Point Mugu Airshow 2004 Highlights

The Point Mugu airshow isn't really a top-tier airshow, because of the limited range of aircraft which fly, and the long gaps in the flying schedule.   However, I was interested in going because the list of aircraft flying included this E2C Hawkeye, which I'd never seen in the air at any other show.   It probably didn't hurt the Hawkeye's chances of doing a display that the commanding officer at Point Mugu used to pilot them!   As you've probably already realized from seeing the large radar dish above its fuselage, the Hawkeye is a carrier-based Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft, protecting the fleet by tracking enemy aircraft.

E2C Hawkeye banking (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

The Hawkeye, and the C-2 Greyhound cargo plane which was derived from it, have the widest wingspan of any aircraft flying today from aircraft carriers - just over 80 feet (24.5 meters).   Both a Hawkeye and a Greyhound were on static display at the show, so it was interesting to compare the two at close range.   Although it's unglamorous, It takes skill and courage to fly such a large aircraft onto and off of the relatively narrow deck of an aircraft carrier.   Since space is strictly limited in this environment, the wings fold to allow more aircraft to be packed into a small space.   The Hawkeye is one of the few aircraft which is able to take off from a carrier without catapult assistance, though it's hard to see what use an early warning plane would be if the fighters couldn't take off!

E2C Hawkeye on runway folding wings

Here's a real glamor aircraft, an F-18F Super Hornet, significantly larger than its F-18A/B/C/D Hornet predecessor, and distinguishable by the rectangular air intakes (compared to the Hornet's rounded ones) and the small "dog tooth" in the leading edge of the wing.   Before you get any ideas, this plane wasn't going supersonic during this flypast!   There was a lot of moisture in the air on the morning it did this high-speed sub-sonic pass, and the partial vacuum surrounding the plane as it pushed through the sky was enough to cause this moisture to condense out, for a small fraction of a second.   You can see another nice Super Hornet vapor cone at the 2008 Miramar airshow.

F-18F Super Hornet with vapor cone (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)
F-18F Super Hornet climbing

Traces of vapor trail off the leading edge wing extensions, which are actually designed to produce vortices like this in order to keep air flowing over the tops of the wings when the plane is flying at a high "angle of attack" such as this one is doing.   The Super Hornet has much larger wing extensions than the original Hornet, because the earlier extensions caused turbulence which impacted the vertical tail surfaces, resulting in some serious damage which put the entire program into jeopardy.

If you want to see more Super Hornet photos, with more technical data, then go to my Dayton Airshow 2003 Super Hornet page, which will open in a new window.

Well, the navy can't have all the fun, so here's an Air Force F-15 Eagle fighter, with its afterburners lit.   The Eagle is generally considered to be the world's best fighter aircraft, it's certainly one of the fastest and it can survive a lot of battle damage - one Israeli F-15 was successfully landed after losing its entire right wing during a mid-air collision with another Israeli aircraft, an A-4 Skyhawk.

F-15 Eagle with afterburners in action

The F-15 might not be as maneuverable as some other fighters such as the Russian jets with vectored thrust from engine nozzles which can be pointed in different directions during flight, but it's no slug either.   The large wing surfaces allow some very tight turning, such as this minimum radius turn with afterburners.   You can bet your last dollar that the pilot is being pushed deep into his seat by this little trick!

F-15 Eagle minimum radius turn with afterburners in action
F-15 Eagle pulling vapor with afterburners in action

It's good to see where my tax dollars are going - straight out of the back of this guy's engines!

Oh, but it's worth it just to show that the air force can pull vapor bursts every bit as well as the navy can!

But for a real display of vapor check out the 2007 Point Mugu airshow, where almost every plane in the air was accompanied by a large and fast-moving cloud!

