2016 Event Review

Cannon AFB Open House and Air Show, May 28-29, 2016
Location: Cannon AFB, Clovis, NM
Admission: Free
Parking: Free
Value: Excellent
Rating out of 10: 9

CV-22 Ospreys

Cannon AFB, home of the 27th Special Operations Wing, bills itself as the "Western Home of America's Air Commandos." It held its biennial Open House and Air Show on Memorial Day weekend, May 28-29, 2016. Headlining the show were the USAF Thunderbirds and the USAF Academy's Wings of Blue Parachute Team, but what brought us to "Air Commandos on the High Plains" was the opportunity to see the many Special Operations aircraft both in the air and on static display.

The gates opened at 9AM and parking was as close as you could get, right on the tarmac. Security was conducted quickly and efficiently, leaving plenty of time to visit some of the many informational booths set up on the apron and in open hangars. There was plenty of room along the very long flightline to set up folding chairs, and several free bleachers provided some elevated vantage points. The static ramp contained no less than five C-130 USAF Special Operations variants. Other Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) aircraft on display included the CV-22 Osprey, HH-60G Pavehawk and UH-1N Huey. AFSOC also maintains a fleet of Non-Standard Aircraft (NSAv) such as the U-28A and C-146A. The U-28A is a modified, single-engine Pilatus PC-12 that operates worldwide as part of AFSOC's Light Tactical Fixed Wing fleet. It provides a manned, fixed wing, on-call/surge capability for improved tactical airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) in support of special operations forces. The C-146A Wolfhound is the military version of the Dornier 328 turboprop commuter airliner modified to permit cargo and casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) missions. Both of these rarely-seen aircraft were on static display and also took part in the flying demonstrations.

The static ramp also featured quite a number of regular Air Force aircraft, among them the C-17 Globemaster III, KC-135R Stratotanker, RC-135V/W Rivet Joint and A-10C Thunderbolt II. The US Army brought an AH-64E Apache. At the far end of the tarmac was the hot ramp, where the warbirds were stationed. Joining the various AC-130 aircraft was the venerable AC-47, the first of the "Spooky" gunships. It was scheduled to fly a Heritage Flight formation with the modern gunships but unfortunately blew a prop seal shortly after takeoff on Saturday and did not fly the rest of the weekend.
The airshow began with a member of the USAF Academy's "Wings of Blue" parachute demonstration team flying in the flag as the National Anthem played. The rest of the team then jumped from the MC-130J Commando II, putting on an impressive demonstration of precision maneuvering. The Academy's glider then put on a similar demonstration of unpowered flight.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are becoming a larger part of today's fighting force, but it's an asset not normally seen by the public. So it was a real treat to see the MQ-9 Reaper flying display. For only the second time at a public airshow, the Reaper took to the skies. Flown by operators based at Creech AFB outside of Las Vegas, it performed a demonstration that included multiple low-level passes, its optical sensors slewing left and right to cover the crowds.

The 27th Special Operations Wing started to launch its aircraft shortly before noon. The Capabilities Exercise (CapEx) simulated the rescue of a pilot downed behind enemy lines and being threatened by ground troops. It involved aerial assets from a number of the special operations squadrons based at Cannon. An MC-130J Combat Talon II soon appeared, trailing its refueling drogues. A pair of CV-22 Ospreys, probes extended, followed close behind simulating an aerial refueling mission. By now enemy forces had taken notice of the downed pilot and began closing in. The AC-130 gunship which had been circling above the clouds now descended through the low ceiling and began circling the pilot's position. The angle of bank and constant radius of turn meant that its guns could be constantly held on target. These attack aircraft are in constant demand to protect troops on the ground, so seeing them at an airshow, even on static display, is very rare. Seeing them perform a close air support demonstration is even rarer. The AC-130W Stinger II wasted no time in targeting the attacking insurgents. With the enemy ground threat eliminated, the Combat Talon II landed and quickly unloaded two dune buggies. Airmen riding the dune buggies swiftly moved in to secure the pilot, covering him closely to make sure it was not a trap using a decoy. The two circling Ospreys now swooped in to take the troops on board and swiftly departed the area.

Then it was time to look back to the history of the Air Force, with several World War II warbirds flying in review. Although few in number, the aircraft represented a broad gamut of types: the advanced trainer AT-6 Texan, the fighter P-51D Mustang "Pecos Bill," the attack aircraft A-26 Invader "Night Mission," and the B-25J Mitchell bomber "Yellow Rose."

Next up was the Gunship Legacy Flight. It had been planned to feature the past, present and future of gunships, but as already mentioned, the AC-47 Skytrain "Spooky" experienced technical difficulties and so did not participate. Nevertheless, it was still a thrill to see the AC-130W Stinger II, AC-130U Spooky, and AC-130J Ghostrider fly together. The AC-130J, which is still under development at Hurlburt Field, Florida, is the Air Force's fourth generation gunship and will be replacing the aging fleet of AC-130U/W gunships starting in 2017.

The Thunderbirds, as usual, closed the show, and they did not disappoint, putting on their usual high-energy show. The moisture in the air provided lots of vapor during their high-g turns. On Sunday, due to threatening weather, they started an hour early, which meant that the Gunship Heritage Flight did not take place that day. As any airshow veteran knows "schedule is subject to change." After the show, the members of the team came forward to answer questions, sign autographs and pose for photographs with their many fans. Just a few days later, Thunderbird #6, Maj. Alex Turner, the Opposing Solo, crashed after a flyover at the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony. He ejected safely, but has yet to return to the demonstration lineup.
An estimated 26,000 people attended during the show's two days. Air Show Director Lt Col Mike Janssen and Air Bosses Lt Col Chris Berg and David Schultz did a terrific job of organizing and putting on the show. We would like to express our thanks and sincere appreciation to the 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs Office, in particular 2d Lt Erin Recanzone, for their hospitality and assistance during the Open House and to all the Air Commandos at Cannon Air Force Base for their service.
Performers included:

USAF Thunderbirds

USAF Academy Wings of Blue Parachute Demonstration Team

USAF Academy Glider Demonstration Team

Cannon AFB Capability Demonstration:

AC-130W Stinger II

MC-130J Commando II

CV-22 Osprey, 20th SOS 26th Special Tactics Squadron

Gunship Heritage Flight: AC-130U Spooky II

AC-130W Stinger II

AC-130J Ghostrider

Warbirds: AT-6 Texan

P-51D Mustang "Pecos Bill"

A-26 Invader "Night Mission"

B-25J Mitchell "Yellow Rose"

Chris Darnell, Shockwave Jet Truck

Static displays included:

AC-47 Spooky

AC-130U Spooky II

AC-130W Stinger II

AC-130J Ghostrider

A-10C Thunderbolt II

AH-64E Apache

CV-22 Osprey

C-146A Wolfhound

C-17 Globemaster III

HH-60G Pave Hawk

KC-135R Stratotanker

MC-130H Combat Talon II

MC-130J Commando II

MQ-9 Reaper

RC-135V/W Rivet Joint

T-6A Texan II

U-28A UH-1N Huey

Report and photography byNorman A. Graf for

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