2015 Event Review

MCAS Miramar Air Show, October 2-4, 2015
Location: MCAS Miramar, San Diego, California
Admission: FREE
Parking: Free on-site, with shuttles to the flightline
Value: Excellent
Rating out of 10: 10+

The theme for the 2015 MCAS Miramar Air Show, which took place October 2-4, was "A Salute to Veterans and Their Families." For three days, the Air Station invited people from the surrounding communities and around the world on board to witness the largest military air show in the nation. With three jet teams, two jet tactical demonstrations, the amazing Marine Air Ground Task Force demonstration and a world-class lineup of civilian aerobatic performers in the air and acres of aircraft on static display, this year's show did not disappoint.

The schedule for the three-day show was roughly the same each day. The gates opened to the public at 8:15 AM, the flying began roughly an hour later and continued pretty much non-stop until 4 PM. However, on Saturday there was a twilight show which started at 5:30 PM and concluded several hours later with the "Great Wall of Fire." With so much flying and pretty much the entire Marine aviation inventory on static display, you really have to devote at least two days to this show. And even then you'll miss something. Entry to the show is free and there is plenty of room along the flightline at both show right and left to set up folding chairs or blankets to enjoy the show. But the high bleachers are definitely worth the extra investment and include an airshow program in the cost. There are numerous other upgrade options including box seats and a variety of chalets providing shade and catered food and drinks. Most of the many food and drink stands distributed throughout the tarmac were operated by base squadrons with proceeds going towards their morale and welfare funds. There were also very many other vendors selling souvenirs and sundry airshow items. "Squadron Row" offered the opportunity to stock up on patches, coins and various other unit-related merchandise.

The flying schedule featured civilian aerobatic acts primarily in the morning with the military performing in the afternoon. The Blue Angels concluded the afternoon's flying each day. Sean D. Tucker, flying the Oracle Challenger III biplane, got the action started with a teaser routine that he would expand on later in the day. He was followed by John Collver flying his tribute to veterans in the AT-6 Texan "War Dog." Steve Stavrakakis continued with a similar routine in his Romanian IAR 823 "Wild Thing." Dan Buchanan, being towed aloft in his hang glider, interrupted the end of Steve's routine, for which Steve trimmed his ribbons with his propeller. All in good fun, of course. Brett Willat continued the glider theme, performing a beautiful aerobatic routine in his Grob G-103 Acro sailplane.

The first military tactical demonstration of the day was by the Marine Corps' AV-8B Harrier II. There were only eight civilian airshows at which the Harrier performed this year, so many enthusiasts came to Miramar to see the VMA-211 "Wake Island Avengers" from MCAS Yuma perform the TacDemo. Flying the demo was Major Michael Carty, of the Royal Marines, which must have been a delight for all of the Brits in the audience, who, since the retirement of the "jump jet" from Royal Air Force and Royal Navy service, have been forced to travel overseas to see the Harrier perform. Major Carty joined the "Wake Island Avengers" in 2014 as a foreign exchange pilot and since August 2015 has served as the VMA-211 Executive Officer. Despite his call sign of "Princess," or perhaps because of it, Major Carty put on a very aggressive demonstration of the Harrier's tactical capabilities, flying the gamut from high speed passes to hovering flight. He clearly showed that although its days of service in the USMC are also limited, it remains a very capable airframe, perfectly suited to the tactical needs of the Corps.
The Patriots Jet Team finished the morning's flying. The team includes former members of the Thunderbirds, Blue Angels and Snowbirds and their flying style reflects their history. They fly the L-39 Albatros like the military trainer that it is, very fast, very low and very aggressively. This was in contrast to the Breitling Jet Team, which also flies the L-39. Their demonstration was much more balletic, with smooth, graceful formation changes. Miramar was to be their penultimate North American airshow, but it has since been announced that they will be extending their tour into 2016

Official opening ceremonies for the airshow commenced at noon, with welcoming addresses from Brigadier General Edward D. Banta, Commanding General, Marine Corps Installations West, and Colonel Jason Woodworth, commanding officer of MCAS Miramar. "This is our opportunity to show off a little bit what the Marines and Sailors of MCAS Miramar do every day to you," said Col. Woodworth. "Our theme this year is 'A Salute to Veterans and Their Families,' so what I ask of all the civilians in the crowd who are visiting today [is to] take a minute to grab one of the young men and women in uniform today and say hello to them and get to know a little bit about them and their families." The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Band played a number of patriotic songs, concluding with the national anthem as Staff Sgt. David Echeverry, of the US Army's Golden Knights, parachuted in with the US flag.

