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2012 Air Shows
NAF El Centro Air Show, March 10, 2012
Location: El Centro, CA
Admission: FREE
Parking: FREE
Value: Excellent
The flying began at promptly 1000, with the takeoff of the C-2 Greyhound carrying the Leap Frogs for their opening jump.
The 2012 North American air show season began in earnest on Saturday, March 10 in the sunny Imperial Valley of Southern California. NAF El Centro, the winter home of the United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, held its annual air show, marking the end of the Blue Angels' training and the beginning of their show season. The show is small and intimate, drawing a crowd of around 35,000 and providing up-close and personal access to the performers and aircraft.
On Friday evening the base opened its doors to host an entertainment and food festival featuring food from local restaurants, live music, and an impressive fireworks display.
Back for his third year in a row as airshow announcer was Jon "Huggy" Huggins. A U-2 and T-38 Instructor Pilot at Beale AFB, Lt Col Huggins just returned in January from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, where he flew 109 combat missions in the MC-12 Liberty. But he’s no stranger to the airshow circuit and his commentary for acts both civilian and military was descriptive, informative and entertaining. Truly a job well done.
The gates opened promptly at 0800. Parking and security screening were both very efficiently conducted by base personnel. There is a very long and open flightline available for setting up chairs and staking out a spot to view the day's flying. There was then plenty of time to view the static aircraft. Pride of place just inside the entrance gate was a colorful MV-22 Osprey and CH-53E Super Stallion. An AH-1W Super Cobra rounded out the list of Marine aircraft. The Air Force sent one of their oldest, the B-52H, from Barksdale AFB, and newest, the unmanned MQ-1B Predator, along with its shipping box, from Creech AFB. The Navy was, of course, well represented. The ubiquitous Hornet was there from the colorful C model of the “Mighty Shrikes” (VFA-94), through the E & F models from VFA-122, to two EA-18G Growlers from VAQ-129. Two beautifully painted Goshawks and a T-34C Mentor were there to demonstrate the important role of trainers. An aggressor F-5 from NAS Fallon looked great in its grey "lizard" camouflage, and one of only three S-3 Vikings left in the fleet showed up from NAS Point Mugu. A red-tailed Seahawk from NAS North Island completed the lineup of colorful Navy aircraft. Warbirds ranged the gamut from trainers (T-28 Trojan, T-34 Mentor, SNJ & L-29 Delfin), to transports (C-53D Skytrooper & C-45 Expeditor) to fighter (Mustang and Spitfire). A brightly painted HU-16 Albatross was also present, although in the markings of its current civilian employer.
The flying began right on time at 1000, with the takeoff of the C-2 Greyhound carrying the Leap Frogs for their opening jump. Veteran Bill Cornick then took to the skies for an amazing aerobatic demonstration in his Pitts S-2C "Big Bad Green". He was followed by Spencer Suderman with a thrilling demonstration in his red and black Meteor Pitts. The next aerobatic demo featured a highly polished RV-8, flown by Joe "Rifle" Shetterley. Although this was his first civilian demo, airshow fans will recall that Capt Shetterley was the A-10 West demo pilot the past two years. It was good to see him back in the air and his flight was the perfect segue into the next performance, the Super Hornet tactical demonstration. It was time to put in the earplugs and get ready for some noise as the F/A-18E from VFA-122, NAS Lemoore, taxied out. It was an awesome display of power and control as the Super Hornet tore up the sky. After the demo jet landed, another one took off along with an F8F Bearcat from the Commemorative Air Force for the Navy Tailhook Legacy Flight. This flight pairs an active duty aircraft with a warbird in tight formation as they make several fly-bys, culminating in a pass from behind over the crowd. A Search and Rescue (SAR) mission was then simulated by the "Longhorns" from NAS Fallon flying a hi-vis MH-60S Seahawk. New to the demo this year was two rescuers being lowered simultaneously, something not possible with last year's Foxtrot model of the Seahawk. Then it was time for the Leap Frogs' full parachute demonstration. Jumping once again from the C-2, the Navy parachutists performed a number of amazing acrobatic maneuvers including joining up in twos and threes and hurtling face-first to the ground, separating seemingly at the last moment and landing directly on target. Bill Cornick and Spencer Suderman then engaged in their Acro-racing performance, where the two race head-to-head to complete a series of aerobatic maneuvers faster than the other. This demonstration was pioneered by them several years ago here at El Centro and is now spreading throughout the air show community as an exciting new addition to the airshow repertoire. A short break allowed people to visit the many vendor stalls, get a bite to eat or enjoy a refreshing beer.
The second half of the show started off with an aerobatic demonstration from Tim Weber, debuting his new airshow plane, the bright blue and gold GEICO MXS, featuring the gecko on its tail. Although just barely finished in time to appear at the airshow, Tim flew it as if it had been his long-time mount, but clearly enjoying the increased performance over last year's Extra 300. Torrey Ward then flew the final civilian aerobatic demonstration in his Glasair III. The Blue Angels' usual C-130 support aircraft is undergoing maintenance, so the all-Marine crew of "Fat Albert" flew a borrowed Hercules nicknamed "Ernie". Their spirited demonstration clearly exhibited the amazing capabilities of the 50+ year-old aircraft design. Then it was time for the main event: the Blue Angels in their first appearance of the 2012 season. The pilots march out in formation as they are being introduced, breaking off to board their aircraft as their name is called out. The system checks reveal a problem with the #5 jet, bringing the support crews back out to attempt a repair. Even replacing an electronics unit in the cockpit fails to resolve the issue, so lead solo LT C.J. Simonsen is quickly shuttled to the waiting replacement aircraft as the diamond takes off. Despite the excellent maintenance, the F/A-18A model is showing its age. Finally all six aircraft are in the air, performing their routines with precision honed by 120 training flights during the past several months. The lighting is perfect to photograph the blue and gold Hornets as they fly through the beautifully clear and cloudless skies over the Imperial Valley. Following a short debrief after the flight, the pilots made their way over to the flightline to sign autographs and answer questions from the crowds of fans. Then it was time to head for the parking lot, stopping off to take a few more photos of the aircraft on static display. The traffic moves quickly and soon NAF El Centro recedes in the rear-view mirror. The perfect start to the 2012 Air Show season.

A highly polished RV-8, flown by Joe Rifle Shetterley

Performers included:

  • Military:
    Leap Frogs Parachute Demonstration Team
    C-2 Greyhound Jump Plane
    F-18E Tactical Demo
    Legacy Flight: F-18E & F8F Bearcat
    MH-60 Seahawk SAR Demonstration
    C-130 Ernie
    Blue Angels
  • Civilian:
    Bill Cornick Pitts S-2C
    Spencer Suderman Meteor Pitts
    Tim Weber MXS
    Joe "Rifle" Shetterley RV-8
    Torrey Ward Glasair III

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

Legacy Flight: F-18E & F8F Bearcat
MH-60 Seahawk SAR Demonstration
FAT ALBERT NOT! This C-130 was used by the Blue Angels.
Blue Angels cross over.
Review and photography by Norman A. Graf for AIRSHOWSREVIEW LLC.
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