By Joyell Nevins
Freelance Writer / Weekly Record Herald Editor
The Air Show is, for the uneducated (a.k.a myself and the general public), a glimpse into another world. These are not your Delta, Air Tran, or U.S. Air jets. The crew does not offer you peanuts. Nor are you shuffled on and off the plane without a second glance at what you’re actually walking into.
No, at the Vectren Dayton Air Show, held July 23-24, the public is able to see carrier planes, fighter jets, helicopters, and this year even a NASA transport and a blimp. The pilots and/or crew chiefs are right there to answer questions or show off the equipment. All the while, zooming above your head are aerobatic pilots, stunt pilots, and the military’s lethal weapons.
The show actually in the air included two sets of skydivers: the Army’s Parachute Team, the Golden Knights, and the Red Bull Airforce (yes, the Red Bull that “gives you wings”). Flyover demonstrations were courtesy of a B-1 Bomber, B-2 Bomber, and an F-18 Super Hornet (with the call sign of Cooter) in a whole different kind of runway fashion show.
The divas of the show were the U.S. Thunderbirds, who came with as much pomp and circumstance as they could muster. The six F-16’s moved in perfect precision. They performed diamond formations, delta rolls, and knife edges (where they zoom past each other looking like they are going to crash in mid-air). There was the infamous “Calypso Pass,” where one plane is right side up and one plane is upside down. The upside down plane, Number Five, actually has the number of the plane painted on it upside down – so that everyone knows who does that daring deed. (For more information about the Thunderbirds, see Creating Thunder at the Vectren Dayton Air Show).
There was also a demonstration of Pearl Harbor called “Tora! Tora! Tora!”. “Tora” is the Commemorative Air Force’s recreation of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, that instigated America’s entering into World War II. According to their official website, the recreation is designed as a living history lesson and intended as a memorial to all the soldiers on both sides who gave their lives for their countries.
Replicas of Japanese Zero planes zipped through the air as a narrator told the story of that fateful morning, using sound clips from President Eisenhower’s speech afterwards and quotes from various commanders during it. A whole pyrotechnics team on the ground set off explosion after explosion. Between those noises, the smoke from the planes, and the narrator’s frantic voice, the crowd could feel some of the intensity of that event.
They were still on the edge of their seats when stunt pilot and National Aviation Hall of Famer Sean D. Tucker and his “Team Oracle” took to the air. Flying a custom-built Challenger III biplane, Tucker’s moves included “Daniel Oakley,” where the plane went round and round, leaving curly cues of smoke, and the “Torque Roll,” where he heads straight towards the ground while turning.
There was the also the “Holy Hotfire,” so named because when someone was watching him practice they told their friend “Holy hot fire, watch this!” Tucker and his Challenger also performed a “Triple Knife Edge” maneuver. There were three sets of volunteers on the run way holding poles with flags about a car length apart. Tucker’s job was to flip his plane and go sideways through each set of ribbons, back and forth.
Other stunts came from the Tombstone Riders, the only all-female wingwalking team in the world. No, that’s not a euphemism – as Melissa Pemberton pilots a Stearman aircraft, Carol Pilon stands on top of the wings. She practically does a dance up there, at one point lifting one leg in a perfect arabesque and holding on to the plane with only one hand.
“You know as a kid, you put your hand out the window – that’s what she’s doing,” said Air Show volunteer Barry O’Brien. O’Brien has been coming to the Air Show for 23 years, both as a spectator and a volunteer. He said that while executives and sponsors may have changed, the basic “hard-core” crowd is the same year after year.
On the ground
The same ol’ crowd did have some new crafts to look at this year, though, with the arrival of the NASA Super Guppy. Again, not a euphemism or a nickname – that’s the official name for this gigantic plane that actually does look somewhat like a guppy fish. It is used to transport aircraft before they have their wings (read more).
The Super Guppy was making a stop at the Air Show on its cross-country trip. It’s next stop was to Philadelphia to transport a plane to Amarillo, Texas.
Another newbie to the Air Show was the Metlife Blimp “Snoopy Two.” The blimp is normally used for events that need airborne cameras, like golf tournaments. Although this particular blimp only has space for one pilot, it requires a crew of nine people to get it off the ground, and thirteen to maintain it.
Another large craft was the KC 135 Stratotanker, or Air-to-Air Refueler. Although it was on display only at Vectren’s show, this particular KC 135 had worked with the Thunderbird jets before to refuel them in mid-flight as part of their performance. The plane can carry up to
200,000 pounds of fuel, but only requires a crew of three to get the job done.
An Army UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter was available for kids (and brave adults) to climb in and pretend to pilot or be a gunman. Sgt. Robert Day explained the main purpose of the Blackhawk is to transport people in and out of combat zones. “The more people we fly, the less people get blown up,” he said.
There was an E-2 Hawkeye Navy plane, that sported black propellers and assists in early warning surveillance aircraft. The Hawkeye’s radar helps their unit get a wider picture of the area in question.
The B-1 Bomber’s underside was open to show spectators where the bombs are stored. That particular plane and its crew had just gotten back from Asia.
These arejust a sampling of the sights and sounds at the Vectren Dayton Air Show. Next year, the show will be pushed up a few weeks to July 7 and 8, and bring about the return of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels.