Highlights of the 2007 Midland CAF Airshow

The Commemorative Air Force airshow held near the Texas city of Midland is one of the best three warbird shows in the United States.    Here's the plane that started it all, the P-51 Mustang "Red Nose" bought in 1957, which became the basis of the entire collection, known back in those unpolitically correct days as the Confederate Air Force.

Here's another beautifully restored world war two fighter, the P-47 Thunderbolt "Tarheel Hal".   Because of its size and power, pilots referred to the Thunderbolt as the "Jug", short for "juggernaut".   It was as adept at air-to-air combat as ground attack, and could swallow a great deal of damage and still return to base.

Midland is the only place where you can see a large formation of classic bombers like this in the air at the same time, all of them belonging to different Commemorative Air Force wings around the country.   Unfortunately the organization's B-29 Superfortress "Fifi" was unable to take part last year or this year, because it was still undergoing a time-consuming and very expensive overhaul.

Midland has a wide variety of aircraft, as well as an airfield which allows the pilots to throw their planes around at very photogenic angles.   These factors draw aviation enthusiasts from around America and even from as far afield as Europe.   Here's the B-25 Mitchell bomber "Miss Mitchell", which flew with another B-25 modelled after one of the Doolittle Raiders which attacked Tokyo early in the war by flying off the aircraft carrier USS Hornet.

This is the classic American heavy bomber of world war two, the B-17G Flying Fortress "Sentimental Journey".   The B-17G is a late war model, bristling with ten .50 caliber machine guns.

Here's one of only two flyable B-24 Liberator bombers left in the world.   This particular aircraft flew for years in the guise of "Diamond Lil", the LB-30 cargo version of the Liberator, but it was recently reconfigured as an early model B-24A, which lacks the top turret and ball turret of later models.

Although more Liberators were built than Flying Fortresses or any other American military aircraft before or since, the Liberator never captured the public imagination in the same way as the Flying Fortress.   The B-24 was developed well after the B-17, and incorporated a number of innovative features such as a very narrow Davis wing and tricycle landing gear.   The wing gave it more speed, longer range and greater carrying capacity than the B-17, however the B-24 was less able to withstand battle damage than its predecessor, and it was also harder to escape from, which made it less popular with many crews.

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One of the great things about the Midland show is that you'll see aircraft types that you won't see anywhere else, such as this C-46 Commando.   The Commando is similar to the Liberator in that it was a more modern and in many ways more capable aircraft which was overshadowed by its predecessor, in this case the C-47 Dakota.

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Three C-47 Dakotas flew at this year's show but this isn't one of them, instead it's one of the small number of US navy R4Ds produced during the war.   The R4D was the navy version of the Dakota, and like the Russian version of the plane, called the Lisunov Li-2, the R4D was equipped with bomb racks under the fuselage, typically used to carry depth charges for use against submarines.

It's a little-known fact that the Japanese also operated Nakajima L2D license-built versions of the Dakota, but none of those flew at the show.   However the "Tora, Tora, Tora" display team did perform their Pearl Harbor simulation, complete with a large formation of replica Nakajima "Kate" torpedo bombers.   As well as their use at Pearl Harbor, Kates were also responsible for sinking the American aircraft carriers Lexington at the battle of the Coral Sea, the Yorktown during the battle of Midway and the Hornet at the battle of Santa Cruz.

There was also a solitary replica "Val" dive bomber, also used during the Pearl Harbor attack.

With fixed undercarriage and an apparently inadequate payload of one 250 pound bomb, the Val was basically obsolete even at the end of 1941, however they performed surprisingly effectively at Pearl Harbor and later against the British carriers HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire, and the carrier HMS Hermes.

The "Tora, Tora, Tora" team had plenty of replica Zero fighters flying at the show, but this is the real thing, though it's powered by an American engine.   This A6M2 Zero is part of the Camarillo wing of the CAF, flying in all the way from California along with its C-46 stablemate.

This F6F Hellcat is another aircraft based at Camarillo.   The Hellcat was designed specifically as a Zero killer, captured examples of the Japanese fighter were analyzed to determine its weak points, and these findings were used when designing the Hellcat.

The F4U Corsair was another very successful American naval fighter of world war two.   It was the first American combat aircraft to exceed 400 mph in level flight, but its tricky carrier landing characteristics initially saw it limited to land-based operations, until the British perfected a technique of landing it on a carrier by flying in on a banked approach, rather than the traditional straight-in approach.

The Douglas SBD Dauntless was America's main naval dive bomber at the start of the war, and it served successfully in that role until the end of the war, even managing to shoot down quite a few Japanese aircraft along the way.   Its finest hour was during the battle of Midway, when Dauntlesses sank a cruiser and the four Japanese aircraft carriers used during the attack.

The much larger Curtiss SB2C Helldiver was actually faster than the Dauntless, but it had less range and very poor handling characteristics.   Most crews preferred the Dauntless and other users, including the Royal Navy, the Royal Australian Air Force and the US Army Air Force, rejected the aircraft after initial service trials.

