If power, speed and a large dose of patriotism is what turns you on, there can be no better place to indulge yourself than the annual Miramar Air Show. Jason Grant and Mark Forest produced this report for AeroResource.
Situated on the outskirts of San Diego in California, the multi award winning air show this year was held from the 1st to the 3rd October, and once again thrilled the crowds with its display teams, military and civilian demonstrations and the highlight for many, the Marines Air Ground Task Force demonstration (MAGTF).
The air show theme, Marines: A Tradition of Uncommon Valour honored the 65th Anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima, which saw some of the fiercest fighting during the Pacific campaign of World War II. The image captured by photographer Joe Rosenthal showing five marines and one sailor raising the American flag after the capture of Iwo Jima still remains one of the most powerful and proudest moments in American history. Miramar has played a key role in military aviation since the early days of World War II with both Marine and Naval aviators training at the base. Today the base still trains Marine and Naval aviators preparing them to join coalition forces around the World in theatres such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
Miramar air show, the largest in the USA, pulled out all the stops to thrill an estimated 700,000 people during the three day event. With the main show starting after the National Anthem at 11am, the packed grandstands did not have to wait long before the skies filled with the sound of something big about to happen. 11:30 and the MAGTF demonstration soon drew everyone’s eyes to the front. This year’s MAGTF demonstration featured for the first time the MV-22A Osprey, a unique multi-mission aircraft which has the ability to take off and land like a helicopter (VTOL), then fly like a twin turboprop aircraft thanks to its unique tilt rotor capability. Also taking part in the display of Marine Corps’ power were CH-53E Super Stallion heavy lift helicopters, the all weather CH-46 Sea Knight (a medium lift helicopter), the all new AH-1Z Super Cobra with its day or night attack capabilities and the UH-1 Huey used for assault support and Search and Rescue. Meanwhile, AV-8B Harriers were overhead giving Close Air Support, with the KC-130J Hercules giving in flight refueling to any aircraft that needed it, whilst the F/A-18 Hornet with its fighter/attack missions destroyed enemy forces and also gave close air support to the troops on the ground. With pyrotechnics and and running commentary via the public address system, nobody was left in any doubt that the Marines achieved their goals with yet another awesome show of force.
Next on the itinerary, the F-16C Fighting Falcon demonstration flown by the Viper West demo pilot, Major David Graham. Major Graham flew a very demanding demonstration which was the culmination of two years as the team display pilot. Hot on his heels was the F/A-18F Super Hornet demonstration. Vapour poured off this jet all the way through the routine and the full cones of vapour had the crowd mesmerized from start to finish. At the end of the demonstration, a single F-4U Corsair joined the Super Hornet to form the US Navy’s Legacy flight, which honours the men and women, past and present, who continue to serve around the World in support of the United States of America and her allies.
The afternoon demonstrations continued with the AV-8B Harrier. A British invention, the Harrier, after all these years, still has the power to amaze the crowds with the unique ability to take off and land vertically, as well as fly backwards, all thanks to four moveable exhaust nozzles which vector the thrust of the engines through 98.5 degrees. Following this, the World’s only 5th generation aircraft, the F-22A Raptor took to the sky: a first look, first strike, first kill aircraft that combines stealth, super cruise, maneuverability and integrated avionics to deliver a complete package that currently has no equal anywhere in the World. Joined at the end of its demonstration by the F-16C and P-51 Mustang, this demonstration morphed into the US Air Force’s Heritage flight, which, like the USN Legacy flight honours the men and women past and present who serve in the interest of the United States of America and her allies.
The penultimate act during the afternoon show saw the Canadian Force’s Snowbirds’ display team take to the sky. 2010 is the 40th season of the popular Canadian military display team which shows off its skills in a 35 minute performance flying the CT-114 Tutor in various formations of up to 10 jets.
