Highlights of the 2005 Oceana Airshow

The Friday arrival day at Oceana didn't look too great, with patches of blue sky swamped by dull grey cloud all day, a constant reminder of hurricane Ophelia's presence just offshore.   The pervading greyness sucked a lot of life out of the practice displays, as well as the entries made by aircraft such as this C-5 Galaxy.

C-5 Galaxy landing   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

The Air Force generously sent several aircraft to this navy show, and the Galaxy wasn't the only "heavy" they brought along.   I think this is only the second time I've seen a B-52 Stratofortress bomber land - the only time I've seen one land during an airshow was at the 2002 Royal International Air Tattoo in England!

B-52 Superfortress with drogue chute deployed

It was a real treat to see the arrival of this world war two PBY-5A Catalina owned by The Fighter Factory and piloted by Bob Hill, who flies water bombers to fight forest fires.   The last time I saw a Catalina flying was ten years ago in my native New Zealand - there are only two flying on the American airshow circuit.   I didn't get good photos of the Catalina coming in on Friday, but I was able to stay after the show on Sunday and take this shot in the evening light.

PBY Catalina departing
E-2 Hawkeye

Fortunately, the weather cleared up on Saturday and Sunday, and the pilot of this E-2C+ Hawkeye put on an excellent display, throwing the plane around like a fighter.   With an 80 foot (24.56 meter) wingspan, the Hawkeye is the largest aircraft operating from aircraft carriers; the large radar dish on its back provides the fleet with airborne early warning of enemy aircraft.

The original E-2C has a four bladed propeller but as you can see, this new model has eight bladed propellers.   The sound of the E-2C+ is quite different than most other aircraft, and the crew is said to be able to hear all sorts of sounds that they never heard before, which is something of a mixed blessing!

This Canadian armed forces CC-115 Buffalo is a real rarity at an American airshow, as is any other foreign aircraft - the only other foreign planes I've seen in 8 years of attending American airshows were some German Air Force Tornado fighter bombers at the 2005 Holloman airshow.   The Buffalo didn't actually display, it was acting as drop plane for some of the parachute teams which performed during the show.   It was highly unusual to see the Canadian "SkyHawks", the US army "Black Daggers" and the British "Red Devils" teams all together at the show, and they all put on a good display of their capabilities.

Canadian air force Buffalo   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)
US army 'Black Daggers' parachute team at the Beach Blast

The parachutists performed several times, bringing down their national flags, doing various maneuvers including stacking multiple parachutes together, and then coming down during the "Beach Blast", which is a regular part of the show held along the Atlantic coastline after the Saturday night performance.   Here you see the Black Daggers coming down with flares streaming behind; the Red Devils also did their thing, but with dozens of glow sticks outlining the shape of each person.

The flying displays at the Beach Blast were not as spectacular as previous years, perhaps because of the increased costs of jet fuel this year.

Oceana 2005 was by no means a one trick pony.   There were several displays at Oceana which could easily have headlined as the main act at a lesser show.   The performance put on by Dale "Snort" Snodgrass (front) and Ed Shipley (rear) was a great favorite of many people, flying their F-86 Sabres in the first formation flight of this aircraft type in the last 40 years or so.

F-86 Sabres in formation   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

It was especially appropriate that Dale Snodgrass should fly at this show, since he has more hours flying the F-14 Tomcat than any pilot in the world.   And why should that be significant?   If you don't already know, then read on!

F-86 Sabres in formation at twilight

The two F-86s flew singly, together and as part of an air force "Heritage Flight" in which historic aircraft like the Sabre and this F-4 Phantom II join up with modern aircraft like this F-16 Fighting Falcon.

Heritage Flight with F-4 Phantom II, F-16 Fighting Falcon and two F-86 Sabres (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

The Phantom was another star turn of the show, an aircraft type with quite a fanatical fan base.   It's actually a QF-4 Phantom II target drone based at Holloman air base in New Mexico, whose ultimate destiny is to be shot down during a missile test at the nearby White Sands missile range.   Until that unpleasant day, the air force has been good enough to paint it up, along with some of its companions, in historic color schemes such as the South-East Asian camouflage which you see here.   Naturally when it is finally shot down it will be remotely controlled, guided by the electronics which you see in the rectangular hump on its back.

F-4 Phantom II with drogue parachute

The air force can't have all the fun, so the navy also put on its "Tailhook Legacy" flight with this F/A-18F Super Hornet and F4U Corsair.   The Corsair suffered a burst brake line sometime after this display on Saturday, so it wasn't able to fly on Sunday.   Instead, they put up one of the F-86 Sabres and mischievously called it an "FJ-1", which is the first Sabre variant which the navy flew.   However, the announcer goofed by calling it an "FJ-1 Sea Fury"; the FJ-1 was known as the "Fury" and the "Sea Fury" is actually a British propeller-driven naval fighter.   In reality there are no FJ-1 Furies flying any more, however there is an FJ-4 Fury which flew at the 2005 Yankee Air Museum airshow.

US navy 'Tailhook Legacy Flight' with F-18 Hornet and F4U Corsair   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

The Super Hornet did a solo display too and proved that it's an ill wind that does no good - in the case of Ophelia, all of that moisture in the air resulted in some excellent vapor as the aircraft banked and did high speed passes.

F-18 Hornet with vapor

Even the F-16 Fighting Falcon sucked masses of vapor out of the air over its wings, something this type of aircraft doesn't often do.

F-16 Fighting Falcon with vapor

At the end of each day's show the navy Blue Angels demonstrated why they're the world's best jet display team, wowing the spectators with dirty rolls, delta loops, opposing passes, double farvels and a tack-sharp echelon parade.   Joe Public doesn't care too much about Catalinas, Buffaloes, Sabres or Phantoms, but he knows who the real stars of the show are.

Blue Angels 'Echelon Parade'

But then what does Joe Public know?   Aviation photographers and other enthusiasts came from all over the world, many like myself from America's opposite coast, as well as groups from Canada, the UK, Holland, Japan as well as individuals from Brazil, Italy and even Australia.   They didn't come to see the Blue Angels, they came solely to see the final fling of the navy's F-14 Tomcat fighter before they're finally retired over the next year or so.   The flying action began with a fleet flyby, four Tomcats flanked by a pair of F-18C Hornets on their left and a pair of F-18F Super Hornets on their right.

Fleet Flyby

Three of the Tomcats are in the standard low-visibility grey color scheme, but one is in a retro scheme dating back to the 1970s.   There was a surprising amount of official indifference to the retirement of the Tomcat, and the last official display had already taken place at the 2004 Nellis AFB airshow.   However in the last month or two before the show the organizers were able to confirm that there would indeed be Tomcats flying at Oceana, and although there had been no Tomcat demonstrations during 2004, last year's display team of "Rocco" and "Smokin' Joe" were hurriedly requalified and put into the retro bird.

four F-14 Tomcats in formation

Not that they had all the fun, as you can see from this shot of a high-speed banking pass by one of the low-viz Tomcats.   Surprisingly, there wasn't too much vapor from the Tomcats, even though they're usually at least as vapor prone as the Hornets.

F-14 Tomcat banking pass

But Rocco and Smokin' Joe proved that the Tomcat still had what it takes, putting their afterburners to good use, and doing maneuvers like the dirty double Immelmann to demonstrate the plane's raw power.   The True Tomcat Believers still couldn't quite bring themselves to accept that this was the last time they would see their favorite aircraft on display, but indeed this demonstration ship departed from Oceana on the day after the airshow, on its way to the Castle Air Museum in California.

retro F-14 Tomcat with vapor cloud