2015 Event Review

Yuma Airshow, February 27-28, 2015
Location: MCAS Yuma, AZ
Admission: Free
Parking: Free onsite with shuttle, paid reserved parking available
Value: Excellent
Rating out of 10: 9.5
 
MCAS Yuma base commander
Col. Ricardo Martinez, the commanding officer of MCAS Yuma
Since its founding in 1962, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma has been opening its doors and inviting the public on board during its yearly Open House. The 53rd annual Yuma Air Show was held on the last weekend in February, 2015, and it just keeps getting better every year. The theme was “Yuma Air Circus,” but it could just as easily have been “HoverFest.” It featured full military tactical demonstrations of many of the Marine’s aircraft types capable of hovering flight. Rotorcraft were represented by the HH-1N Huey and MV-22 Osprey, while the fixed wing aircraft demos consisted of the venerable AV-8B Harrier II and the brand-new F-35B Lightning II. A twilight show on Friday night was added last year and it was so well received that it was expanded this year.Unlike last year, when the Yuma Airshow conflicted with two other airshows on the same weekend and Arizona played host to shows at three different military bases, MCAS Yuma’s 2015 show stood alone, and will be the only airshow at a military base in the Grand Canyon State this year. The gates for Friday night’s Twilight Show & Concert opened at 5PM. The activities started at 18:30 with the playing of the National Anthem, followed by a Flightline Fun Run
A number of acts were scheduled to perform during the course of the evening, but just after dusk a number of rescue vehicles rushed out to the runway and crews could be seen setting up an arresting cable. Unbeknownst to the spectators, an E-2C had declared an in-flight emergency and had requested an immediate landing. After a while, the Hawkeye appeared with hook extended and caught the cable in a shower of sparks. After the aircraft had been recovered and moved off the runway, an F-35B took off and put on a number of incredible afterburner passes.This demonstration would have been much more impressive to photograph at twilight, but the audience clearly enjoyed it. This display was followed by a Search and Rescue demonstration. Seeing this play out in almost complete darkness really demonstrated to the crowd how difficult real-life rescue situations can be. The remainder of the evening’s activities featured aerobatic performances by Gene Soucy, Dan Buchanan, and Steve Oliver and a spectacular night run by the Shockwave jet truck.
On Saturday morning, the gates opened at 0800, although cars had started lining up outside the main gate an hour earlier. The layout was similar to last year’s: grandstand and assigned seating at show left; corporate sponsor chalets extending to show right; concessions, vendors, a large kid’s area and many display booths set up behind them. Nevertheless there was plenty of room along the fence to set up folding chairs before going off to view the aircraft on static display. The media pit had been moved and was at show center right next to the announcer’s stand. It was a beehive of activity as Marine photographers and videographers brought in their images. Communications specialists sitting at their laptops quickly selected, captioned and uploaded video promos and photos to DVIDS and social media in near real-time. The USMC Drum & Bugle Corps got the show started with a half hour of patriotic music. High above, the Misty Blues, the world’s only all woman skydiving team, exited their jump plane and began to descend. With impeccable timing Amanda Scheffler, the team leader, trailing an enormous US flag, touched down just as “The Commandant’s Own” concluded the National Anthem. Col. Ricardo Martinez, the commanding officer of MCAS Yuma, officially opened the show by welcoming everyone on board. He and Sgt. Maj. Delvin Smythe then honored Chief Warrant Officer 3 John Hermann for his exemplary combat service by passing to him a baton which the Misty Blues had just flown in. (Hermann received the Silver Star and Purple Heart for his heroic actions in Afghanistan.)
Steve Oliver started off the day’s flying by putting on a very nice aerobatic demonstration in his de Havilland Chipmunk. He had been entertaining the crowds during the morning with his exceptional skywriting skills. The Search and Rescue unit from the Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron operates the last remaining HH-1N Hueys in the Marine’s inventory, so it was a real treat to see them repeating their SAR demo in the light of day. Capt. Patrick DeGraff and co-pilot Capt. Chris Fouts quickly brought their chopper to a hover over the bright red smoke signal being held aloft by a downed pilot. Navy Corpsman Alexander Camacho quickly exited the aircraft and rappelled to the ground as Crew Chief Lance Corporal Chad Kennett kept watch. The Huey then flew off, with HN Camacho and the downed airman suspended at the end of the cable, waving to the delighted spectators. Gene Soucy provided an aerobatic interlude in his Showcat biplane before the next military demonstration. Maj. John “Buster” Bailey led a flight of four F-5N Tiger II aircraft from the Marine Aggressor Squadron VMFT-401. Joining him in the finger-four formation flyover were Maj. Jason “Vandal” Garrison, Maj. Beau “TB” Wisdom and Maj. Andrew “Grill” D'Ambrogi. The “Snipers” are the only Marine Adversary squadron, and I’m sure it was no coincidence that each aircraft featured a different Aggressor paint scheme. With the retirement of the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter last year, the MV-22 has now assumed all of the Marine’s medium-lift capabilities. This year’s Osprey demonstration was performed by Capt. Jason Treece (pilot), 1st Lt. Nick Possenti (co-pilot) and Cpl Alexander Morales (crew chief) of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 166 (VMM-166) “SeaElk” from MCAS Miramar.
