Wild and Wonderful: West Virginia’s Greatest Airshow 2023
Story and Photos by Shawn Byers
I was always interested in this Airshow in nearby Martinsburg, West Virginia but never put it on my schedule. Formerly, it was hosted by the West Virginia Air National Guard on their ramp where they used to fly C-5A Galaxies. The ramp is on the north side of the runway and would have had difficult lighting for photography. For the first time, in 2023, after a multi-year gap, the show was taken privately and it moved to the south side of the runway.
This show celebrated 100 Years of Shepherd Field, which is now known as Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport. Martinsburg, in the panhandle of West Virginia is only 100 miles from my Maryland home so this was a Day Trip with the wife in tow on Saturday August 26th.
I did not apply for a media pass so I was a paying customer like everyone else. I waited patiently in line and immediately stalked out some frontage. I would have liked to go further down to the eastern end but there was a large proliferation of tents that really cut down on public viewing. I thought that the footprint was too big for the area allotted for all of the enthusiastic, general admission attendees. That said, the weather was perfect and I thought it was a really great show.
There is only a single Runway, 08/26, at 8815 feet long. Years ago, there was a cross wind runway, a portion of that infrastructure now functions as a ramp for the General Aviation operators. The airport is shared with the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard flying C-17A Globemaster IIIs.
Once the flying portion of the show started, the DeHavilland Twin Otter of the U.S. Army’s Golden Knights launched to a high orbit. They opened the show with a flag drop. They returned in the afternoon for their full show.
Skip Stewart then brought his high energy routine in his Pitts S2S biplane. He would fly again later in the day.
Leading up to the show, an updated performance was announced by an aircraft I have long wanted to photograph from the left side. The AC-130J Ghost Rider was going to fly on Saturday only. I felt I was too far down the departure runway but it actually rotated close to my location and then flew two or three orbits right to left. With the left side displayed, we got a good look at the 30mm and 105mm cannons.
Cargo took the stage next demonstrating their short field takeoff performance. A C-17 from the Home Based 167th Airlift Wing and a C-5M from Dover took off in succession and flew a few orbits. I had to back up a bit as it seemed these behemoths were directly overhead.
Jerry Wells flew an aerobatic routine in his yellow Bu 133 Jungmeister.
B-25, ” Panchito” was available on static display and then towed out to the apron for startup and a flying profile.
The Healthnet Medical Airbus 135 Helicopter performed a number of flybys and then landed to simulate the recovery of a patient.
Jerry Conley flew his exotic, desert camouflage DeHavilland Vampire.
The next performance was Radio Controlled (R/C) Aerobatics. The aircraft were realistic but small, yet large for the type. R/C flying is not typically entertaining to me but toward the end, only one aircraft was left airborne and the controller was a savant. He tumbled and twisted the green aerobatic R/C aircraft at very low altitudes. The crowd was impressed.
Warbird Thunder performed a T-6 two ship routine. Both pilots and the aircraft are formerly of the Geico Skytypers Demonstration Team. One of them performed a solo routine in the T-6 earlier in the show.
The headliner of the show was the F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team. About halfway through the routine, the aircraft experienced a problem and the routine could not continue. This I have seen before. What I had not seen before is the commitment to complete the demonstration with a second aircraft. The Airshow waiver was still in effect and there was no following demonstration as this was the finale. The Team said they would land and get the other jet ready. Some people filed out of the show. The rest of us stayed and after about 30 minutes, we got a second demonstration of the F-22.
There was no Heritage Flight and I do not know which warbird was supposed to appear. Scott “Scooter” Yoak, a West Virginia Native, was scheduled to fly his P-51 Mustang “Quicksilver” in a solo routine but was not present. Also scheduled was Rich Perkins in a Marchetti 260.
I thought the show was well run by the Air Boss, who happens to be a friend of mine. After the show, we walked down to chat with him. I appreciated how he kept the routines tight with no gaps and no delays. Our catch up ensured we were almost the last people to leave the grounds.
Static aircraft were parked on taxiways. I didn’t take any photos until well after the show as the sun moved into the western sky and there was almost no one left on the field. One aircraft of interest was a brand new CH-53K King Stallion from the US Marine Corps. I didn’t think to ask how many hours were on it but I am sure there weren’t many.
There was also an A-10 from Maryland, a C-130 from Charleston, “Charlie West”, a colorful T-6 Texan II from Columbus AFB, a colorful T-1 from Laughlin, an MV-22, a C-53 from the Navy and a C-17 from the Home Team.
The show is next scheduled for May 2025 and will feature the Blue Angels.