The Sights and Sounds of Freedom
By A. Kevin Grantham
Joint Base Andrews held their bi-annual AIR & SPACE EXPO over the May 10-12 weekend. This year was somewhat unusual as the show featured aerial demonstration teams from both the U.S. Air Force and Navy, something which hasn’t happened since 2007.
The Blue Angles took the skies first during Friday’s show, illustrating just how much skill it takes to be a Naval Aviator. The ‘Blues’ have a rich history dating all the way back to when the team first formed in 1946, flying Grumman F6F Hellcats no less. In 1986 the team celebrated their 40th anniversary by unveiling their present platform, the F/A-18 Hornet, which they are currently scheduled to field through the 2021 air show season. The Thunderbirds followed later in the day with an equally impressive performance, thrilling on-lookers with their consummate aerial prowess. The team formed initially as the 3600th Air Demonstration Unit at Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix, Arizona during May, 1953. However, it wasn’t long before they adopted the name Thunderbirds, influenced by the Native American culture of the southwest United States. On Saturday the teams switched their performance order, and both teams dazzled the spectators with high-speed precision flying coupled with thunderous jet engine noise.
Other aerial performers included Michael Goulian, Kent Pietsch, Sean Tucker, and Patty Wagstaff. These highly professional pilots performed gravity-defying feats harking back to the barnstorming days of the 1920s. Additionally, the Geico Skytypers, flying 70-year-old North American SNJ-2 trainers, put on a precision aerial demonstration similar to the military aerobatics teams – just at a much slower speed.
A significant contingent of vintage military aircraft also attended the event. Larry Kelly’s gleaming North American B-25J Mitchell Panchito (44-30734) flew for the crowd, as well as Jim Beasley’s P-51D Mustang Bald Eagle (44-73029). Beasley is a veteran warbird pilot, and his aerial display clearly showed why the Mustang is considered as one of the best fighters to see service in World War II. The Class of ‘45 air show segment featured Scott “Scooter” Yoak in P-51D Mustang Quicksilver (45-11439) and Jim Tobul in Vought F4U-4 Corsair Korean War Hero (Bu.97143). Yoak and Jim Tobul sped over the airfield in a joint routine, simulating ground attack maneuvers, highlighted by pyrotechnic explosions. The Commemorative Air Force’s Red Tail Squadron’s P-51C Tuskegee Airman rounded out the group of warbirds flying in the show. As most readers will known, this particular aircraft is a flying memorial to the often-overlooked history of the Tuskegee Airmen who flew the same type of fighter in World War II.
There were plenty of static military fighters, bombers, and transport aircraft to view on the ramp as well. The Department of Defense also sponsored a variety of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) activities for visiting children and their parents.
Joint Base Andrews’ very own 1st Helicopter Squadron (1HS) celebrated an anniversary at the AIR & SPACE EXPO. 1HS provides contingency support in the National Capital Region and is the only unit in the USAF with the training to conduct remote operations with a single pilot with night vision goggles. Fifty years ago, the Bell UH-1H Iroquois (better known as the Huey) entered squadron service, and to recognize this milestone 1HS decided to give some of the working press a helicopter ride over Washington, DC. The path for this flight tracked over nearby Bolling Air Force Base, then up the Potomac River and around the city’s monument area; a fitting, once-in-a-lifetime journey to celebrate the longevity of a group of aircraft that has served the 1HS for half century.
Joint Base Andrews’ AIR & SPACE EXPO is a fabulous event, which really has to be experienced to fully appreciated. However, while once an annual event, it has become a biennial affair in recent times. However, a positive way of looking past the long pause until the show returns in 2021 is to realize you only have to wait another 104 weeks before once again you can enjoy THE SIGHTS AND SOUNDS OF FREEDOM.
The author would like to thank SSgt Abby Richardson and all of the Public Affairs personnel at Andrews for doing such a good job in helping the working press. I would also like to thank the members of the 1st Helicopter Squadron, with a particular focus on our pilots, Maj. Adam Smith and Capt. Luke Sarro, and a special thank you to SMSgt David Barr who not only handled his flight engineering duties during our flight, but also acted as our guide and trip narrator.