Prescott Air Fair  (Arizona Skyfest)  2005

The Prescott Air Fair, also known as the Arizona Skyfest, is so good that they had to name it twice!   Last year's show was the first after a break of many years, but it's expanding rapidly and becoming a "must see" on the airshow circuit.   This year the Arizona wing of the Commemorative Air Force brought along their world war two B-17 Flying Fortress bomber called "Sentimental Journey", flying it several times during the day and raising money for its continuing operation by giving people the opportunity to ride in it.

B-17 Flying Fortress

Prescott is home to a number of interesting aircraft, including this world war two P-51D Mustang fighter painted in the colors of Jim Brooks' P-51 called "February", which he used to shoot down 13 Axis aircraft during 1944.   Although painted in the colors of "February", this particular aircraft was built too late to serve in the war, and eventually ended up with the Guatemalan Air Force before being brought back to the United States.

P-51D Mustang

This C-47 Skytrain, which dropped paratroopers during the Normandy landings, is another world war two veteran based in the area.   The Skytrain was the military version of the Douglas DC-3 Dakota airliner, the main differences being that the Skytrain had a cargo door and different engines.   Surprisingly only about 300 DC-3s were ever built compared to more than 10,500 C-47s, another 2000 were built under license by the Russians as the Lisunov Li-2 (Nato reporting name "Cab") and even the Japanese built 485 as the Showa L2D (Allied code name "Tabby").   As well as this C-47 which flew during the show, there was also a Vietnam era AC-47 "Spooky" gunship on static display operated by the American Flight Museum of Topeka, Kansas.

C-47 Skytrain

This was one of the world war two trainers which also flew, built by the North American company, which also built the Mustang.   You might think that this is a T-6 Texan, but in fact it's actually a Harvard, which is the name applied to Texans flown in the British Empire.   This particular plane was operated by the South African Air Force and is still in an authentic SAAF color scheme.   The day before the show I flew in the back seat of this plane to do an air-to-air photoshoot of the C-47 and a pair of Texans.

South African Air Force Harvard

The world war two aircraft were put up in a mass warbird flyover, here you can see the C-47 flanked by Texans, with Chinese Nanchang CJ-6 trainers behind and then the unmistakable Flying Fortress.

warbird mass flyby

Here's the star of last year's show, the British "Sea Fury" naval fighter in Royal Australian Navy colors.   Like the American F8F Bearcat, the Sea Fury was produced too near the end of the war to have any real impact, but both were built in small numbers and went on to enjoy a successful combat career, in the Sea Fury's case even shooting down MiG-15 jet fighters in Korea.   It's a very powerful aircraft, with an 2,480 horsepower 18 cylinder radial engine and four 20mm cannons.   As well as doing a full aerobatic display during the show, Ellsworth Getchell also demonstrated on the ground how the wings of this aircraft can be folded for carrier operation.

British 'Sea Fury' naval fighter   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

Not all of the aircraft at the show were military types.   As well as aerobatic performances by some of the top names on the circuit like Rob Harrison, there were other civilian aircraft like this little-known ten seat Helio Stallion, which put on an extraordinary demonstration of its short takeoff and landing performance, using only a few hundred feet of runway to make a very steep banked takeoff.   The Stallion first flew in 1964 and its exceptional abilities made it popular both with civilian and military customers like the CIA, who operated them from primitive and sometimes mountainous airstrips in Laos and Cambodia.

Helio Stallion short takeoff and landing aircraft

I got pretty excited when I saw a large, bright yellow aircraft orbiting far away from the airshow grounds, because I figured it was probably a Canadair CL-415 "Super Scooper" flying boat water bomber, designed to extinguish forest fires.   I was slightly wrong, because when it came in to do its demonstration it turned out to be the CL-415's predecessor, the CL-215, which has radial engines instead of the 415's turboprops and lacks the 415's extra vertical stabilizers.   They're both amazing aircraft, purpose-designed for the water bomber role and built like a tank.   The 215, affectionately called "the yellow duck", can carry 1400 gallons of water compared to the 415's 1600 gallons, and it can fill its tanks in only 12 seconds while making a high-speed run across a lake.

click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format

Back to the military aircraft, here's a low-speed flypast by a US Navy T-28 Trojan training aircraft.   As you can see, although it's a radial engined propeller driven aircraft like the Texan, it's miles ahead in terms of design and capability.

