Editorials

June 1, 2016

PHOTOS: The Thunder Rolls at Shaw Air Force Base

It is no coincidence that the official title of this show (Thunder Over the Midlands, at Shaw AFB) makes no mention of planes or flying. To call it an airshow would be selling the event short. Yes, the USAF Thunderbirds were the undeniable headliner, and 90% of the show was aviation related. My sole purpose for attending was collecting the best collection of images of the flight demonstrations, and perhaps some static displays as time permitted prior to the flying. While the show satisfied this desire, the remaining 10% transformed a mere airshow into something much more. It truly was a celebration of all branches of our armed forces, and all of those who have served this great nation.

Every open space on the ramp had chairs. Sunday’s attendance neared 80,000 attendees.

Every open space on the ramp had chairs. Sunday’s attendance neared 80,000 attendees.

The ingredients to support this transformation were the normal airshow fare: multiple displays and tributes to soldiers MIA, assorted pieces of armor (M1A1 Abrams, M2 Bradley, 155mm Paladin), and various other vehicles on display. Nothing outside of an ordinary air show experience.

The highlight of the show, and catalyst for the transformation was the penultimate demo: the Combined Forces Demonstration. The demo consisted of eight jets, three helicopters, and three Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) in a simulated operation against a High Value Target. While the jet roles were filled by the USAF and ANG, Navy and Marine pilots also fly these missions. The JTAC role is a multi-branch role. And of course, the Army supplied choppers, making this a full spectrum display: all four branches; land, air and/or sea.

Note how far off-center the nose gear is on the A-10 in order to make space for the GAU-8 Avenger. I love when aircraft are designed with unusual solutions to accommodate weapon systems.

Note how far off-center the nose gear is on the A-10 in order to make space for the GAU-8 Avenger. I love when aircraft are designed with unusual solutions to accommodate weapon systems.[box_light][/box_light]

This demo started by launching four F-16 Wild Weasels from Shaw AFB, and two A-10s. They left the immediate area to meet up with two Vipers from Ft. McEntire Joint National Guard Base. The show announcer set up the scenario explaining the JTAC’s role in identifying targets, and directing support aircraft in dropping ordnance.

Suddenly, our simulated AWACS support called out an unidentified bogey, and vectored a Wild Weasel to our area. Two F-16s merged over show center. Calling out missile shots, a brief dog fight ensued before the airspace was determined to be clear. At that point, the JTACs directed bombing and strafing runs on the HVT in the area. Both the A-10s and F-16s actually deployed flares as they climbed out from their attack runs. Once the target had been destroyed, and then again multiple times over, two AH-64s Apaches entered to clean up and run security. A UH-60 Blackhawk touched down to exfiltrate the JTAC team. The Wild Weasels made sure to live up to “First in, last out”, and lit up the area a few more times on their way out.

No single element of the demo was anything special: I’ve seen all of these aircraft fly solo demos many times before. The flares were new for me, and a very pleasant surprise. But even liberal use of flaming shards of magnesium doesn’t bring a show together on this scale. The only explanation is the idea of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. I came for a day of flight demonstrations, and left reminded that today’s conflicts call for air support. Yes, crucial, JDAM-to-the-face sized pieces of support, but pieces of a larger effort none the less.

The JTAC team heads out for the Combined Forces Demonstration.

The JTAC team heads out for the Combined Forces Demonstration.

The Combined Forces Demo was a microcosm of the show as a whole. The Air Force was obviously our host, and focal point for the day. And yet the Navy, Army, and veteran organizations personnel I spoke with throughout the day were not playing supporting roles at an Air Force event. Perhaps this was no different than every other airshow I’ve attended, but somehow the combined demo put things into perspective: air superiority alone is insufficient to win today’s conflicts, and these missions are a true collaboration across all service branches.

I want to thank MSgt Latisha Cole, and SSgt Molly Edler for their help at the show, and Shaw AFB for hosting a great event. I hope the Viper East team doesn’t have to wait four more years before their next home show!

The show had a strong theme of those who have served. The Disabled American Veteran organization was unable to bring their B-25, Panchito to ShawFest due to WX on Saturday and a 300 ft ceiling on Sunday. The team was disappointed to not be able to perform, but the ground team was still there in force to highlight the good work this organization does.

This P-8 Poseidon flew in from Jacksonville, FL. LT Lindsey Asdal previously flew the P-3 Orion. She says that because the P-3 fleet has been updated to a fully glass cockpit, functionally, there is very little difference in flying the two ASW aircraft. The similarity ends there, however. The mechanical connections to flight controls of the P-3 make for a tactile experience that is hard to give up, even with the far superior situational awareness of the P-8. So hard, she equated the comparison to choosing between children.