The highlight of the Miramar airshow for most of the spectators was clearly the Marine Air Ground Task Force, or MAGTF. It was one of the very few opportunities to see the coordinated use of close-air support, artillery and infantry forces the Marine Corps utilizes in combat. Capt. John Reeves, the "Voice of MAGTF," provided his usual exuberant, over-the-top narration of the action. An ATARS (Advanced Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance System) equipped F/A-18D Hornet passed overhead, popping intermittent clouds of vapor as the pilot flirted with the speed of sound. Shortly thereafter massive explosions rocked the airfield, mimicking the effect of offshore naval bombardment guided by his recce flight. Repeated passes by Hornets of VMFA(AW)-225 "Vikings" and Harriers of VMA-211 "Wake Island Avengers" simulated the tactical softening-up of the target by aerial assets. Two AH-1Z Super Cobras of HMLA-369 "Gunfighters" finished the job with multiple strafing passes. A team of Marines from the 1st Recon Battalion then fast-roped in from hovering UH-1Y Super Hueys, also from HMLA-369 "Gunfighters." Having determined that the landing zone was secure, they clipped themselves to a rope dangling from a Huey and the eight Marines were extracted and flown through the sky. The main contingent of "boots on the ground" was delivered by three MV-22 Ospreys from VMM-163 "Evil Eyes." The Marines immediately began to advance towards the crowd line, providing covering fire as they advanced. Hornets, Harriers and Venoms continued to provide fire support as a CH-53E Super Stallion airlifted in a Humvee. Finally the ground support arrived in the form of two M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks and several LAV-25 Light Armored Vehicles racing down the runways. After the action concluded, all of the assets joined in a "Pass in Review." The airborne assets flew overhead, the jets simulating an aerial refueling with a KC-130J Super Hercules. The ground troops and vehicles passed along the crowd line, cheered on by the many spectators. The number of aircraft was less than that in last year's airshow, and, of course, for the first time did not include the CH-46 Sea Knight, but was impressive nevertheless.

Another highlight for many in the crowd was the F-35B Lightning II tactical demonstration. The flight was performed by Major Brendan "Lenny" Walsch of VMFA-121 "Green Knights," from MCAS Yuma. The Joint Strike Fighter appeared downright un-stealthy as it pulled a great ball of vapor out of the sky and trailed long streamers of wing-tip vortices as Maj. Walsch circled tightly in front of the crowd in a high-g, minimum-radius turn. He then slowed the Lightning II to a hover and descended slowly to land. After a short cooling-down period he took off with full afterburners and made a number of high-speed passes before finally landing for good. For many in the audience this was their first view of the F-35 in flight and despite the controversy surrounding the Marine Corps' declaration of Initial Operational Capability for the Lightning II, it was a definite crowd pleaser.
The Blue Angels finished the show as they always do, starting with Fat Albert's amazing demonstration and proceeding through the six F/A-18 legacy Hornets' precision flight demonstration.
The ongoing budget sequestration continued to limit the military aircraft on static display, but the situation has improved, albeit slowly. Various aircraft from the Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard were on display this year as were those from NASA and Homeland Security. "Squadron Row" was well populated with aircraft from the units based at MCAS Miramar. A pair of German Air Force Tornados from Holloman AFB returned again this year, providing the only international participation. The Flying Leathernecks Museum once again had transported almost all of their aircraft to the apron, giving visitors an opportunity to see aircraft representing the Marine Corps' long aviation history. There were also many private warbirds on display, including a beautiful natural-metal PB4Y-2 Privateer, the Navy version of the B-24 Liberator bomber.

Announcers Rob Reider and Matt Jolley did a good job of keeping the hundreds of thousands of spectators informed and entertained over the three days of flying. We would like to sincerely thank Capt. Melanie Salinas, Director, Public Affairs, and all the members of her team for a fantastic and memorable experience covering the Air Show. Finally, we would like to thank all the Marines, volunteers and performers at MCAS Miramar for making this Air Show such a success.

Performers included:

USN Blue Angels
USMC F-35B Lightning II, VMFA-121 “Green Knights”, MCAS Yuma, TacDemo
USMC AV-8B Harrier II, VMA-211 “Wake Island Avengers”, MCAS Yuma, TacDemo
U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Demonstration Team
MAGTF Assault Demonstration
F/A-18D Hornet (x2) VMFA(AW)-225 “Vikings”
AV-8B Harrier II (x2) VMA-211 “Wake Island Avengers”
KC-130J Hercules (x1) VMGR-352 “Raiders”
MV-22 Osprey (x3) VMM-163 “Evil Eyes”
CH-53E Super Stallion (x1)
AH-1Z Super Cobra/Viper (x2) HMLA-369 “Gunfighters”
UH-1Y Super Huey/Venom (x2) HMLA-369 “Gunfighters”
M1A1 Abrams Tanks, LAV-25s

The Patriots Jet Team, L-39 (x6)
The Breitling Jet Team, L-39 (x7)

Sean D. Tucker, Oracle Challenger III
Brett Willat, Sailplane
John Collver, AT-6 “War Dog”
Steve Stavrakakis, Romanian IAR
Dan Buchanan, Hang Glider

Shockwave Jet Truck

Static displays included:

Panavia Tornado (x2) Luftwaffe, Holloman AFB
F/A-18 Hornets
EA-18G Growler
AV-8B Harriers
MV-22 Ospreys
AH-1Z Super Cobras / Vipers
UH-1Y Super Hueys / Venoms
CH-53E Super Stallions
KC-130J Super Hercules
F-35B Lightning II
UC-12W Huron
MH-60 Seahawks
USCG MH-60T Jayhawk
NASA F-15D Eagle, Armstrong Flight Research Center
USAF A-10C Thunderbolt II
USAF B-52H Stratofortress
USAF C-17 Globemaster III
USAF KC-135 Stratotanker
USAF MQ-1 Predator UAV
USN E-2C Hawkeye
Cal Fire OV-10 Bronco
Cal Fire S-2 Tracker Air tanker
Multiple Warbirds
Almost the complete aircraft collection of the Flying Leathernecks Museum
Ground Vehicles of all types, including Humvees, LAVs, MRAPs, combat construction equipment, M1A1 Abrams tanks, UAV launchers
And on, and on, …

Report and photography by Norman A. Graf for

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