2013 Air Shows

NAF El Centro Air Show March 16, 2013

Location: NAF El Centro, El Centro, CA
Admission: FREE
Parking: Free on-site and close-in.
NAF El Centro held its annual Airshow and Open House on March 16, 2013 under what would normally be perfect conditions: severe clear skies and temperatures in the mid 90s. And yet the dark clouds of the current budget sequestration hovered over the field. Uncertainties as to whether the show would be held at all, or if held, whether the Blue Angels would be performing, were not resolved until almost the last minute. But the show did go on, and over 50,000 faithful air show fans showed up to see the inaugural performance of the 2013 Blue Angels team. After 120 practice flights during the past three months, it would have been a disservice if the Navy’s flight demonstration team had not been allowed to perform at its winter training station. In the end, the only performance to fall out of the schedule was the Super Hornet tactical demonstration team and, of course, the accompanying Legacy Flight. Nevertheless, the “Flying Eagles” of VFA-122 out of NAS Lemoore were sorely missed. The normally broad and diverse field of military static aircraft was, however, reduced to a shadow of its former self. Kudos to the organizers for arranging the MV-22 Osprey tactical demo on such short notice and for making up in quality what was not possible in quantity in the static lineup.
The Open House began Friday evening when visitors were welcomed on base to an entertainment and food festival which ended with a spectacular fireworks display. The complete 2013 Blue Angels Team was introduced to the public and they, along with other performers, mingled with the crowd. The airshow opened promptly the next morning at 0800, with a long line of cars already waiting at the gate. Parking was close-in and handled very efficiently. Security was thorough but quick, resulting in plenty of time to stake out a spot along the long fence line and return to view the aircraft on static display. This year’s lineup was reduced in numbers, but featured several special aircraft. Just inside the gates were three of the highlights. To the right was the "Medal of Honor" F/A-18B Hornet of VMFAT-101 "Sharpshooters." This aircraft is painted white and honors four Sailors and Marines who received the Medal of Honor for their actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The port side honors the Marines CPL Jason Dunham and SGT Dakota Meyer, while the starboard side is dedicated to the Navy’s MA2 Michael Monsoor and LT Michael Murphy. The citations for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity are painted on the sides of the aircraft. Reading these accounts is a sobering experience and brings home in stark detail the sacrifices made by our servicemen. To the left was a beautifully painted, colorful CAG F/A-18E Super Hornet of VFA-147 "Argonauts" from NAS Lemoore. It bears the name of CAPT Mannix, who was the Commanding Officer of the Blue Angels during the 2007-2008 seasons. Sandwiched between these fighters was a CAG Osprey, bearing the high-vis markings of VMM-163 "Evil Eyes" from MCAS Miramar. An adversary F-5 from VFC-13 "Saints", a Ch-46 Sea Knight of HMMT-164 "Knightriders" and a British AH-64D Apache completed the modern military statics. A number of warbirds (B-17, B-25, P4Y-2, C-47, P-51, AT6, SNJ, T-28, etc.) were also in attendance.
The flying began at 1000, with Rex Pemberton jumping from a C-45 Expeditor flown by Jim Ostrich. Shortly after deploying his parachute he unfurled a large American flag, landing exactly as the national anthem came to an end. Rex performed again later, diving in his “squirrel suit” while being circled by his wife, Melissa, in her Zivko Edge 540. There were a number of excellent civilian aerobatic demonstrations this year. Perennial favorites Bill Cornick and Spencer Suderman performed individually in their Pitts biplanes and also put on their Acro-racing performance, where the two raced head-to-head to complete a series of aerobatic maneuvers faster than the other. Kent Pietsch put on three separate demonstrations in his Interstate Cadet: a comedy routine, an energy management demonstration and finally landing on the world’s smallest aircraft carrier (a pickup truck). Even having seen Kent just the weekend before at the MCAS Yuma Air Show, it was a thrill to see him perform again; watching such a consummate performer never gets old. Melissa