2012 Air Shows
Seattle Seafair / Boeing Airshow, August 3-5, 2012
Location: Genesee Park / Lake Washington, Seattle, Washington
Admission: $30 for adults ($25 in advance) and $10 for children and seniors, with a $10 fee for a pit pass. Free on Friday.
Parking: $30 for parking at Genesee Park, various off-site parking areas with free shuttle buses.
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Seattle celebrated its 63rd annual Seafair this year. The six-week festival includes numerous activities, but the highlights took place during the five-day Fleet Week, including a parade of US Navy ships, with the action culminating on the weekend of August 4-5 with the Boeing Air Show and hydroplane races on Lake Washington. The flying takes place over the water, with aircraft staging from nearby Boeing Field. The air show was the third major air show in the Seattle-Tacoma area in the span of a month (four if one includes the Tacoma Wings and Wheels show). The weather was fantastic, with clear skies and temperatures in the 80s to low 90s. Purchasing tickets provides closer access to the action taking place at air show center, the south end of the hydroplane race course and in the race pits, while also providing the financial support needed to put on the Seafair. The venue is favorable for photography, with the sun to the south and southwest during most of the afternoon’s activities, meaning the sun is over your shoulder or behind you if you are viewing the show from Genesee Park on the southwest bank of the lake. Most of the flying featured formation flights or larger aircraft which could easily be captured with a 300mm to 400mm lens. Since the action takes place over the lake, there are numerous parks and plenty of space to set up chairs, blankets or tables to enjoy the show. There are many locations along both sides of the lake where one can watch the show for free. Traffic on Interstate 90 over Lake Washington is stopped during the Blue Angels’ practice and demonstrations and pedestrians are allowed to go out on the floating bridge’s highrises for a short distance, providing an interesting end-on view of the maneuvers. Many also take to the lake in boats to view the action from the water. The Museum of Flight, located at Boeing Field, also provides some viewing access to the aircraft staging from there. About 150,000 people were expected at Seafair throughout the weekend.
The formal Seafair air show venue is fenced in with two entrances. The grounds are quite spacious and have a large number of exhibits and booths from various organizations, including all branches of the military. There was a main stage for musical acts and hospitality Suites and grandstand bleachers were available at extra cost. Portable toilets were well distributed and provided in sufficient quantity that lines were short to nonexistent. There was an incredible assortment of food vendors providing a wide gamut of ethnic food in addition to the usual hot dogs and hamburgers, all at reasonable prices.
There were two large beer gardens with shade trees, benches and decent prices ($5/pint). Best of all, these areas were restricted to adults only and were uncrowded. There was also a dedicated Kid’s Zone with the usual climbing wall, bounce houses, slides and other amusements.
The schedule of events varied each day of the air show, but Friday’s agenda, which we describe here, is representative. The flying began at 11:30 with a Search and Rescue demonstration by a USCG MH-65D Dolphin from Port Angeles. After a flyby to assess the situation a rescue diver jumped from the hovering helicopter. He was soon recovered, winched up and whisked away. This was followed by a single pass of a C-17 Globemaster III from nearby Joint Base Lewis McChord. The Flying Heritage Collection Museum was well represented by a trio of WWII fighters, which made three passes in formation and a number of solo performances. Kevin Eldridge piloted the P-40C Tomahawk, John Penney the resplendent bare metal P-47D Thunderbolt “Tallahassee Lassie”, and Greg Anders in the dazzling P-51D Mustang “Upupa Epops.” Then the aerobatics began with the bright red biplanes of Red Eagle Air Sports. Dan McClung in his highly modified Talon Eagle, and Billy Werth in his Pitts S2C put on an amazing demonstration of precision flying including tandem hammerheads and opposing crosses as well as solo maneuvers. Then another trio flight appeared, this time a three-jet formation of T-38 Talons from the 90th Flying Training Squadron based at Sheppard AFB. They were followed by a P-3C from nearby NAS Whidbey Island. The Orion, still wearing its Centennial of Naval Aviation livery, was most likely making its last air show appearance as a member of VQ-2 “Rangers”, as that unit will be disestablished at the end of August. The Red Bull Air Force then took to the skies, with Chuck Aaron piloting the Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm Bo 105 helicopter through an amazing variety of unbelievable aerobatic maneuvers. This was followed by the four members of the Red Bull Parachute Team exiting their jump ship and gliding in their “flying squirrel” wingsuits, circled