Wings Over Houston 2020
With an unused airline ticket in my bank, I returned to the Wings Over Houston Airshow for a second year in a row after the official announcement that it was a go for October 9-11. In this Covid-19 year of 2020, any airshow is a reason to be thankful.
A trend that had begun in late summer was the socially distant drive-in show and Wings Over Houston went forward under this plan with only a few weeks to put it together. This would be the first mass public event in Houston all year and we were reminded often that it was being watched closely.
On the Friday of my arrival, Hurricane Delta was passing by. It was breezy and rainy but no direct hits for Houston and all flying was canceled. For the people of Southern Louisiana, this was, unfortunately, the second hurricane in five weeks.
Saturday began with bright sun as we checked in for media. Oddly, we were the only ones who could not drive a vehicle onto the ramp. For this drive-in show, patrons would pay by the carload, bring their own food and drink, mask up to go to the bathroom and otherwise remain within the footprint of their vehicle. There were no static displays or vendors.
The location for media was a grass island near the Air Boss. As the morning went on, four rows of paying carloads were parked in front of us and we were too far away from the fence for any ground photos. It was not an ideal spot. Media Coordinator, Scott Tims, offered us another spot at extreme airshow left at the fence. Many of us took advantage of this and it ended up being as ideal as possible on show day.
The sun angle is tough in the morning as the sun rises from the front of the north-south Runway 17/35 configuration at Ellington Field. Due to the Hurricane, many Warbirds canceled their plans and the jet teams relocated to Fort Worth. Early on Saturday, the teams returned to Ellington offering some interesting photographs against the sun.
Prior to the show, Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawks and MH-65 Dauphins were flying regular operations and even the Army’s AH-64 Apaches of “The Wolfpack” were active throughout the weekend. Our north end location offered us some good and close views of this group of helicopters.
The show opened with a flag drop by the Re/Max Skydiving Team circled by aerobatic pilots Jason Newburg (Pitts S2S) and Debby Rihn-Harvey (Extra 300).
The A-10 Thunderbolt II Demonstration Team flew first with their fetching heritage paint scheme. Although the sun angle was still tough, there was a good amount of moisture in the air for wingtip vortices.
Before noon, there was also a Coast Guard Search and Rescue demonstration, civilian performers, Jacquie B and Debby Rihn Harvey, and the F-16 Viper Demo Team. We were disappointed to have the gray jet on Saturday instead of “Venom” but the demo was still loud and fast.
After noon, Tora! Tora! Tora! filled the sky with smoke reenacting the attack on Pearl Harbor. Other Warbirds, which arrived Saturday morning, joined the time slot to include PBJ, “Devil Dog” and a C-45 in NAS Dallas markings.
Additionally, as the time slot belonged to Warbirds, a rare P-63 King Cobra performed a solo routine followed by P-51 “Shangri-La”. On Sunday, they would join up for some formation flying.
An act I had never seen before was the Phillips 66 Aerostars. Three Extra 300s in similar but not uniform markings performed a formation display.
The C-17 Demonstration Team from Joint Base Lewis-McChord performed a solo routine and then the Re/Max Skydiving Team performed an afternoon jump. A Mig 15 performed a solo routine and then Jason Newburg performed and then raced Shockwave in her new paint scheme.
Ahead of the F-35A Demonstration, the A-10 and F-16 launched into a hold. It was originally planned for a five ship Heritage Flight but the Raptor broke after the second maneuver. P-51 “Glamorous Glenn III” joined from her home airport and made it a typical four ship flight. Although there was no jet team, having all four United States Air Force Demonstration Teams at one show made it a can’t miss event for me.
Upon exit, I noticed two things. The ramp had cleared out pretty quickly and there was very little trash left behind. Two points for the drive-in format.
Sunday morning started foggy but it burned off before showtime. We had been notified earlier that the F-22 from Saturday could not be repaired in time and the other Raptor was broken in Fort Worth. The team used two Tyndall airframes which are the oldest in the fleet. The demonstration was scrubbed.
Before departing the show on Sunday, we were invited back to a hangar where the Mig 15 and other aircraft are kept. Despite Friday’s weather, it was a perfect airshow weekend.
As the day wore on, it was announced that a local business family offered to fly “Cabo” to Fort Worth in their Citation 525 to pick up the other jet. This shuffled the lineup for an exciting finish. The A-10 Demonstration Team had already flown an earlier demonstration but volunteered to fly another one in the afternoon. All the jets would fly in the afternoon under optimum lighting conditions. Unfortunately, the F-22 required fuel and could not join for the five ship Heritage Flight but we did see a full demonstration. The business family was applauded when they returned home.
I wish to thank the great Media Team at Wings Over Houston. I saw some familiar faces from 2019 and they were very accommodating to us. Head Cheese-Scott Tims, Watchdog-John Szalkowski, Momma Bear-Stacy Mills, and our Last Cabbie-Barbara Britt. Additionally, I noticed a company, Homeland Staffing, cleaning the porta potty handles with regularity for the safety and comfort of all. Police and trash runners were also on the job facilitating wherever necessary. My hat’s off to the team that pulled it off despite Covid-19 and a passing hurricane. Thank you for giving me one more show in 2020.