This P-8 Poseidon flew in from Jacksonville, FL. LT Lindsey Asdal previously flew the P-3 Orion. She says that because the P-3 fleet has been updated to a fully glass cockpit, functionally, there is very little difference in flying the two ASW aircraft. The similarity ends there, however. The mechanical connections to flight controls of the P-3 make for a tactile experience that is hard to give up, even with the far superior situational awareness of the P-8. So hard, she equated the comparison to choosing between children.

I love this Easter Egg of sorts on this Strike Eagle out of Seymour Johnson AFB.

I love this Easter Egg of sorts on this Strike Eagle out of Seymour Johnson AFB.

A lovely MIG-28 trainer from Langley.

A lovely “MIG-28” trainer from Langley.

The US Army’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal tech hands on display. They had two bomb disposal TALON robots setup for the public to test drive: send them down range, retrieve an object and return. Note to the Air Force: the Army is showing you up - more interactive, hands on opportunities to operate your equipment, please?

The US Army’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal tech hands on display. They had two bomb disposal TALON robots setup for the public to test drive: send them down range, retrieve an object and return. Note to the Air Force: the Army is showing you up – more interactive, hands on opportunities to operate your equipment, please?

Joe Masessa brought his Northrup OV-1 to the show. While the Mohawk has a traditional low contrast grey livery, it also lists the name of each soldier MIA from the Vietnam conflict. Admittedly, the OV-1 is not the most exciting plane in the line up, but among my most anticipated due to the uniqueness and rarity. Here again, the unusual design of the cockpit allows for unsurpassed visibility, facilitating it’s role as an reconnaissance platform.

Joe Masessa brought his Northrup OV-1 to the show. While the Mohawk has a traditional low contrast grey livery, it also lists the name of each soldier MIA from the Vietnam conflict. Admittedly, the OV-1 is not the most exciting plane in the line up, but among my most anticipated due to the uniqueness and rarity. Here again, the unusual design of the cockpit allows for unsurpassed visibility, facilitating it’s role as an reconnaissance platform.

USASOC Black Daggers had multiple jumps throughout the day. Here they bring in the POW/MIA flag.

USASOC Black Daggers had multiple jumps throughout the day. Here they bring in the POW/MIA flag.

Another beautiful and unusual solution, this time on the F4U. The bent wing allows for a giant blades on the Corsair, and minimizes the height, and therefore weight of the main landing gear. An elegant solution to critical, contradictory design criteria for unassisted carrier launches.

Another beautiful and unusual solution, this time on the F4U. The bent wing allows for a giant blades on the Corsair, and minimizes the height, and therefore weight of the main landing gear. An elegant solution to critical, contradictory design criteria for unassisted carrier launches.

A lovely low pass in Quick Silver.

A lovely low pass in Quick Silver.

Love this livery on the T-33.

Love this livery on the T-33.

The MIG-17 put on a great show. Not only was the afterburner a great visual, Fighterjets Inc. was really chucking it around out there.

The MIG-17 put on a great show. Not only was the afterburner a great visual, Fighterjets Inc. was really chucking it around out there.

The RCAF brought down their CF-18 Demo team to show off their special livery celebrating the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. This Canadian effort trained pilots, radio operators, gunners and navigators for WWII. The effort produces over 130,000 commonwealth personnel serving Australia, Canada, Great Britain, and New Zealand, as well as crew from Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and the US.

The RCAF brought down their CF-18 Demo team to show off their special livery celebrating the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. This Canadian effort trained pilots, radio operators, gunners and navigators for WWII. The effort produces over 130,000 commonwealth personnel serving Australia, Canada, Great Britain, and New Zealand, as well as crew from Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and the US.

Not to be outdone, the US Navy showed off their F/A-18C.

Not to be outdone, the US Navy showed off their F/A-18C.

Four Shaw birds taxi pass the crowd.

Four Shaw birds taxi pass the crowd.

20th Fighter Wing Launch.

20th Fighter Wing Launch.

Tandem launch for the A-10s from Pope Field, now Ft. Bragg.

Tandem launch for the A-10s from Pope Field, now Ft. Bragg.

Another Wild Weasel loaded with kinetic and electronic weapons.

Another Wild Weasel loaded with kinetic and electronic weapons.

Warthog popping flares.

Warthog popping flares.

Formation pass of F-16s.

Formation pass of F-16s.

One of the two AH-64s protecting the Blackhawk, about to rendezvous with the ground team.

One of the two AH-64s protecting the Blackhawk, about to rendezvous with the ground team.

The UH-60 launches off the tarmac with the JTAC team onboard to complete the exfiltration.

The UH-60 launches off the tarmac with the JTAC team onboard to complete the exfiltration.

The USAF Thunderbirds transition from take-off, straight into a formation loop.

The USAF Thunderbirds transition from take-off, straight into a formation loop.

A repositioning pass back to show center.

A repositioning pass back to show center.

 



About the Author

David Lilienthal





 
 

 

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