by Kirby Chambliss in his Edge 540. After they deployed their chutes and had landed, Kirby performed his aerobatic routine. It was an amazing display of piloting skill and aircraft performance. At one point he descended to mere feet above the waves, yawing his aircraft and gunning the engine before pulling into the vertical in his signature “Cobra” maneuver and spiralling away from the crowd. The crowd was then treated to two passes by a warbird rarely seen on the air show circuit, the A-26C Douglas Invader. The silver and yellow paint scheme of the locally restored “Sexy Sue” looked gorgeous against the brilliant blue sky. The 442 nd Fighter Wing from Whiteman AFB sent a brace of A-10s to perform a single flyby. The Thunderbolt IIs broke dramatically at show center, trailing wingtip vortices through the turn. Then it was back to civilian aerobatics, with one of the premier masters of the craft, Sean D. Tucker in the Oracle Challenger III biplane. He began with a series of downward snap rolls and followed that with an unbelievable seven minutes of aerial artistry. His piloting skills, coupled with the raw power of the aircraft, make for an unforgettable experience. On Friday there was a short break in the scheduled flying as a King County Sheriff’s Office UH-1 Huey flew over to escort some boaters out of the airbox. Once the airspace was clear the F/A-18 Super Hornet West Coast Flight Demonstration Team entered with a high speed pass. Pilot LT Borya "Borat" Celentano and WSO LT Jeremy "2-Cups" Ludwig tore up the skies over Lake Washington. The only thing missing from their repertoire was the dirty roll on takeoff, for obvious reasons. There was just enough moisture in the air to bring out some vapor and wingtip vortices on the high speed passes and minimum radius turns. Immediately after their departure a CH-47 Chinook, which had been loitering at the north end of the lake, arrived on the scene. It made a low altitude, high-speed pass, then executed a sweeping turn and began to settle in a tail-down attitude. Then, just feet above the water and to the surprise of many, an inflatable boat was shoved out the open cargo door. Soldiers from the Washington Army National Guard's A Company, 1/19th Special Forces Group leapt out after it, followed by another boat and more soldiers. They quickly entered the boats and took off at high speed, simulating a tactical assault. They powered up on to the beach, to the delight of the spectators, and were welcomed with a round of applause. After completing months-long depot-level maintenance and repair, the Blue Angels’ C-130 support aircraft affectionately known as “Fat Albert” is finally back on the air show circuit. It was good to see the blue, white and yellow behemoth back in the skies, and the all-Marine crew definitely put the aircraft through its paces, skimming low over the waves before climbing steeply to start the demonstration. After finishing their routine they once again dove down close to the water before abruptly climbing and departing over the crowds massed on the western lakeshore.
And then it was time for the headline act, the Blue Angels. Seafair used to be defined by the hydroplane races, but in recent years the Blue Angels have become just as closely identified with the festival. The weather on all three days of the air show was spectacularly clear, allowing the Blue Angels to perform their high show with no restrictions. Again, the temperature and humidity were just right for some interesting moisture effects during the high-g maneuvers. At one point during the show on Friday an Osprey (the feathered version, not an MV-22) flew out over the lake, unperturbed by the roar of the jets, seemingly wanting to take part in the aerobatics. The Delta Breakout over the hills of Mercer Island seemed to come way too soon.
In addition to the air show and hydroplane races, U.S. Navy ships which had participated in the parade of ships were docked and open to visitors. The amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18), guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) and the guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey (DDG 97) were available for tours at Pier 48, Pier 66 and Pier 90. More than 50,000 visitors toured the ships during the week.

Performers included:

USCG Eurocopter MH-65D Dolphin from Port Angeles Search and Rescue Demonstration

C-17 Globemaster III Joint Base Lewis McChord Flyby

Flying Heritage Collection FlybyP-40C Tomahawk P-51D Mustang “Upupa Epops” P-47D Thunderbolt “Tallahassee Lassie” Red Eagle

Air Sports Three-ship T-38 Talon Flyby P-3C Orion Flyby (CoNA markings)

Red Bull Air ForceChuck Aaron Bo 105 Helicopter

Kirby Chambliss Edge 540

A-26C Invader “Sexy Sue”

Two-ship A-10 Thunderbolt II Flyby

Sean D. Tucker in the Oracle Challenger III Biplane

F/A-18F Super Hornet Tactical Demonstration

VFA-122 “Flying Eagles” CH-47D Chinook and Special Forces Tactical Assault Demonstration

C-130T Hercules “Fat Albert” Demonstration

The Blue Angels

Rating: 9 out of 10

Report and photography by Norman A. Graf for AIRSHOWSREVIEW LLC
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