Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point this year celebrates 100 years of Marine Corps’ Aviation and 70 years of Cherry Point Air Station. Is there a better reason to visit the biennial air show? Jason Grant and Mark Forest made the trip to find out for AeroResource.

The Air Station is situated near the town of Havelock, North Carolina and covers more than 13,000 acres – with nearly 16,000 additional acres of associated support locations, making it one of the largest Marine Corps air stations in the world. Cherry Point is currently home to the 2nd Marine Air Wing. Cherry Point also has one of the most active All-Service bombing ranges on the East Coast. Never did a sign at the main gate seem more appropriate: “Pardon our noise, it’s the sound of freedom.”

The first day of the show was an opportunity for the public to witness aircraft in the fading light of a spring sunset. The gates opened at 5pm on Friday 4th May 2012 and an estimated 20,000 people arrived to witness the free spectacle that was to unfold during the evening. Starting as always with the national anthem, a member of the Black Daggers (the U.S. Army Special Operations Command Parachute Demonstration Team) descended to earth with the Stars and Stripes blowing majestically in the wind – the crowd fell silent and a nation’s pride was unified in that one moment.

The sound of a jet engine could be heard in the distance, an order to taxi produced the unmistakable shape the AV-8B Harrier II, from VMA-542. This is one of the jets that will always have a special place in the hearts of the British enthusiast in particular, and one of the highlights of the Cherry Point Airshow. A Vought F-4U Corsair joined the Harrier to form the Marine Corps’ Heritage Flight. This formation flight 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.

Next to display was an MV-22B Osprey which flew along the flight line at top speed with rotors fully forward in the conventional aircraft position. The Osprey is the Marines’ 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. This enables the troops travelling onboard to be able to get to the heart of the action as the Osprey is able to land in just about every environment and has superior range and speed capabilities compared to a normal helicopter.

Several civilian display teams took to the sky during the evening and they all had a trick to light up the night sky – either formation flying with extra sets of lights or fireworks launching from the aircraft during flight. Teams of note were The Northeast Raiders flying YAK-52’s, Team Aeroshell flying the AT-6 Texan and the ever impressive Dan Buchanan who is paralyzed from the waist down flying his NorthWing Hang-glider.

On the ground were several non-aviation displays, which added to the experience of the show. Chris Darnell’s Flash-Fire Jet Truck blasted its way up and down the runway and taxiway. The Flash-Fire Truck is a 12,000hp Dodge truck boasting a jet engine which can propel the Dodge truck to speeds of 375 mph. The Budweiser Clydesdales, a team of eight horses used around the USA for promotion of the beer, trotted through the crowds and along the taxiway – the noise from the jets didn’t seem to have any effect on them. The USMC marching band was exemplary with every performance over the weekend.

A night display allows some of the characteristics of military aircraft to be shown with great effect. Two F/A-18A Hornets made several high speed passes on full afterburners, the lack of daylight serving to amplify the sound and light made by the Hornets twin F404 turbofans. The display was rounded off by the wall of fire – the momentary intense blast of heat and light once again raising the crowd to their feet. This was followed by a firework display to finish off the night’s events.

Both Saturday 5th May 2012 and Sunday 6th May 2012 had a full daytime show starting once again with the Black Daggers parachuting to air show centre, draping the Stars and Stripes around the feet of the final jumper. Team Aeroshell in their AT-6 Texans circled the Stars and Stripes as the Star Spangled Banner played and the crowd stood silent, a sense of pride swelled amongst the audience. The patriotic start to the show was once again complemented by the Heritage flight consisting of the AV-8B Harrier and F-4U Corsair.

Team Aeroshell then went into their full display followed by Bill Leff  in his authentically restored T-6 Texan. Bill developed his Night Display act in 1989, and has flown over 4,000 hours in his T-6 – manufactured in 1943 as an AT-6C.  Another team displayed, in the form of the Northeast Raiders in their YAK-52s and CJ-6s.

