Tuesday, March 14, 2017

2017 Tico Warbird Airshow, Titusville, Florida

Advertising Flyer
“For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.” ~ attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, but never confirmed he actually said it or wrote it.

Ever since we were kids whenever any airplane flew overhead, we looked up. Who didn’t? In those days we wondered what it would be like ... “up there”.

For me, there is no other experience such as a 21st Century Air Show. That is until the next generation Air Show of the future. The Air Show experience goes back to nearly the beginning of aviation, itself, as people often gathered to witness attempts at manned flight with cloth wings on their arms and mechanical inventions they hoped would fly. People gathered in the fields to witness Civil War battles and watched as Reconnaissance Balloons were raised and lowered to gather information about opposing enemy troop locations beyond their normal field of view on the ground. Loosely speaking, of course, you could call these gatherings and happenings as Air Shows. People watched.

The commercialism of Air Shows evolved following WW-I as government-trained pilots returned home from the war only to find no flying jobs waiting for them. These were highly skilled men - now without a vocation. What do men who love flying do when all they love is flying? How do they live? They bought a surplus training aircraft and flew from farming area to farming area small towns and gave plane rides for fees and fuel money. There would be time for the pilot to eat after the last passenger had gone up, the fuel bill paid and the day’s receipts counted. With full fuel tanks, they rested under the wings in the field where they landed unless they could find affordable lodging and a bath nearby. They called it Barnstorming. The use of airplanes for U.S. Mail transport was still in infancy stages with only a relative few pilots required.

As an aside, I got the opportunity to participate in this tradition while visiting the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in Red Hook, New York. I was one of four other passengers on that trip that paid $75 each for a 15-minute flight out to and along the Hudson River and back again in a 1929 Standard bi-wing. The Standard is a specially designed aircraft which carries 4-passengers plus the pilot to maximize income for Barnstormers. I shot a video of the entire trip from take-off to landing. A memory and experience I’ll always cherish. Their Air Shows consist of pioneer pre-WW-I aircraft and post WW-I aircraft with two shows over a weekend to show them off. Some are rare, flying originals and others reproductions. As far as I’m aware, this is the only aerodrome that features such planes. Please look them up, travel there and become an Aerodrome Member and enjoy both weekend  shows.

Screenshot from the HD video I shot of my Bi-Wing Flight from Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome over to the Hudson River.
In order to further their aviation careers, pilots often signed commitments to perform with promoters to put on Air Shows at regional and county fairs or in any open air field they could manage. Pilots would develop “death-defying” stunts using the dog-fighting skills they had learned in the skies over European battlefields literally fighting to survive. They did all the maneuvers they used in combat and as crowds began to dwindle, they invented others like the outside loop - fighting gravity of the plane with limited horsepower against the forces of natural physics. Pilots died. The crowds saw something they never saw before for the ticket price of few cents on the dollar of those times.

Times have changed and safety is the prime concern - call it lessons learned from Air Shows past and government regulation by the Federal Aeronautics Administration (FAA). The pilots have changed as well. Many have been military pilots with long careers and retired young to civilian pilot careers. Their love of flying and airplane hardware is a special gift to the rest of us. They have the resources to find and resurrect their favorite aircraft or purchase new ones and continue to practice their craft. To support museums such as the VAC Warbird Museum and others across the country, these pilots continue the traditions of the great pilots who have come before them. All day long, helicopter pilots were selling rides in the Vietnam Era Huey helicopters, rides in the front seat of a Stearman Bi-Wing Trainer and even the D-Day Veteran Aircraft, the C-47/DC-3 Tico Bell took a passenger hop.

The USAF Thunderbirds fly F-16C Aircraft.
The rest of the show was for us in the cheap seats at $20 a head for first-come, first-served seating -- bring your own chair. As I had done in my visit to the 2011 Indy Air Show, I paid a little extra fee, got there early and was assigned a reserved seat in the front row along the flight-line. I never regretted the decision, so I did that here, too. The special section turned out to be almost front row, center for most of the action in the air and on the tarmac. Best $10 upgrade ever. Tickets were handled thru online purchase through the Eventbrite iPhone App. I showed the ticket QR-code symbol provided by the app on my phone, the attendant scanned it and I was presented with a wristband, then away I went to photograph the static displays of museum aircraft as well as many others that flew-in especially for the show weekend.

The infamous Fokker DR-1 Tri-plane painted in the colors of Baron Manfred von Richthoven of Germany.
The infamous German WW-I era Fokker DR-1 Tri-plane painted as pilot Baron (“the Red Baron”) von Richthoven’s plane. This one is scheduled to fly in the show today along with a British Sopwith Camel - together in the skies again.

Just as at the Indy Air Show of 2011, I'm in the Front Row!
I grabbed a gyro and fries for lunch and found the special Reserved Seating section. Through the process, I found my seat and got comfortable in the warm sunshine. It was expected to be clear and sunny, 77 degrees, today. A few cumulus clouds dotted the skies making for a perfect day. As always, while shooting action photography, unless there is conflict or something dreadful, the best shots a photographer can get is to show as much action in the photo as possible, but they essentially turn out to be “portraits”. That said, catching an FA-18 Hornet fighter at 0.5 Mach is no easy task, but my Nikon D2x and AF Nikkor 80~200 f/2.8D lens did a great job. Even though it was a sunny day, I used ISO 400 for a “film speed” setting knowing that ACTION would be the key word for the day. On this sunny day, I should be able to develop a shutter speed fast enough to stop action and have a decent depth of field.