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The Grumman Avenger torpedo bomber was another large single-engined naval bomber whose debut was as inauspicious as the Helldiver.   Designed as a torpedo bomber, a flight of 6 aircraft was used against the Japanese fleet at the battle of Midway, but they were heavily mauled by Japanese fighters, and the only survivor returned with severe damage to the aircraft and crew.   However it soon came into its own and served effectively throughout the rest of the war.

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Two Avengers flew during the 2007 show, both sporting the distinctive top turret, which wasn't fitted to aircraft manufactured after the Japanese air forces had been hammered into submission.

A large number of T-6 Texan trainers flew during the show, but this isn't one of them!   This is a very rare variant called the LT-6 Mosquito, which was used as a forward air controller during the Korean war, marking ground targets with white phosphorus rockets.   Two Mosquitos flew this year, providing a seldom seen insight into this dangerous job.

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There were also two A-26 Invaders at the show, marked up in nearly identical color schemes.   The A-26 is one of the lesser known combat aircraft of world war two, which is strange since it remained in service for an exceptionally long time, right into the Vietnam war.   It was the fastest US bomber of world war two, with many innovative features such as the low profile, remotely operated top gun turret.   The variant shown here carries a terrific punch, with eight .50 caliber machine guns in the nose and another six in the wings - more firepower than a Flying Fortress.

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Here's another variant of the C-47 Dakota, this time an AC-47 Spooky gunship participating in the simulated rescue of a pilot downed during the Vietnam war.   In real life, the AC-47 would orbit a besieged village or other location to be defended and pour ordnance down on communist forces from its three 7.62 mm miniguns, each capable of firing at 4000 rounds a minute.

Here's the AC-47 circling the downed pilot together with an A-1 Skyraider, an aircraft which was often used to support such combat search and rescue missions.   The Skyraider and the Spooky were both well suited to this role because they could carry a lot of ordnance, loiter for a long time and fly slowly enough to accurately lay down fire near friendly forces.

The Skyraider entered service just after world war two, it was mostly flown as a single seat ground attack aircraft, but multiple seat versions like this A-1E were also used extensively.   The A-1E could carry four crewmen under its enlarged canopy and another three seated inside the fuselage, allowing it to be used for carrier on deck (COD) operations, delivering crewmen, mail and other essentials to aircraft carriers.

It's typical of the Midland show that they also put an A-1D Skyraider single seater into the air at the same time as the A-1E and the AC-47, in addition to a pair of O-2 Super Skymaster forward air control aircraft.

And you can't have a Vietnam war demonstration without the aircraft which became synonymous with the war, the UH-1 Iroquois, better known as the "Huey", because of its original HU-1 designation.   Two Hueys flew during Saturday's demonstration, one in the "dust off" role picking up the pilot after he popped a smoke canister.

And they even had an AH-1 Cobra gunship flying synchronized circuits with all the other aircraft, with icing on the top in the form of dynamite and gasoline fueled explosions and strafing runs provided by the largest pyrotechnics team at any airshow in the world, the Commemorative Air Force's own Explosive Ordnance Detachment (EOD).

The end of each day's show saw a formation and aerobatics demonstration by The Trojan Horsemen, a six aircraft flight of T-28 Trojans, an aircraft used both as a trainer and as a weapons platform during the Indochina conflict.

But wait, there's more!   Fans of modern military hardware were treated to displays of currently active fighters, interspersed between the major set pieces.   Here's a pair of local F-16 Fighting Falcons, which did a couple of formation passes on Saturday and single ship flybys on Sunday.

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However it was left to this F-15E Strike Eagle to do the air force's full demonstration routine, including a satisfying complement of tight turns, fast passes and fast banked passes!

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The Strike Eagle also flew a Heritage Flight formation with the P-47 Thunderbolt.   It's a very appropriate combination of aircraft, since the P-47 was a top-shelf fighter which served equally effectively in the ground attack role, just as the Strike Eagle effectively performs both roles today.

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The navy strutted their stuff too, though as you can see they began Saturday's routine a little too enthusiastically with a tail strike.   The orange color you see on the runway is mostly jet blast from the afterburners, but I'm fairly certain that there was also a large shower of sparks when the tailhook, recessed between the two engines, hit the tarmac.

Anyway it was all just another bit of harmless excitement added to what would have been an extremely exciting routine even without the whoopsy at the beginning!

This demonstration was flown by an F-18F Super Hornet, the two seat version of the Super Hornet, which operates alongside the original F-18C and F-18D "legacy" Hornets. 

The Super Hornet is significantly larger than its predecessor and has greater range and carrying capability, however its top speed is somewhat slower, Mach 1.6 against the legacy Hornet's Mach 1.7.   The Super Hornet can carry 17,750 pounds of external ordnance compared to the legacy Hornet's 13,700 pounds, and has a combat radius of 520 nautical miles versus the legacy Hornet's 369 nautical miles.

The Hornet flew in a "tailhook legacy" flight with the Camarillo F4F Wildcat, the navy's equivalent of the air force "heritage flight".

And the F4U Corsair flew with both of them!

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On both days the Legacy Flight performances concluded with a very high speed "sneak pass" from the Super Hornet, timed to coincide with the end of an in-line flyby of the Wildcat and the Corsair in "dirty configuration" with their landing gear and tailhooks extended.

See the highlights of the Midland airshow from 2006 and 2008.