2014 Event Review

Wings Over Houston Airshow, November 1-2, 2014
Location: Ellington Field, Houston, TX
Admission: $30 adult, $5 child, under 5 free. Family packs and advance purchase discounts available
Parking: Free onsite with shuttle, paid reserved parking available
Value: Excellent
Rating out of 10: 10
 
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WOW! The Wings Over Houston Airshow, often referred to as WOH, may want to consider changing its abbreviation after this year’s show wowed a record crowd. The 30th annual show took place over the first weekend in November at Ellington Field in Houston, Texas. The show is presented by the Commemorative Air Force, the world’s largest flying museum, and is, therefore, dominated by warbirds. The highlight this year was the amazing collection of vintage jets in the air, featuring fighters from World War II through the Vietnam War era. Tora!Tora!Tora! once again put on their recreation of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and new this year was a special Vietnam War tribute featuring a re-enactment of an aerial engagement and air assault. A number of premiere civilian aerobatic performers and the Shockwave jet truck complemented the armed forces demonstrations by the USCG MH-65D, USMC MV-22 and the Navy’s Blue Angels. Combine all this with terrific weather and you had a picture-perfect air show.

As often happens with air shows, the flying schedule is subject to change. Wings Over Houston this year was no exception to that rule. Some of the aircraft which were expected either failed to materialize or did not fly both days. Serious airshow enthusiasts know well enough to schedule attendance for both days, and some even include arrival, rehearsal and departure days into their calendars to ensure that they see the aircraft they really wanted to see. Because of differences in the flying schedule over the course of the weekend, our review is a composite of both Saturday’s and Sunday’s flying. The gates opened promptly at 0800. Many attendees had already been lining up in the early-morning darkness, eager to claim a spot along the fence or view the static aircraft without crowds of people. This year, even more so than in years past, this strategy paid off. The record crowds caused backups and some delays for those arriving later in the day. Similar delays were experienced at the end of the day, particularly on Saturday when a car fire closed one of the two exits and slowed the exodus of vehicles to a crawl. Again, experienced show-goers will stick around at the end of the day’s flying to tour the aircraft on static display, get autographs or just speak with the Blue Angels or other performers and otherwise occupy their time until the surge in the parking lot has passed.

The RE/MAX Parachute jumpers flew in the flag to start the show at 10AM and returned later in the day for another performance. Jeremy Holt started off the aerobatic demonstrations, flying a very nice routine in the Steen Skybolt biplane. He was followed by a search and rescue demonstration by Coasties from the local Coast Guard Air Station Houston. They deployed a rescuer from their hovering MH-65D Dolphin helicopter, then circled around, zeroed in on his smoke and lowered a cable to winch him back on board. The demonstration taking place under gorgeous blue skies with calm winds may not have seemed that impressive, but when one considers that the Coast Guard will deploy during hurricanes to rescue boaters in distress their commitment to duty is worthy of respect. Semper Paratus. Local legend Debby Rihn-Harvey, one of the highest ranked aerobatic competitors in the United States, then showed the crowd the skills that earned her the U.S. National Aerobatic Champion title in 2006, 2008 & 2009. She flew her CAP 232 known as “Hurricane 2” through a routine that had many in the crowd gasping in amazement. The Marines of VMM-268 “Red Dragons” from MCAS Miramar then combined the best of both the airplane and helicopter worlds by demonstrating the capabilities of the MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft. Matt Chapman in the beautiful Embry-Riddle Eagle 580 finished out the morning’s aerobatic flying in style.

Just before noon the sounds of air-raid warning sirens filled the air as a wave of airplanes flew in from behind the crowd. Sharp-eyed observers could see the bright red hinomarus on the fuselages and wings as the aircraft suddenly dove in at steep angles and began their attack on the airfield. Tora! Tora! Tora! The surprise was complete, just as it was on the morning of December 7, 1941 in Hawaii. Dive bombers, torpedo bombers and fighter escorts made numerous passes over the field, accompanied by pyrotechnics which soon filled the sky with smoke. A P-40 Warhawk managed to get airborne to defend against the attackers, replicating the heroic actions of 2nd Lts. George Welch and Ken Taylor on that fateful morning. A B-17 flew low over the runway, its single main gear extended, looking for a place to land, reenacting Major Truman Landon’s return from a training mission to find Pearl Harbor under attack. “Damn it! What a way to fly into a war -unarmed and out of gas!”