The final display team during the afternoon show really does not need any introduction. Formed in 1946 and having displayed in front of more than 463 million fans, the Blue Angels are as big on the airshow scene in America as the Miramar Air Show itself. Starting the performance, the Blue Angels C-130T Hercules, (affectionately known as Fat Albert) shows the crowd just how versatile such a large aircraft can be. Fat Albert has been part of the team since 1970 and although the famous Jet Assisted Take Off is now consigned to the history books, it still continues to turn the audience’s head with some truly daring flying. Of course this act is just the hors d’oeuvres to a main course known as the Blue Angels. Consisting of six F/A-18C Hornets flying tight formations, opposing high speed passes and individual displays all coming back together in a symphony of upbeat music that really does get the crowd up onto its feet. Lasting approximately one hour for the complete demonstration, and also the final demonstration of the day, the Blue Angels held the crowd in the palm of their hand until the final jet taxied back to its position in the line; this was the end of the flying show and signaled a mass exodus from the base – except on Saturday, when this was just an interval before something very special that has become a regular feature on the Miramar airshow calendar.
As the sun started to retreat over the distant Pacific Ocean, again, the sound of jet engines warming up started to settle the crowd back into their seats, the twilight show was about to begin. Starting again with the AV-8B Harrier demonstration, somehow, in the now rapidly darkening skies, it sounded a lot louder. As the Harrier disappeared behind the grandstand on completion of its display, the U.S army Golden Knights Parachute Team started the fast and then slow decent to ground from their C-31A Friendship high overhead. It is worth mentioning that Sean Tucker in his Oracle Challenger II biplane circled around the Golden Knights’ team leader whilst he descended. Sean performed several times during the day and his show features flying on the edge of human and machine endurance, with the aircraft reaching G forces of +10 and -8 Gs. In his act Sean uses his biplane to perform the triple ribbon cut where he flies through the ribbons at 220 mph in right knife-edge for the first ribbon, then left knife-edge and finally inverted. The ribbons are only 25 feet off of the ground and 750 feet between each set..This is just one part of a highly impressive routine that has to be seen to be believed. Another three civilian owned display aircraft took to the sky after Team Oracle: Steve Stavrakis in his extremely rare IAR-823 warbird, Bret Willat in his Grob G-103 Acro Twin II Sailplane, and Dan Buchanan in his Airwave Glider. Each aircraft having its own pyrotechic effects during the display thrilled and at times mesmorised the crowds.
A huge ball of flame and smoke announced that Shockley’s Jet Truck had taken to the end of the runway. Kent Shockley’s “Shockwave” jet truck, which is powered by no less than three Pratt and Whitney J34-48 engines producing 19,000 Ibs of thrust and able to reach speeds of over 300 mph, blasted down the runway and for those who didn’t know better, you could almost believe he was going to become airborne as he approached maximum speed.
During the night time demonstrations as your senses sharpen and you depend less on your vision, the noise from what normally seem very loud jet engines seems to be amplified and this was so much more noticeable when the USMC F/A-18 Hornet made several high speed passes on full afterburners: you could feel the power resonate through your whole body. Robosaurus, the 40 feet tall fire breathing mechanical dinosaur had all the young children captivated, and when he ripped a car in half, everyone stood and cheered the “first real superhero” as he is affectionately known by. All that was left now was a huge firework display set to music that went on for 15 minutes and this led on to the final act of the show, the record breaking 2,500 feet wall of fire which briefly lit up the whole airfield and gave everyone a momentary feel of the intense heat it produced.
Miramar air show is not just about the flying displays. An army of vendors offering their wares from food and drink to t-shirts and caps can be found across the airfield. Plenty of businesses are represented from car dealers to game makers and with marching military bands and a funfair, Miramar air show offers something for the whole family. Of course, most of the large public areas were made up of static military displays. Approximately 100 static aircraft were on display from all branches of the military services as well as armoured vehicles and ordnance, it gave the public a chance to speak to the service personnel and find out what it means to be a member of the armed forces.
Miramar air show 2010 was a free event that gave something back to San Diego and the wider community. The continued support for the armed forces of the United States of America was there for all to see, and I certainly felt that everyone attending thoroughly enjoyed the show as well as the interaction between the services and the public. With the Centennial of Naval aviation in 2011, Miramar air show next year will be held from Friday 30th September to Sunday 2nd October and will play a large part in the celebrations.
The authors would like to express their thanks and gratitude to the Public Affairs’ Team who showed patience and support throughout the event, helping make this report possible.