If you’ve seen a helicopter performing backflips and barrel rolls in the US then Chuck Aaron was at the controls. “Malibu” is the first (and only) civilian pilot licensed to perform the type of helicopter aerobatics for which he has become famous. “I want to get young kids excited about aviation,” said Aaron. “I want people to get energized about aviation.” He definitely succeeded with the high-energy performance he put on at Yuma this year. The increasingly strong and gusty winds unfortunately kept Dan Buchanan grounded for the second year in a row. Luckily the conditions were not adverse enough to keep Gene Soucy and Teresa Stokes from completing their wingwalking routine. Nor were the crosswinds sufficiently strong to keep Chris Darnell from racing down the runway in the Shockwave jet truck.
The next act was the AV-8B Harrier II tactical demo, put on by MCAS Yuma’s own VMA-214 “Blacksheep” with Maj. Luke Esposito at the controls. “Espo” opened with a rolling takeoff followed by a very high-speed pass before slowing the aircraft down, putting it into a hover, and using the vectored thrust from the engine and thrusters in the nose, tail and wingtips to control the aircraft. After dancing on a column of air Maj. Esposito slowly lowered the aircraft in a vertical landing. A brief cooling-dawn period was followed by a high-power vertical departure. Trails of sooty exhaust, created when cooling water is injected into the engine, marked the aircraft’s steep climbing trajectory.
Closing the show was the marquee performer and latest addition to the Marine’s STOVL (Short Take-Off, Vertical Landing) jet inventory, the F-35B. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121) is the first operational F-35 unit and the “Green Knights” were proud to perform the full Lightning II tactical demo. Major Aric Liberman swiftly taxied out to the runway and launched with a loud short rolling takeoff. “Walleye” made several high-speed passes with afterburner, his loud high-g maneuvers managing to coax vapor out of the dry desert sky. He returned in a loud, slow pass with a multitude of doors open ready to land. Did I mention that this aircraft is loud? Roughly half of the vertical thrust necessary for hovering flight is provided by the LiftFan located directly behind the cockpit. The remainder is provided by the 3-Bearing Swivel Module at the rear of the aircraft. This nozzle directs heated thrust from the engine exhaust and can swivel 95 degrees, allowing the aircraft to back up, albeit loudly. As if all of the open doors required by hovering flight didn’t already paint an ungainly and wholly un-stealthy look to this fighter, Maj. Liberman proceeded to open the weapons bay doors. It’s probably the first time airshow spectators have been treated to this view. Unfortunately, the winds exceeded the limits that had been placed on a safe display of a vertical landing, so Maj. Liberman went around for a conventional landing. It will be a while before the F-35 becomes a regular feature on the airshow circuit. Until that time MCAS Yuma will be one of the few places you can watch this demonstration. Just remember to bring your ear protection!
Rob Reider was terrific as announcer and Air Boss Mike Dalton did a great job of keeping the action flowing smoothly as acts were shuffled on account of the winds. Kudos to Maj. John Gibson, the operations officer for MCAS Yuma and organizer of the show, for arranging such a stellar lineup. And thanks to all the sponsors, volunteers and Marines on board MCAS Yuma for making the show such a success.
The Aviation Magazine would like to thank the staff of the MCAS Yuma Public Affairs Office for all of their support during our visit, in particular Capt. Jose Negrete and PFC Casey Scarpulla, as well as Capt. Melanie Salinas, Director, Public Affairs, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, MCAS Miramar.
THE PA staff at Yuma

Performers included:

Military performers included:
F-35B Lightning II Tactical Demo, VMFA-121 “Green Knights”, MCAS Yuma
F-5N Tiger II Flyby, VMFT-401 “Snipers”, MCAS Yuma
MV-22 Osprey Tactical Demo, VMM-166 “SeaElk”, MCAS Miramar
HH-1N Huey SAR Demo, H&HS, MCAS Yuma
AV-8B Harrier II Tactical Demo, VMA-214 “Blacksheep”, MCAS Yuma
Civilian performers included:
Chuck “ Malibu” Aaron, Red Bull Helicopter
Steve Oliver, de Havilland Chipmunk Aerobatics
Gene Soucy, Showcat Biplane Aerobatics
Gene Soucy and Teresa Stokes, Wingwalking
Dan Buchanan, Hang Glider Aerobatics
Misty Blues Skydiving Team
Chris Darnell, Shockwave Jet Truck
 
Report and photography by Norman A. Graf for The Aviation Magazine

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