Four parachutists with flags fell from the sky and landed right in front of our position on the show line.
Promptly at noon, let the 2017 Air Show begin with four parachutists bearing different flags landed in the grass between the  taxi-way / landing strip tarmac directly in front of the folks in our reserved section.

The German Fokker DR-1 tailing a British Sopwith Camel in a simulated dogfight.
In my mind, I could almost hear the machine gun chatter and spent cartridges bouncing off the pavement as the “Red Baron” in the Fokker DR-1 Triplane takes aim at “Captain Roy Brown” in the Sopwith Camel. For show purposes, they flew around long enough for everyone to get a good look at the planes invented and flown over 100 years ago.

All the same plane but painted for the allied squadrons who trained in them.
Flying in formation, the famous SNJ advanced training plane was used to train all Allied pilots for their battleground future in military service.

North American P-51D "Mustang" named "Quicksilver".
The mighty North American P-51D Mustang from WW-II era featured a supercharged Rolls Royce manufactured engine called the “Merlin” - gives me chills up my backside to hear it sing. There’s nothing like it.

F4U Corsair
Another sentimental favorite of mine is the F4U Corsair which was flown in the South Pacific Theater by Navy and Marine pilots supporting other Marines in Air-to-Ground close support, Air-to Air combat and sometimes short bombing missions. Fully 2,000 horsepower of pure meanness in the skies.

My Hero!
This is the type of plane flown by Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington commanding VMF-214 “Black Sheep” Squadron in the Solomon Islands, but not this particular plane. I saw a plane painted with Pappy’s number (#86) in the Naval Air Museum in Pensacola. Of course, his 28 air victories were not painted on the fuselage. “Pappy” was later invested with the Medal of Honor and his photo is on a special wall within the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, VA. He died in 1988 (age 75) and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

I liked this shot of the both of these planes together.
The Boeing DC-3 was a civilian cargo plane which was pressed into military service under the new name C-47. This particular plane, the “Tico Bell”, was actually used in the June 6, 1944 Normandy Invasion on D-Day and earned her “invasion stripes”. What’s also amazing is that it is still flying in 2017. Today, it lives at the Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum in Titusville, Florida.

Now come the thrills and chills of acrobatic flying - death defying stunts performed by highly skilled pilots in specially designed airplanes matching showmanship style with horsepower and agility. These aren’t Sunday afternoon pleasure flights. These pilots are awesome.

Carrying-on the Barnstormer and Air Show traditions.
In order to give our necks a rest from looking up and to give the kids a treat, here’s something different. How about an F-250 Ford pickup truck with 3-jet engines racing a high-performance acrobatic airplane down the runway.

The almighty FA-18 Hornet - just the sound of a fly-by at 0.5 Mach will scare the bejeesus out of you. I’m glad they’re on our side. I like this shot because of the vapor coming off the cockpit as the pilot engages to go ballistic vertical.

Navy FA-18 Hornet will definitely sting.
After a short break for hydrating and snacks, behind the scenes, the USAF Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Team goes through final checks of their F-16C fighters and plans for a great show.

The 2017 USAF Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Team
Introduced during individual fly-bys, they reassemble and give us a great Delta formation in celebration of the 70th Anniversary of the US Air Force - established in 1947. The Thunderbirds were formed in 1953.

As demonstrations of precision flying in formations, individual pilots performed the Calypso Pass.

In another formation, the Thunderbirds perform a low-level bomb burst formation. All six planes peeled-off in separate directions only fly a huge circle and reform for another precision fly-by.

Although I served in the U.S. Marines, I was so proud to be there, I “thought” the Air Force might be a good career for me. Oops! Too old by only twenty-seven years. Damn!

Well, the 2017 Air Show was over, but only half the people are in a hurry to leave. The rest of us hang around to savor the day, reflect on a great show of American aviation and to quietly Thank God we live in America. I have 509 digital images to edit through as a testament to this perfect day.

It was fantastic day. I guess I said that already, but it bears repeating.

I know I said I was almost finished, but here’s another shot. This time the Aeroshell Acrobatic Team does the inside loop in formation. God, I love this stuff.

This is a photo of a souvenir handbag design taken from the 1944 cover of the Saturday Evening Post. This could have very well been a photo of my bedroom when I was a junior high school student in Mr. Ayres’ Social Studies class. We built these balsa wood and paper models in hopes of becoming an ACE by building five or more of them. I got in a hurry, though, and ended up flying them with firecrackers in the cockpit as they didn’t seem to turn-out very well. I eventually learned to take my time because it was worth it if the final project really looked good.

Thanks for your  flying-by.

Addendum:  Movie References:

Those Daring Young Men in Their Flying Machines
Wings (Clara Bow)
Dawn Patrol
The Red Baron
The Great Waldo Pepper
Battle of Britain


No comments:

Post a Comment