2014 Air Shows

MCAS Yuma Air Show March 15, 2014

Location: MCAS Yuma, Arizona
Admission: FREE
Parking: Free off-site and free shuttle; paid preferred parking available.
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When it rains, it pours! After a very spartan 2013 US air show season, during which many air shows were canceled and military participation was essentially non-existent, this year’s season in the Southwest started off with a bonanza: three military air shows on the same weekend! The Blue Angels were kicking off their season at NAF El Centro, the Thunderbirds’ inaugural show was at Luke AFB and MCAS Yuma was holding its 52nd Annual Air show: all on Saturday, March 15. “Luke Days 2014” was a two-day affair, so we would be attending it on Sunday. How to decide between El Centro and Yuma, both one-day shows? In the end, it was the preponderance of military performances, especially the first-ever appearance of the F-35B Lightning II at an air show, that clinched it. We had been fortunate enough to watch the Blue Angels during winter training (see our article in the upcoming June-July issue of The Magazine) and would be seeing them perform at the inaugural LA County Air show the next weekend so off we went to MCAS Yuma. The theme for the military portion of the air show could well have been “Marines Going Vertical!” as it featured vertical or short take-off and landing (V/STOL) tactical demonstrations by the HH-1N Huey, the AV-8B Harrier II, the MV-22 Osprey and, most exciting of all, the aforementioned F-35B Lightning II.
The gates opened at 0800. Free parking was available off-site with shuttle buses bringing the crowds over to the entrance and security checkpoints. The layout was different this year, the short walk over to the flightline which used to feature the military static displays was filled with vendors, booths from local organizations and vintage classic cars. Missing from years past were the warbirds. Only a handful of civil aviation aircraft shared the static ramp located at air show right. Chalet seating, grandstand and assigned seating options were available for purchase, but there was plenty of room along the fence to set up folding chairs before going off to survey the grounds. Aircraft representing almost the entire current inventory of USMC aircraft were on display (see list below), as well as a USAF A-10 from Davis-Monthan AFB and an Army UH-72 Lakota.
The show began with a finger-four formation flyover of F-5N Tiger II aircraft from the Marine Aggressor Squadron VMFT-401 “Snipers.” They passed over the crowd exactly as the last strains of the national anthem were being played by the Marine Drum and Bugle Corps. Unfortunately, at almost the same time, the wind, which had been calm all morning, suddenly picked up. Strong winds of over 20 mph with gusts to 30mph would plague the show all day, causing a number of acts to be canceled: Dan Buchanan, and John Collver were sidelined by the winds. Jacquie Warda, in her Extra 300 flew for 8 minutes in that awful wind! Surprisingly enough, Roger Buis, flying “Otto the Helicopter,” began by flying the first of three helicopter demonstrations. The winds were almost strong enough in the morning to knock over the traffic barrels which are a part of his act. (Later in the day, strong gusts would knock over the speakers set up in front of the crowds.) Bob Carlton alternated between gliding and powered flight in his Super Salto jet sailplane. Rich Perkins, flying the bright yellow and orange L-39 “Firecat,” put on the second of the three civilian jet performances (the last was Bill Braack, driving the Smoke-N-Thunder jet car), but without his signature wall of fire. The search and rescue demonstration once again featured the HH-1N Huey, shortly to be replaced in the Marine inventory by the four-bladed Yankee model. Soon that familiar “whomp, whomp, whomp” will be a thing of the past. Greg Shelton then took to the skies and put on a barnstorming display in his brightly-painted Stearman. He would return later with Samantha Albrecht for an amazing wingwalking demonstration, leaving many in the audience gasping in disbelief. Kent Pietsch put on all three of his acts. Seeing him perform his comedy routine, including scraping his wingtip on the tarmac, is impressive enough under ideal conditions, but seeing him do it in the gusting winds was incredible. Despite his best efforts, however, he was unable to completely seat his Interstate Cadet on the pickup-truck aircraft carrier.
Then it was time for one of the marquee performers, the MV-22 Osprey. The “Lucky Red Lions” of VMM-363 from MCAS Miramar put on a full tactical demonstration which began with a vertical takeoff followed by a high-speed pass with the engine nacelles fully forward in airplane mode. The nacelles were then rotated 90 ° and the Osprey returned in helicopter mode to perform the hovering portion of its demo before landing once again vertically. Joe Shetterley, former A-10 West demonstration pilot, continues to perform in air shows, but now flies his incredibly shiny RV-8. The low aspect ratio of the wings is similar to the Thunderbolt II’s and “Rifle” puts on a spirited demonstration of its capabilities. He ended his act by handily beating Bill Braack in the jet car vs piston aircraft race.
The next vertical act was the AV-8B Harrier II tactical demo, put on by MCAS Yuma’s own VMA-211 “Wake Island Avengers.” It opened with a very high-speed pass, followed by a number of hovering maneuvers very similar to that of the Osprey, but much louder, ending with a vertical landing. The final takeoff was a high-power vertical climbing departure. Water injected into the engines to provide cooling left dark trails of sooty exhaust as the Harrier climbed into the sky. The final helicopter act of the day was Chuck Aaron in the Red Bull Helicopter, although the way “ Malibu” throws that MBB Bo 105 around you would think it was a high performance aerobatic plane.
Then it was time for the premier attraction. Aviation enthusiasts had traveled from across the US and many from overseas to see the first air show performance of the F-35B Lightning II. Many had worried that the high, gusting winds would ground the display, but right on schedule the stealthy fifth-generation Joint Strike Fighter appeared from air show right and speedily taxied out onto the runway. The “Green Knights” of VMFA-121 are the first operational Lightning II squadron and Commanding Officer LtCol Steve Gillette was at the controls as the F-35 took to the skies, lighting the afterburner shortly after takeoff. After a few high-speed passes he returned. As the jet slowed, panels started to open, what appeared to be a barn door rose from the spine of the aircraft and the exhaust nozzle rotated downwards. He had just transition to hovering flight! Despite the strong, gusting winds, the aircraft slowed to a stop and just hung there, rock-steady, before blasting away. He returned for another display of hovering flight before landing conventionally. What a blast! Literally.
An estimated 25,000 people attended the show. Steve Stavrakakis, who had appeared last year as a performer, was back this year as announcer and did a great job of keeping the narration flowing smoothly as acts were shuffled on account of the winds.
ASR Media would like to thank the staff of the MCAS Yuma Public Affairs Office for all of their support during our visit, in particular 1st Lieutenant Ryan Finnegan, Gunnery Sergeant Dustin Dunk and Corporal Zachary Scanlon.
Aircraft on flying and on static display:

Military performers included:

  • F-35B Lightning II Tactical Demo, VMFA-121 “Green Knights”, MCAS Yuma
  • F-5N Tiger II Flyby, VMFT-401 “Snipers”, MCAS Yuma
  • MV-22 Osprey Tactical Demo, VMM-363 “Lucky Red Lions”, MCAS Miramar
  • HH-1N Huey SAR Demo, H&HS, MCAS Yuma
  • AV-8B Harrier II Tactical Demo, VMA-211 “Wake Island Avengers”, MCAS Yuma

Civilian performers included:

  • Chuck “ Malibu” Aaron, Red Bull Helicopter
  • Kent Pietsch, Jelly Belly Interstate Cadet
  • Bill Braack, Smoke-N-Thunder Jet Car
  • Rich Perkins, L-39C “Firecat”
  • Joe “Rifle” Shetterly, RV-8
  • Jacquie Warda, Extra 300
  • Bob Carlton, Super Salto Jet Sailplane
  • Greg Shelton and Samantha Albrecht, Stearman Wingwalking
  • Roger Buis, “Otto the Helicopter”

Aircraft on static display included:

  • A-10C Thunderbolt II, 354 FS “Bulldogs”, Davis-Monthan AFB
  • AH-1Z Super Cobra / Viper, HMLA-267 “Stingers”, MCB Camp Pendleton
  • AV-8B Harrier II, VMA-211 “Wake Island Avengers”, MCAS Yuma
  • CH-46 Sea Knight, HMMT-164 “Knightriders”, MCB Camp Pendleton
  • CH-53E Super Stallion, HMH-465 “Warhorse”, MCAS Miramar
  • F/A-18C Hornet, VMFA-323 “Death Rattlers”, MCAS Miramar
  • F-5N Tiger II, VMFT-401 “Snipers”, MCAS Yuma
  • F-35B Lightning II, VMFA-121 “Green Knights”, MCAS Yuma
  • HH-1N Huey SAR, H&HS, MCAS Yuma
  • KC-130J Super Hercules, VMGR-352 “Raiders”, MCAS Miramar
  • MV-22 Osprey, VMM-363 “Lucky Red Lions”, MCAS Miramar
  • RQ-7B Shadow
  • UC-12F Huron, VMR-2, MCAS Miramar
  • UC-35D Citation Encore, VMR-2, MCAS Miramar
  • UH-1Y Huey / Venom, HMLA-267 “Stingers”, MCB Camp Pendleton
  • UH-72A Lakota, US Army
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Report and photography by Norman A. Graf for ASR Media LLC with additional images courtesy of Rifle Airshows
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