Tom Pawlesh Reports:
By now, everyone has heard the sad news of the loss of airshow performers Jane Wickers and Charlie Schwenker at the Vectren Dayton Air Show. Our condolences go out to their families in the wake of this tragedy. I was in Dayton from Thursday until the cancellation of the remainder of the show on Saturday. My report will cover these days. Due to the sequester, around 20 percent of airshows this season have been cancelled due to the lack of military participation, and many of the shows that have cone on without their usual military presence have seen significantly reduced attendance. The Blue Angels, Thunderbirds and the loud military jets certainly draw the crowds. There has always been a large military presence at the Dayton Air Show. Even though the large C-5 Galaxys, B-52 bombers and KC-135s were missing, the ramp was still full with static aircraft of all types, including many Warbirds. Lacking its customary military hardware, the show was a little subdued but, to the credit of the show organizers, the feeling this year was, “The Show Must Go On”!
Thursday and Friday before the show are the practice, media, and arrival days. The show is not open to the public but a large crowd of photographers and spotters usually gather in the parking lot under the approach to runway 24L. This is the perfect place to photograph aircraft in flight that will be on static display during the show, and in many ways these days can be as exciting as a show day.
On Thursday, I had the opportunity to do a photo shoot with aerobatic pilot, Michael Goulian of Goulian Aerosports in his Extra 330SC. Mike is one of only seven people to have been awarded all three of the air show industry’s most prestigious awards, the Art Scholl Memorial Showmanship Award, the Bill Barber Award for Showmanship and the ICAS Sword of Excellence. I was very excited to be able to photograph this engaging performer doing what he does best, fly. For my air to air shoot of Goulian, I flew in his team’s A-36 Bonanza. The Bonanza is a great photo plane because the rear door can be removed for unobstructed photography. I was wearing a harness that was secured to the floor of the aircraft and a seat belt. My camera was also secured to the harness. The pilot of the Bonanza was Chris Porter, Goulian Aerosports’ Media and Sponsor Relations Coordinator and Relocation Pilot.
We taxied out in the Bonanza with Goulian in his Extra behind us. We made a formation takeoff and I started photographing as soon as we broke ground. After departing the Dayton area, Michael brought his plane in tight for some close ups then did a series of snap rolls. The Bonanza has a small wind deflector on the door so I was able to hold my camera outside the aircraft as Michael came in behind us. This gave me a near head on view and start to finish, photographing Michael in his Extra 330 was a fantastic experience.
On Friday, I had a big date, a date with “Fifi“, the only flying B-29 Superfortress in the world. For my flight, the aircraft commander was Paul Stojkov, the first officer was Paul Maupin and the flight engineer was Ben Powers. I had the the best seat in the house, stationed in the bombardier position. Not only is there a fantastic view from the nose, but I could turn and watch the pilots and flight engineer. The flight engineer sits behind the first officer and faces the rear of the plane, he does the engine start. After Ben had all four engines running, we taxied out for take off. Takeoff was more of a levitation than a rotation skyward. With the wheels in the well, we were allowed to remove our seat belts and move around. I let the other three people that were riding up front have a chance to sit in the bombardier position while I came back to the radio compartment to take some pictures. The B-29 cockpit is unusual in that the captain and first officer have their own little instrument panel. We literally walked between them to get from the radio compartment to the bombardier position, steeping over the center console.
The B-29 can take ten riders, four in the front and six in the rear. The six in the rear of the airplane could come up to the cockpit if they crawled through a 20 foot tunnel that connected the two compartments. Another interesting design feature of the B-29 was the hatch through which we entered the plane. Entry to the flight deck is through a hatch in the floor, located aft of the nose wheel in the wheel well and accessed by climbing from up from the ground outside on a ladder. Once we were all in the aircraft, the ground crew removed the ladder and we secured the hatch. Later in flight, Ben opened the hatch and everyone was surprised to see the tires of the nose wheel. Ben gave them a spin, checked for hydraulic leaks and closed the hatch. Flying in the worlds only airworthy B-29 was a real honor. I would like to thank everyone at the Vectren Dayton Airshow and the Commemorative Air Force for making it possible.
The weather on Saturday was sunny and a little breezy. The big military fighter jets that usually draw the crowds were missing, but this was more than made up for by the presence of the jet warbirds. Present on static display were a T-2 Buckeye, the Warbird Heritage Foundation‘s North American F-86 Sabre and Douglas A-4B Skyhawk and Fighter Jets Inc. brought their MiG 17F. The Army Aviation Heritage Foundation was on hand with their AH-1F Cobra Helicopter and the Sky Soldiers, a Vietnam reenactment group, had three UH-1H Huey helicopters. Flown by Vietnam veterans, all four helicopters were available for rides. My wife and I took advantage of this unique opportunity and went for a ride in one of the Huey’s. It is definitely worth the money to ride in these helicopters that actually saw service in Vietnam.
Other warbirds on static display were the Berlin Airlift Museum‘s C-54 Skymaster, B-25 Mitchell “Champaign Gal“, P-51 Mustangs “The Brat III” and “Tuskegee Airmen“, C-45 Expeditor “Bucket of Bolts“, C-123 Provider “Thunder Pig” and of course, “Fifi”. Also on static display were T-6 Texan, T-28 Trojan, T-34 Mentor, O-2 Super Skymaster and F4U Corsair. Flying displays were given by the F-86, A-4, Mig 17, F4U Corsair, Tuskegee P-51 and the B-29 and although the Dayton Airshow is not billed as a warbird show, there was plenty of them on hand and were more than enough to keep this warbird junkie very happy.