The World War II Airpower Demo started off with a large number of liaison, observation and trainer aircraft from primary to advanced. This was followed by the European Theater demonstration, featuring bombers (B-25 and B-17), attack (A-26) and fighters (P-40 and P-51). In the middle of one of the bomber passes the first jet of the day started its takeoff roll. The world’s first operational fighter jet, the Messerschmitt Me262 was particularly vulnerable during takeoff and landing, when pilots needed to carefully adjust the throttle to avoid flameouts. Just as the new-build jet took off it was bounced by a P-51. Once it became airborne, however, the Mustang was no match for its speed. The Me262 made several strafing passes on the B-17, easily outpacing the fighter escorts. The demonstration ended with the jet making several high-speed passes, concluding with a scene perhaps never seen before: the Me262 and P-51D flying by in close formation in a beautiful banana pass. The Pacific Theater flying featured a F4F Wildcat, TBM Avenger, SB2C Helldiver, F4U and FG-1D Corsairs and a rare Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon, “Attu Warrior.” Opposing these was one of the very few original A6M Zero fighters still flying. Warren Pietsch flew an amazing routine, putting the warbird through some incredible maneuvers, concluding with a dogfight with the Corsair.

The iconic F-86 Sabrejet originally scheduled to highlight the Korean War segment was unfortunately unable to attend. Steve Hinton, the 2014 Lloyd P. Nolen Lifetime Achievement in Aviation award winner, flew an F8F Bearcat instead. However, a beautifully polished natural metal T-33 stood in, flying in the guise of a P-80 Shooting Star. Randy Ball continued the vintage jet parade with a spirited display in his silver MiG-17. The Fresco was the first operational jet to employ an afterburner, and Randy showed it off in style. Knifedge passes showed off the long tongue of bright orange flame to advantage.

Sean D. Tucker ended his airshow season at Houston and he pulled out all the stops, putting on a high-energy jaw-dropping demonstration of why he is considered one of the all-time best aerobatic performers. David Martin later concluded the civilian aerobatic performances in the Breitling CAP 232, finishing by racing the Shockwave jet truck. It was a stellar lineup.

Last year’s show featured a very nice assembly of Vietnam War-era aircraft on static display. This year those aircraft took to the skies to recreate the aerial jet dogfights, air-to-ground attack support and the air mobility of the ground troops in that theater of operations. An armored infantry column, composed of jeeps, trucks and M113 armored personnel carriers took off down the taxiway, simulating a resupply mission. Behind them, reenactors dressed as Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army regulars set up to ambush the column on their return. A circling Cessna O-2A Skymaster spotted the enemy combatants and called in close air support. An A-1 Skyraider and T-28 Trojan quickly appeared on the scene and the “Oscar Deuce” directed them to perform a number of strafing runs. They soon attracted the attention of a MiG-17 which threatened to shoot them down. The aerial engagement escalated with the appearance of an F-100 Super Sabre in South East Asian markings. This, in turn, caused a MiG-21 Fishbed to be scrambled. The call went out to carrier based Navy aircraft. The iconic F-4 Phantom II was unfortunately grounded by delays in getting its engines repaired. In its place, a Navy A-4 Skyhawk joined the fight, dogfighting with the Fishbed. As this aerial engagement was playing out high overhead, the signature “whop, whop, whop” of the Bell UH-1 Iroquois could be heard and a pair of Huey slicks soon appeared, swooping in low to disgorge a platoon of air cavalry. All the while an AH-1 Cobra circled low overheard, covering the troops with its nose-mounted 20mm cannon. It was a very realistic demonstration of the classic air assault which was so characteristic of US Army tactics during that conflict. Having defeated the enemy aircraft, the Navy Skyhawk and Air Force Super Sabre returned for several simulated ground attack runs, dropping napalm on the retreating enemy. At the conclusion of the re-enactment, both aircraft flew by in review, their beautifully banked banana passes delighting the many photographers in the audience. The narration by Air Boss Ralph Royce, himself a Vietnam veteran, was spot-on and added substantially to the realism of the demonstration.

Closing the show were Fat Albert and the Blue Angels, flying their penultimate show of the 2014 season. The perfect weather conditions allowed them to put on their full high show and from wheels-up to touchdown the spectators were focused on the precision maneuvers. According to their Facebook page “Weather was so nice we decided to put on our yellow flight suits.” Afterwards, the pilots and crew approached the crowd line to sign autographs and answer questions from their many fans.

Ralph Royce and Rob Reider teamed up once again as Air Boss and Announcer, respectively. Together they entertained and informed a record crowd of almost 100,000. Photographers had the option of purchasing a Sunrise Photo Tour Pass or Photo Pit Pass to gain early access or elevated risers, tent area, drinking water, and restrooms in a chalet area. The viewing area is west of the 17/35 runway, meaning that the afternoon sun is behind you, making for perfect conditions for photographers. The only complaint was the large amount of smoke during the reenactments. The action, especially taxiing, takes place quite close to the audience; a 300mm lens is sufficient to capture all but the smaller aerobatic planes in detail.

The Aviation Magazine would like to thank Scott Tims for organizing the media opportunities and all the staff, sponsors and volunteers for making Wings Over Houston one of the world’s premier warbird airshows.

Performers included:

USN Blue Angels

Fighters, Attack, Dive and Torpedo-Bombers:

Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero “Last Samurai”

Chance Vought F4U-5 Corsair

Goodyear FG-1D Corsair

Grumman F4F Wildcat

Grumman F8F Bearcat

Curtiss P-40K "Aleutian Tiger" and P-40N Warhawk

North American P-51C Mustang " Tuskegee Airmen" North American P-51D Mustangs "Dakota Kid II/Long Island Kid", "Charlotte's Chariot II", "Bum Steer"

Messerschmitt Me262

Douglas A-26 Invader

Curtiss SB2C Helldiver

Grumman TBM-3 Avenger

Tora! Tora! Tora! (Val, Kate and Zero replicas)

Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star

Star Bombers:

Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress "Texas Raiders"

North American B-25J Mitchell "Betty's Dream"

Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon " Attu Warrior"

Trainers, Liaison & Observation:

North American SNJ/AT-6 Texans

Fairchild PT-19 Cornell

Beech T-34 Mentors

North American L-17 Navion

Cessna O-2A Skymasters

Aerobatics:

Jeremy Holt,Steen Skybolt biplane

Debby Rihn-Harvey, CAP 232

Matt Chapman, Embry-Riddle Eagle 580

Randy Ball, Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17F

David Martin, Breitling CAP 232

Sean D. Tucker, Oracle Challenger III

Vietnam War Demonstration:

Cessna O-2 Skymaster

North American F-100 Super Sabre

Douglas A-4 Skyhawk

Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-17F Fresco

Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbed

Bell AH-1 Cobra

Bell UH-1 Iroquois

Various ground vehicles including 2 M113 Armored Personnel Carriers

Static displays included:

B-52H Stratofortress, “Cherokee Strip II”, 93rd BS, Barksdale AFB

Lockheed WC-130J Super Hercules, 53rd WRS “Hurricane Hunters”, Keesler AFB

General Dynamics F-16C Fighting Falcon, 125th FS, OK ANG, Tulsa ANGB

AH-64 Apache, US Army, Texas NG, JRB Ellington Field

NASA Aero Spacelines Super Guppy

NASA Martin/General Dynamics WB-57F Canberra

NASA Northrop T-38A Talon

Lockheed C-60 Lodestar “Goodtime Gal”

Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress “Thunderbird”

North American P-51D Mustang “ Pecos Bill”

Large collection of military ground vehicles, 6th Cavalry Historical Association. Plus many others…

Report and photography by Peter Thivessen for The Aviation Magazine

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