Highlights of the 2005 Holloman Airshow

After a break of several years, in April of 2005 a one-day airshow was held at Holloman air force base in southern New Mexico.  Even though this is a rather remote location and a somewhat short show, it still attracted quite a following among aviation enthusiasts, because of the unusual selection of aircraft at the show.   This year people came from as far away as California and Mexico, and in previous years people have even made the long haul down from Canada for the show.

Much of the credit for this strong interest goes to the mixture of aircraft which are based in this location.   Not only is this the home base for America's only F-117 Nighthawk "stealth fighter" squadrons and their attendant T-38 training aircraft, it's also home to a number of QF-4E Phantom II drones, which do their work on the nearby White Sands missile range.   To cap it all, the German air force also has a large contingent of personnel here to support the training of Tornado fighter/bomber crews.

Holloman certainly has the usual contingent of acts which you'll find at many America airshows.   As well as the usual aerobatic performers and parachutists, there are also displays by modern military aircraft like this A-10 Thunderbolt II or "warthog" as it's popularly known.   The display was done by a pilot whose call sign is "Narc", who is now in his third and final year as a demo pilot.

A-10 Thunderbolt II ('warthog') banking   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

A simulated cluster bomb run complete with pyrotechnics was done by this swept-wing B-1 Lancer bomber, which unfortunately did only a single pass.  It could be that it was doing several flypasts at airshows that day, or maybe it just made the whole trip for this one show; either way, it's a good navigation and timing exercise for the crew.

B-1 Lancer fast pass

This two-seat F-15E Strike Eagle also did simulated bombing runs.   The Strike Eagle is a fighter/bomber version of the regular F-15C Eagle, distinguished by having a back seater who is responsible for dropping of the ordnance, as well as by its large conformal fuel tanks, visible here as the bulge behind the engine inlet.   As well as carrying fuel, stores racks on the tank can be used to carry extra bombs and missiles.

F-15E Strike Eagle high speed pass with vapor   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

Talking about conformal fuel tanks, it was a real surprise to see this "block 60" F-16 Fighting Falcon in United Arab Emirates colors on static display at the show.  This very same aircraft was parked on the ramp but had been strictly off limits to the many photographers who had come to Holloman from Canada, America and Europe in October of the previous year to attend PhanCon 2004.   As well as the unusual conformal fuel tanks, the block 60 F-16s also have avionics which are significantly superior to those in F-16s which are in USAF service.   America received its last new F-16s a few months before this show, and it's rather surprising that superior aircraft were sold overseas.   Although not visible in this shot, one interesting feature of this individual aircraft is the installation near the tail of mountings for a stall recovery parachute, used during testing of this model.

block 60 F-16 Fighting Falcon

The block 60 Fighting Falcon didn't take to the air, but there was a display by regular F-16s which included this very nice and infrequently seen four-ship formation.   Unfortunately this formation was done during the break to land, which takes place on a runway which is at quite a distance from the crowdline.   In fact all three runways are too far away to allow for decent photographs of takeoffs and landings, but many of the aircraft did taxi past the crowd either before or after their display.

four F-16 Fighting Falcons in formation
two F-117 Nighthawk 'stealth fighters' banking

The F-117 "stealth fighter" display was a major highlight for many of the crowd.   In fact there were two displays, one by four Nighthawks which did part of their act as two groups of two aircraft, including a head-on pass with two Nighthawks flying in one direction and the other two flying in the opposite direction.

F-117 Nighthawk and T-38 Talon

There was also a simulated training flight with an F-117 together with a T-38 Talon flying as a chase plane.   Since there are no two-seat F-117s, training is done with an instructor in the T-38 following the trainee in the stealth fighter.   Only experienced pilots are transitioned over to the Nighthawks, the two I spoke to at this show as well as the one I spoke to at the 2005 Nellis airshow had all previously flown F-15C Eagles.   I have no real idea why the air force thinks it's a good thing to move air-to-air fighter pilots to a dedicated ground attack aircraft, but it's certainly a great act to see.   It certainly demonstrates that the F-117 is a larger aircraft than most people imagine, it's actually about the same size as an F-15.

Apparently this is the only time this display has ever been done, it's certainly nice to see the Nighthawk do something other than a flat pass, and it's just as nice to see the attractive T-38 trainer in action.   There was also a rarely seen four-ship formation of T-38s during the show.

F-117 Nighthawk and T-38 Talon breaking

Another real highlight particularly for American enthusiasts was the display by German air force Tornado fighter bombers.   These sometimes appear on static display at places like the Yuma airshow in Arizona and I was even able to sit in the cockpit of one at the Vandenburg airshow in California, but it's extremely rare to see any type of foreign aircraft flying in the United States, perhaps due to concerns about safety and the bad publicity which would come from an accident.   However here they were allowed to do their thing, and although I've seen plenty of German and British Tornadoes flying at the 2002 Royal International Air Tattoo in the UK, this was the only time I've seen a formation of them, and it even included a simulated "buddy refueling" of one Tornado by another.   In fact this was only the second "buddy refueling" demonstration I'd ever seen, the previous one being by Royal New Zealand Air Force A-4 Skyhawks, unfortunately before I had the equipment or skill to get decent photographs.