One flying act that a lot of people had turned up to see was the Red Tail Squadron P-51C Mustang. This aircraft flies to acknowledge the history and accomplishments of the WWII-era 332nd Fighter Group known as the Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen were the African American pilots who flew 15,000 missions as bomber escorts in the Mustang. These men were originally shunned by the military but were eventually recognised and given the right to fly combat missions.

Another historic military act to take to the sky was the North American B-25J Mitchell from the DAV Airshow Outreach Program, and affectionately known as “Panchito”. “Panchito” (named after the rooster from Disney’s animated musical; The Three Caballeros) was a bomber with the 396th Bomb Squadron, 41st Bomb Group, 7th Air Force, stationed in the Central Pacific and now serves to increase public awareness of disabled veterans and to serve veterans in communities across the nation.

After modern Marine Corps displays from the AV-8B and the MV-22B came the unique Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) demonstration. The demonstration seeks to showcase how Marine Corps elements can work effectively together in a combat environment, and uses multiple aircraft types in their respective combat roles. The demonstration started with an in-flight refueling demonstration from a KC-130J Hercules and a pair of F/A-18A Hornets as a prelude to an airfield attack. An EA-6B Prowler led the attack, simulating the jamming of enemy radar, followed by the Hornets attacking strategic targets over the airfield. Once the airspace was secure, it was time to get Marine boots on the ground. A pair of MV-22Bs made light work of delivering troops to the battlefield, supported by the heavy lift CH-53E Super Stallion. The CH-53E is able to supply added mobility for the troops on the ground with the delivery of an armoured personnel carrier. Flying overhead in a close air support role was a pair of AH-1W Super Cobra gunships, whilst two UH-1N Hueys were also providing the means of getting troops to the battlefield – assist in the Combat Search And Rescue (CSAR) role if required. The troops made light work of taking over the airfield and the pyrotechnics centred everyone’s attention showing everyone exactly where the attack was happening over the large area. It was another awesome show of force by the US Marine Corps which had the crowd on their feet in support.

Locally assigned Marine Transport Squadron One (VMR-1) operate three HH-46Es at MCAS Cherry Point for Search and Rescue duties, and provided a demonstration of the aircraft in its SAR role. The helicopter has become affectionately known as “Pedro” and served on VMR-1 alongside C-9B and UC-35D aircraft. During the display, a crew member winched down to a casualty on the ground, secured him on a stretcher and then they were both winched together out of the area. The HH-46E also supports the local community flying medical evacuation and local search and rescue, and can be tasked to provide rapid movement of key personnel and equipment by the DoD.

The last two acts on the display calendar need no introduction and for the majority of air show fans they were the reason they had attended the show – it was time for the Blue Angels. First up was “Ernie”, Fat Albert’s lesser known cousin which like Albert is also a C-130T Hercules. Ernie, wearing standard Marine Corps scheme with the Blue Angels motif above the door, is filling in for Fat Albert for this season as Albert undergoes scheduled deep maintenance. As always, a highly impressive routine thrilled the crowds with a very low fly-past, topside photographic opportunities and the Khe Sanh approach to land.

The display was identical to the previous evening when Ernie was also flying, and was once again very much enjoyed by the crowd. The C-130T display led straight into the main event, the aerobatic routine provided by six beautifully painted F/A-18C Hornets, parked at show centre on the taxi way. The start to the main routine begins with the pilots entering their jets and starting their engine all to precise timing. It all plays out like a theatrical event and adds to the spectacle of the show. Thirty minutes of high “G” and precision flying and ceremony really does get the crowd up on their feet and cheering. A formation taxi back to show centre signals the end of the show and time for the crowd to depart for home.

MCAS Cherry Point air show 2012 entertained an estimated 165,000 people over the two and a half days. We would like to thank Paul Newbold and Stuart Skelton for their assistance during the event. We would also like to thank the Public Affairs team who took time during the show to cater for all our needs. MCAS Cherry Point Air Show will be holding the next air show during the Spring of 2014.