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2012 Air Shows
Westmoreland County Air Show, June 23-24, 2012
Location: Arnold Palmer Regional Airport, Latrobe, PA
Admission: $12 for adults ($10 in advance), but children 12 and under get in for free.Proceeds benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Parking: On Field, $2.
Value: Very Good
For over 25 years Latrobe, PA was a fixture on the airshow circuit, regularly attracting such headline acts as the Blue Angels, Thunderbirds and Snowbirds, but after 2001 the skies over western Pennsylvania fell silent.
This year finally saw the return of the full-scale airshow. The expectations were high as the crowds arrived early; traffic backing up along the highway caused airport officials to open the gates an hour and a half before the scheduled 9AM start. The flying began promptly at 11AM with the US Army Parachute Demonstration Team the “Golden Knights” performing the flag jump. The skies were blue and the temperatures were in the low 80s, which was a welcome change from the torrid heat and thunderstorms during the week before. Jack Knutson entertained the crowd with a series of aerobatic routines in his Extra 300. Greg Koontz then performed his “Alabama Boys” comedy routine where good ol’ boy Clem Cleaver takes to the skies with no flight skills, flies erratically through the air, but then manages to land the Piper Cub on the top of a pickup truck. The routine may be familiar, but the flight skills needed to pretend not to know how to fly are always impressive. Next it was time for two beautifully polished veterans from World War Two to take to the skies. The P-51D Mustang fighter “Cincinnatti Miss” and the B-25J Mitchell bomber “Panchito”, both manufactured by North American, made several beautiful passes, banking beautifully for the photographers. Announcer Mike McFarland kindly paused to allow the crowd to hear the sound of the piston engines as they flew by.
Then it got loud as the F/A-18C Hornet from the “Gladiators” of VFA-106 performed a dirty roll on takeoff. Pilot LT Ken “Two Cents” Barnhart, a local native, credits watching the Blue Angels at this show as a child as his motivation for becoming a fighter pilot. He went on to graduate from the Naval Academy and has flown combat missions over Iraq and Afghanistan. Flying in front of family and friends seemed to add a little extra to the tactical demonstration. The minimum radius turns were particularly tight, and the touch-and-go surprised most in the crowd, but not as much as when he taxied along the flightline waving the “Terrible Towel” of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Being a commercial airport, there were a few breaks in the airshow as flights from Spirit Airlines took off and landed. The interruptions were short and provided an opportunity to photograph the Airbus A320 in a colorful livery.
The aerobatics resumed as Rob Holland in his MX2 joined Jack Knutson as the Firebirds Extreme Team. Their crisply executed and nicely choreographed maneuvers were a pleasure to watch, especially where one plane flies straight and the other performs rolls around it, seamlessly switching roles while performing rolls. Greg Koontz continued the set of graceful aerobatics with a beautiful demonstration of the capabilities of the Super Decathlon. Then it was Sean D. Tucker’s turn to introduce the crowd to a different kind of flying: power aerobatics. Weighing in at only 1,200 pounds, the 400 hp Oracle Challenger III biplane allows Sean to do pretty much anything he wants to do in the air, which is why over half of his maneuvers are original and unique to his show. He is the only pilot to perform the triple ribbon cut, flying through the 25 foot poles at over 200 mph in right knife-edge for the first ribbon, then left knife-edge and finally inverted.
The “Golden Knights”, who had opened the show, now returned to the skies. SSG Curtis Haugen performed a solo jump, hurtling through the skies at amazing speeds and spiraling in to a perfect landing right at show center. He then took over the narration for the remainder of the demonstration as the rest of the team exited the C-31A Friendship in a mass jump. The six jumpers formed up and fell as a group while the team photographer orbited them until they separated in dramatic fashion in the downward bomb-burst. Individual jumpers flew in the Army, MIA/POW and Pennsylvania state flags while others paired up canopy-to-canopy, separating at the last possible moment and landing right at show center. After wrapping up their parachutes and donning their distinctive red berets, they presented the baton to Arnold Palmer.
The Aeroshell Aerobatic Team demonstrated the capabilities of the veteran AT-6 Texan trainers in dramatic fashion with a number of close formation routines. The only downside of their demonstration was the liberal use of smoke which did not disperse in the calm air and soon clouded the otherwise clear skies.
Then, for the first time since the last millennium, the Blue Angels began their aerial demonstration over Latrobe. With “Fat Albert” still undergoing maintenance, the C-130 demonstration was performed by “Ernie”, on loan from the “Rangers” of VMGR-234. The crowd was particularly engaged, as the local Hercules-equipped unit, the 911 th Air Wing based at the Pittsburgh Air Reserve Station, is slated for closure and “Save the 911 th” signs were visible throughout the crowd. The Blue Angels put on their usual impressive show. Saturday’s substitution of the F/A-18D led to an unusual Diamond formation numbered 3-2-7-4.
Overall, the airshow organization was quite impressive for what was essentially an inaugural event. Once on the airport grounds, vehicles were quickly and efficiently directed to parking spots by volunteers. (However, getting to and later getting out of the airport was a real problem. Traffic was backed up over a mile and tempers flared as people jockeyed for position to exit the grounds. Better coordination with local police to actively direct traffic instead of relying on existing traffic lights and signals would most likely go a long way towards resolving this issue.) Discounted advance ticket sales meant there were short lines at the entrance gate. The showline was long and there was plenty of room to set up chairs. Coolers were allowed and many families picnicked in the grassy areas. A kid’s area was available. Beer and food stands were broadly distributed and reasonably priced. Restroom facilities could have been more widely spread out, but were sufficient. Airboss David Schultz did a great job of keeping the action going, despite the necessary interruptions caused by the commercial flights, and announcer Mike McFarland managed to achieve the right balance of providing timely information and knowing when to allow the performances to speak for themselves. Organizers estimated the attendance at between 80,000 and 100,000 per day, with a similar number of people watching the air show from nearby parking lots, front yards and the surrounding hills. Proceeds from the Westmoreland County Air Show benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society which is another good reason to support the airshow.
It was great to see the return of the Latrobe Airshow and we hope it resumes its tradition of being a yearly affair. AirshowsReview would like to thank Dwayne Pickels for his assistance during Friday’s Media Day.

Performers included:

  • The Blue Angels
  • F/A-18C Hornet Tactical Demo from VFA-106 “Gladiators”
  • The “Golden Knights” Black Team
  • B-25J Mitchell “Panchito”
  • P-51D Mustang “Cincinnatti Miss”
  • Sean D. Tucker in the Oracle Challenger III Biplane
  • Aeroshell Aerobatic Team
  • Greg Koontz Comedy Show
  • Rob Holland MX2 Aerobatics
  • Jack Knutson Extra 300 Aerobatics

Static displays included:

  • USCG Eurocopter MH-65D Dolphin from Atlantic City
  • Lockheed C-130H Hercules “City of Pittsburgh”
  • North American T-28B Trojan

Rating: 8 out of 10

Photography and report by Norman A. Graf for AIRSHOWSREVIEW LLC
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