German Air Force Tornado fighter/bomber buddy refueling

The Commemorative Air Force (previously called the Confederate Air Force) brought three of their planes up from Texas.   As well as the only T-6 Texan trainer still in existence which had been used by the world war two African American "Tuskegee airmen", they also brought two other world war two aircraft, one of which was this B-25J Mitchell bomber called "Yellow Rose".

This particular aircraft was only ever used as a trainer in the United States, but it's painted in the color of a Free French B-25 based in Tunisia in North Africa, which suffered a mid-air collision with another B-25, causing the loss of one horizontal stabilizer and tail.   The other B-25 involved crashed, but this one got back safely, though with the loss of the tail gunner, whose position was destroyed during the accident.   Another item of historical interest is that this aircraft has been signed by quite a number of the B-25 crewmen who took part in the Doolittle Raid against Japan from an aircraft carrier.   Their signatures are clustered around the guns mounted on the left side of the aircraft.

I was lucky enough to happen across this aircraft at Alamogordo airport on the day before the show (thanks, Roger!), where it was doing VIP flights for people who had contributed towards the operation of the airshow.   Not only was I allowed to sit in the co-pilot's seat and the nose gunner's position, but we were also allowed to stand 6 feet from the side of the runway as they took off and landed, and also to have them come in on a simulated strafing run with us as the targets.   That's the advantage of being at a small unregulated airport!

B-25 'Texas Rose' banking

B-25s are relatively common in the United States, but this CAF world war two P-39 Airacobra fighter certainly isn't.   This is the only example of this type that I've ever seen, and I've only ever seen it fly once before, again at the 2003 Yankee Air Museum airshow near Detroit. It wasn't one of the war's great fighters, but the cannon mounted through the propeller hub made it an effective ground attack weapon, and it was widely used in this role by the Russians who took about half of all of these aircraft which were manufactured.   It's a very interesting aircraft, not only because of the unusual cannon arrangement, but also because the engine is mounted behind the pilot.   It was also the only tricycle undercarriage land-based fighter used by the Allies, and had an unusual car-style door rather than the usual sliding or hinged canopy.

I had an opportunity to speak to its pilot on the day before the show, he was certainly no spring chicken, but very enthusiastic and he explained a few features of the aircraft, such as the mechanism which allowed the pilot to bail out by jettisoning the door, which normally opened forward, obviously a problem if you're trying to get out in a 200 mile per hour slipstream!

P-39 Airacobra  (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

An immaculate Russian designed MiG 17 "Fresco" fighter jet gave a taste of what front line military aircraft looked like during the early and middle years of the Cold War.   This is only the second MiG 17 in military colors that I've ever seen, the other one being at the Yankee Air Museum airshow in 2003.   Both of them used their afterburners, which unlike modern day afterburners put out a rather odd looking thin stream of flame which seemed to spit out the back of the engine.   As well as these two aircraft I have seen frequent displays by a MiG 17 sponsored by Red Bull whose pilot certainly puts on an excellent show; however the inauthentic colors and advertising on this aircraft spoil the effect for purists like me, though for most members of the public I doubt whether it matters.

MiG 17 'Fagot' with afterburner  (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

Another blast from the past was this F-4 Phantom II, which is actually a QF-4E drone based at Holloman, painted in a Vietnam war color scheme.   These are the only Phantoms still in operational service in the United States military and while it's sad to think that the only purpose of these historic aircraft is to be destroyed during missile testing at the nearby White Sands missile range, it's a good thing that this function has allowed us to see them in the air.   During missile testing these drones are naturally flown remotely so as not to put aircrew at risk, but they can still be flown by a regular pilot and of course this is how they are put through their paces during the airshow.   Apparently the computer controlled guidance systems are even able to fly four of them together in formation, but as you can understand no-one wants the responsibility of having to explain an accident by large remotely controlled aircraft at a public event!

QF-4E Phantom II drone in Vietnam war color scheme  (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

The Phantom was the main motivation for me to make the long haul from California through El Paso in Texas to this one day show.   The historic color scheme, and the chance to see the F-4 flying on its own, taxying and in a very tight formation flight with an F-15, an A-10 and the Chino P-38 Lightning made the expense, the long trip from California, the arrival in Alamagordo at 1AM, the lack of beer in New Mexico on Sundays and the getting up at 3AM to make the return trip well worthwhile!  If you're a Phantom enthusiast then you might also want to check out the air-to-air photoshoot I did with the Collings Foundation Phantom II.

F-4 Phantom and P-38 Lightning in formation   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)