May 20, 2006
I hadn’t been to an air show since I was a little kid, and I think all of those were civilian barnstormer operations. The Andrews open house is a major affair, with dozens of heavy-business aircraft and access limited to offsite shuttle buses.
The other guys on the bus were encyclopedic in their detailed knowledge of warplanes past and present, trading third-hand stories of B-24s and “shooting at 262s.”
Overheard as the bus rounded a curve beneath the tail of the big C-5: “JUST. ENTERED. HEAVEN.”
The day started out overcast but the cloud cover began to burn off after about an hour. I walked in through the cavernous belly of the C-5 at about a quarter to nine and wandered past the Snowbirds and Blue Angels parked along the flightline, wedging myself next to a trash can by the fence near the old F-86.
US Army Apache Extraction
The first exhibit of the day featured the agile Apache helicopters, dropping and collecting troops via three inch thick hemp ropes.
The other side of the fence
The rest of us
Remembering those loosely-scheduled airshows of my youth I planned on bringing reading materials but was warned to leave the backpack in the trunk before trying to get through security. As it turned out the show moved at a good clip, alternating jets with stunt planes and parachute demonstrations. Not a dull moment, and the announcer’s patter during the flyovers was pretty informative.
With no backpack I was limited to the one long lens (70-200mm/2.8 with image stabilizer), my pockets full of memory cards and the Epson data bank. When the clouds cleared I threw a polarizer on the lens – I’m still trying to figure that thing out.
I’ve always been fond of the look of the Corsair, and via the announcer I discovered that the trademark gull wing was necessary to clear that giant prop off the deck. Originally meant for carrier operations, pilots couldn’t see the ship over the giant 18-cylinder engine and the Navy punted the plane. The Corsair was relegated to land-based Marine support where it served to help end the war in the Pacific and later extend Robert Conrad’s acting career.
The venerable Texan trainer threw a few loops and was joined by the new Texan II for a few passes in heritage formation.
Everybody’s favorite jump jet was there, louder than anything else on the field.
About half the guys I show these pictures to shout out “True Lies!”
Air National Guard Jet Car
This one brought all the young lads to the fence. Engine flamed out on its first attempt.
Aileron rolls the length of the flight line.
MiG-17 vs. F-86 Sabre
I was looking forward to this Korean War dogfight all week. First out of the gate was the MiG – flying the colors of Red Bull nation – and that plane put on the most fluid performance of the day. Don’t get me wrong – the newer gray jets do inspiring things but they act in right angles, probably just because they can. The 1950’s-era MiG would swoop in fast and low with wide beautiful curves before pulling back up to the cloud deck.
The F-86 followed with similar style – it was probably just as elegant but by this point I’d been captivated by the red MiG. The two planes shared the field for a few minutes but never got all that close – probably for good reason, but my visions of cockpit-to-cockpit rocket climbs were left unfulfilled.
Heritage Flight – P-51 Mustang, F-4 Phantom, F-15 Eagle, F-22 Raptor
I made a point of sticking around for the fighter heritage formation, as I can’t remember if I’ve ever seen a live F-4 before. I’ve definitely never seen an F-22, and unlike those guys on the bus I didn’t know just how advanced that plane is. I need to do my homework before these things.
The jets politely followed the Mustang, but it was pretty clear they just had. to. fly. faster. After a few passes they got their chance.
We’d been seeing vertical climbs all day, from jets and prop planes alike. The F-22 climbed like the rest, then slowed, then stood on its engines. It hung for what seemed like a minute, vectored itself level and flew off.
I didn’t have it in me to wait for the Blue Angels. Seven hours in the sun did me in. I did manage to see a few stray fighters regroup over Prince George’s County as I spent 15 minutes looking for my car back at FedEx field.
A fine day.