Like the Super Hornet, the Eagle is one of military aviation's glamor gals.  Here's a plane that isn't - an A-10 Thunderbolt II, which most people refer to as the "warthog" because of its supposed ugliness.   It's a strictly utilitarian aircraft, largely designed around the barrel of its 21 foot (6.4 meter) long gatling gun, which you can see extending from the front of the plane.   This enormous gun is the reason why the nose wheel of the plane is offset to one side.   To keep it from overheating, the gun has 7 barrels which rotate as each 30mm depleted uranium shell is fired; each shell is a foot long, weighs a pound and a half and can penetrate 69mm (2.7 inches) of armor plate at a distance of 500 meters.   The gun can fire an incredible 65 of these a second, and as you can imagine the recoil as it does so slows the plane down significantly.  You can see two interesting features in this view of its underside - a huge surface area devoted to the flaps which extend from the back of the wing and allow the plane to stay under control even at low speeds, and a large black teardrop in the shape of the canopy which was painted on the plane to confuse enemy anti-aircraft gunners about the direction in which the Thunderbolt is flying!

A-10 Thunderbolt II (warthog) with undercarriage and flaps extended

Many of the air force's top brass wanted to see the warthog taken out of service - ground attack missions were generally considered to be the army's business, and it just wasn't as fast and glamorous as those fighter planes - heck, there were even jokes that the Thunderbolt was so slow that it was at risk of taking bird strikes from the rear - meaning that birds could fly faster than it could and ending up running into the back of its jet engines!   However, the plane was so successful in conflicts like the Gulf War that it was impossible to retire.   It might not be fast, but those flaps you saw in the previous photo make it extremely maneuverable at low speeds, and it is a very tough bird.   The pilot sits in a titanium "bathtub" which can stop a direct hit by a 23mm anti-aircraft shell; the flight control systems have redundant backups; even the location of the engines and the twin tail planes is designed to hide them from heat-seeking missiles, but as some battle-damaged planes during the first Gulf War demonstrated, those engines can keep running even if hit by quite a bit of ground fire.

A-10 Thunderbolt II (warthog) banking tightly

Here's an even less glamorous air force plane, a C-130 Hercules cargo plane.   This is the very recent C-130J model of this venerable aircraft, instantly recognizable by the propellers with their six weirdly curved blades.   The Hercules first flew in 1954, but since then it has been produced in many variants for different roles, including the KC-130 air-to-air tanker, electronic warfare EC-130s, and even as a flying gunship armed with machine guns, cannons and a 105mm howitzer!   One other variant was on static display at the show a DC-130 "drone control" plane, together with some of the target drones which can be launched from pylons below its wings.

C-130J Hercules banking

This is obviously a show aimed more at people interested in modern military jets than world war two propeller driven aircraft, however a couple of the latter did fly.   In this photo the F-15 and A-10 are flown in formation with a world war two P-51D Mustang fighter, in what the air force calls a "Heritage Flight".   They've been doing this type of display with different combinations of planes for several years, but this is the first time I can remember three aircraft flying together.

F-15 Eagle with P-51D Mustang and A-10 Thunderbolt II in an air force Heritage Flight

Not to be left out, the navy started doing Tailhook Legacy Flights soon after the air force started its Heritage Flights.   Here's the same F-18F from the earlier display flying in formation with a world war 2 F6F Hellcat fighter.   Only specially qualified pilots are allowed to fly the Tailhook Legacy and Heritage flights, perhaps that's why the Super Hornet's back-seat airman is missing from this shot.

F-18F Super Hornet and F6F Hellcat in a navy Tailhook Legacy Flight  (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

Even though it's just a short drive north from Los Angeles, the show wasn't unpleasantly crowded, possibly because neither of the two American armed service jet display teams was flying.   However, this gave an opportunity for some of the smaller guys to show their stuff, in this case a civilian team called the Patriots, flying their Czechoslovakian L-39 Albatros jets.   The Albatros is a very attractive aircraft which started life as a Soviet military jet trainer, but is now popular with American enthusiasts with a thick wad of dollars in their pocket.   I was in the right spot at the right time to catch them as did their low-flying Wall of Fire routine, ending the airshow with a bang!

Patriots L-39 Albatros jet team with the Wall of Fire   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)