Pemberton put on a very energetic display of the capabilities of the Edge 540, demonstrating why she is a rising star in the airshow community. Julie Clark, one of the pioneering women in both commercial and airshow aviation, put her T-34 Mentor through its paces in a beautifully choreographed routine complete with colored smoke and fireworks. Finally, Mark “Crunchy” Burgess flew a nice series of maneuvers in the L-39 “Vandy 1” representing the Wounded Warriors organization. The civilian portion of the flying schedule was rounded out by two warbirds from the CAF: an F6F Hellcat and an F8F Bearcat. The pair flew a series of simulated strafing and bombing runs, accompanied by pyrotechnics provided by the local EOD squadron, culminating in a very impressive “wall of fire.”
The military flying demonstrations began with a fine display by a British Army AH-64D Apache. It has been routine to see British Chinooks, Lynxes and Apaches on static display, but it was a rare treat to witness a full tactical demonstration. The MV-22 Osprey demonstration was a last minute replacement for the Super Hornet Tacdemo. Special thanks go out to the organizers and to the Marine aviators of VMM-163 "Evil Eyes" from MCAS Miramar for pulling this together on such short notice. The Longhorns from NAS Fallon then staged a Search and Rescue demonstration with their brightly colored MH-60 Seahawk. The Sierra model allows two corpsmen to rappel simultaneously to assist with the recovery of downed pilots or to aid injured individuals, something rarely seen at air shows.
Then it was time for the marquee performers, the Blue Angels. They always start their season here at their winter training base, attracting fans from across the globe. This year’s attendance was most likely boosted by the recognition that this could well be their only west coast appearance during the 2013 season. Fat Alberts’s all-Marine crew put the C-130 through an eight and a half minute display which brought gasps from the crowd, from their opening high angle takeoff, through the high speed passes and minimum radius turn, to the final steep tactical descent. Soon we heard “Boss, we own the airfield and airspace. You are cleeeeeeeared for takeoff. Have a good one!” followed by “Solos ready to ROCK El Centro Boss!”, and the Blue Angels took to the sky. The demonstration was filled with breathtaking maneuvers such as the “Diamond Half Squirrel Cage,” “Opposing Knife Edge,” Fortus,” “Double Farvel,”Diamond Tuck Under Break” and others, all characterized by precision flying at its best. For a complete description of the demonstration, visit the Blue Angel’s website.
Announcer Jon “Huggy” Huggins and Air Boss AC1 Eric Thompson teamed up to provide a seamless series of flying performances with perfectly matched narration. Two breaks in the flying action provided attendees an opportunity to grab a bite to eat or something to drink, visit the many vendors, time to view the statics or to watch the motorcycle performance of the Metal Mulisha team.
ASR Media LLC, would like to express our thanks to Kris Haugh of the Public Affairs Office for arranging the media access during the air show and to all the sailors and volunteers who made this air show such a wonderful experience.
Aircraft on flying and on static display:
  • British Army AH-64D Apache Tactical Demonstration
  • MV-22 Osprey Tactical Demonstration, VMM-163 "Evil Eyes", MCAS Miramar
  • MH-60S Seahawk SAR Demonstration “Longhorns”, NAS Fallon
  • KC-130T Hercules "Fat Albert"
  • US Navy Blue Angels
  • F6F Hellcat “Minsi III”
  • F8F Bearcat
  • Bill Cornick, Pitts S-2C
  • Spencer Suderman, Meteor Pitts
  • Kent Pietsch, Interstate Cadet
  • Mark "Crunchy" Burgess, L-39C “Vandy 1”, Wounded Warriors
  • Melissa Pemberton, Zivko Edge 540
  • Julie Clark, T-34C Mentor
  • "Medal of Honor" F/A-18B Hornet, VMFAT-101 "Sharpshooters", MCAS Miramar
  • F/A-18E Super Hornet, CAG, VFA-147 "Argonauts", NAS Lemoore
  • F-5N Tiger II, Navy Adversary Squadron VFC-13 "Saints", NAS Fallon
  • MV-22 Osprey, CAG, VMM-163 "Evil Eyes", MCAS Miramar
  • CH-46E Sea Knight, HMMT-164 "Knightriders", MCB Camp Pendleton
  • P-51D Mustang “Lady Alice”
  • P4Y-2 Privateer
  • C-47
  • B-17G Flying Fortress “Sentimental Journey”
  • B-25J Mitchell “Maid in the Shade”
  • Assorted Trainers, PT-19, AT-6, SNJ, T-28,
Rating: 10 out of 10

Report and photography by Norman A. Graf for ASR Media LLC
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