard Public Affairs team.