T-28 Trojan   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

And moving ahead a couple more generations, this attractive plane is the Czechoslovakian designed L-39 Albatross, which was the standard Soviet bloc jet trainer.   Since the breakup of the Soviet Union the Albatross has become a very popular high-performance aircraft for well-heeled American aviation enthusiasts.

L39 Albatross

The Albatross wasn't the only Soviet jet at the show, there was also this slightly fancifully painted MiG-17 "Fresco" jet fighter.   The MiG-17 was a development of the MiG-15 "Fagot" of the Korean War, but able to fly higher and faster because of its more powerful afterburning engine.   The MiG-17 carried a lethal 37mm cannon, which you can see protruding past the nosewheel door on the right-hand side, and it also had either two or three 23mm cannon.   It was used by many communist countries including North Vietnam.

Russian MiG-17 'Fresco' jet fighter

Here's the Chino Planes of Fame F-86 Sabre, which America used to control the threat of the MiG-15 during the Korean war.   The American and Russian designs were very well matched in terms of performance, though the MiG could fly higher and turn slightly faster.   In addition, the Sabre was armed with six machine guns, three of which you can see on the nose of this plane, whereas the MiG had much more lethal high-caliber explosive cannon.   Nevertheless the Sabre, designed by the same company responsible for the Texan and the Mustang, achieved about a ten-to-one kill ratio against the MiG, mostly due to better tactics and pilot training.

F-86 Sabre

This immaculate UH-1 Iroquois helicopter, popularly known as "Huey", was on static display during the show, so I had to wait until the end of the day to get this photo as it departed.   The Huey is synonymous with the American war in south-east Asia, transporting troops, evacuating casualties and acting as gunships - this particular one has a mini-gun mount in the left-hand door.   Although the pilots told me that they didn't think that anyone would be interested in seeing them display, I think there would be many veterans and others who would get a thrill from just a few passes by this historic aircraft.

UH-1 Huey

The Sea Fury might have been the star of last year's show, but there was no doubt that the star of the 2005 show was the Collings Foundation F-4D Phantom II, which like the Huey was a veteran of the Vietnam war.   The Phantom was America's top of the line fighter during this period, and has been operated by several nations.   First flown in 1958, it remained in service in the United States as a "wild weasel" anti-missile aircraft into the 1990s, and is still in service in Germany, Greece, Turkey and Japan.   It's one of the world's classic military aircraft, with a large following of "phanatical" enthusiasts.

Collings Foundation F-4D Phantom II taking off

The Phantom is one of the very few aircraft which has ever succeeded as both an air force and a navy fighter.   Attempts by politicians to create such aircraft (such as the F-111 "Aardvark" and the upcoming F-35 Joint Strike Fighter) usually result in an aircraft which is so compromised that it can't perform any of its tasks properly, but the Phantom performed well against Russian aircraft like the MiG-21 "Fishbed" mach 2 fighter, and even excelled in the ground attack role using napalm or up to 13,000 pounds of ordnance.

Collings Foundation F-4D Phantom II lifting wheels after takeoff

This is not to say that the Phantom was a perfect aircraft.   The unusual shape of its tail, the bent wingtips and various other features were all crude fixes for major aerodynamic deficiencies.   The main reason this aircraft became a classic and not a forgotten footnote is its very powerful J79 jet engines - as someone once said, you can make even a brick fly if you give it powerful enough engines!   Nevertheless, the kill ratio was far lower in Vietnam than the Sabre had enjoyed in Korea, at times the US forces were loosing one of their own fighters for every enemy fighter destroyed.   This poor result led to the creation of the navy's famous Top Gun fighter training school, which brought the navy kill ratio up to 13-1 and later 21-1.

Collings Foundation F-4D Phantom II

This aircraft is the only privately owned Phantom in the world.   The Collings Foundation needed an Act of Congress to allow them to buy and operate the aircraft, which is painted up in the color scheme of perhaps the most famous F-4 pilot during the Vietnam war, General Steve Ritchie, who introduced several innovative tactics and also pushed hard for the introduction of a cannon on the navy's Phantoms, which had been operating with an all-missile armament before that time.

Collings Foundation F-4D Phantom II landing with drogue chute