America’s Freedom Fest (Goshen, IN) 2018 – Ryan Sundheimer
America’s Freedom Fest (Goshen, IN) 2018 – David Jacobson
Also be sure to check out our video playlist from the event!
Also be sure to check out our video playlist from the event!
I have always been a fan of the Canadian Snowbirds. When I was just getting into airshows, their spectacular bursts were unlike anything I had seen before. As I became more familiar with the industry, their large formation rolls where they pull over the top while pointing right at the crowd stuck out as even more unique. And when I eventually earned my pilot’s certificate and spent some time at formation clinics, I found myself astonished by the difficulty of their many different nine-plane formations.
To this day, the Snowbirds are my absolute favorite airshow performance to watch, and one of the very few that I make sure to see at least once a year. One could say I feel a special connection to the team; they feature prominently in my most powerful airshow memories, and just hearing some of the songs they’ve flown to will bring goosebumps to my arms in an instant.
All of this is to say: when Snowbirds Public Affairs Officer Lt. Michèle Tremblay contacted AirshowStuff last month to talk about a media ride, it was more than just a cool opportunity. The catch was that I would have to get from Michigan to the Oregon International Airshow in Hillsboro, Oregon. Thankfully, the logistics were straight forward and less than two weeks later, I was descending past Mt. Hood on my way into Portland.
I actually beat the team to Hillsboro, and watched the #10 and #11 jets – the advance party – arrive in the Thursday afternoon sun. We got my quick medical check out of the way before the main group of nine jets arrived. The team’s support hauler, a specially-outfitted semi-trailer truck, was already in place. The truck brings all sorts of equipment for the team, including tools, spare parts, bicycles, a Gator four wheeler, and space for luggage that doesn’t fit into the relatively small CT-114 Tutor aircraft.
I knew that the team had performed on the East Coast (Virginia Beach, VA) the weekend before, and we heard how the Canadian Army driver had driven the truck all the way from there to the team’s home base in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan for a short three hour stop to reload before finishing the cross country journey. I was thankful for my airline ticket just thinking about it.
The rest of the team arrived with a nine ship flyby, and after a quick debriefing I was told to report the next morning for ejection seat training(!) and other preparations.
The big day arrived, and the four media riders went straight into learning the complex steps required to strap in, and the even more complex steps required to eject or evacuate on the ground. We grabbed flight suits, and were fitted for helmets, oxygen masks, life preservers, and parachutes by the helpful (and patient) technicians.
Once we were all set, we went straight to the briefing room to meet the rest of the team and go over the details of the flight. As a dedicated media opportunity, the team was forgoing their typical Friday practice and instead planned a transit flight just for us. We would take off and head north, then turn west and follow the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean near Astoria, OR. After a flyby there, we would turn south and fly along the coast before turning inland and returning to Hillsboro. Upon arriving back at the airfield the team would perform a site survey to familiarize themselves with the showline and then land.
Unfortunately, the FAA rep at the show incorrectly but adamantly stated that aerobatics could not be performed with passengers. The team grumbled but accepted it. The rest of the briefing covered the weather (clear skies, unlimited visibility), air traffic control, divert airports, and other such details that well-prepared pilots pay attention to. I would be flying with Snowbird #4, Maj. Stephen “Pup” Melanson in the First Line Astern position, right behind the “Boss”.
Outside, we were introduced to the aircraft technicians who would be helping us strap in. Cameras were readied, and soon it was time to mount up. All of our prepared gear was waiting for us, and my awesome (and again, patient) tech Cpl. Brandon Harvey made sure to catch all of the steps I missed. In my defense, when you’re covered in straps and handles that turn on oxygen or deploy a parachute, you tend to double check what you’re pulling!
Pup joined me in the small side-by-side cockpit, and talked me through the startup procedure once all of the pilots had checked in. The jets lined up on the runway in three groups of three, with #6 and #7 on our wings as the middle group. Pup explained the sequence as we rolled down the runway together and all nine aircraft worked to form up on our northbound leg.
The scenery was breathtaking. In the clear afternoon air, we could easily see Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and even Mt. Rainier in the distance while haze filled the valleys below us. The team went through a couple of formation changes as Pup explained the spacing and alignments. Although we didn’t really move around ourselves, the #4 position gave me a great view of the other aircraft moving around on both sides of us. The changes were far more sudden and crisp than other formation flights I’ve been on, but at the same time controlled and smooth. I wouldn’t expect any different from some of the world’s best!
With smoke on, we gave a big sweeping flyover to the citizens of Longview, WA as we turned west. Each aircraft dropped into trail as we descended toward the river, which for the Snowbirds means a follow-the-leader line of nine jets, each with the freedom to maneuver as needed. Pup, knowing I fly, handed me the controls and let me slalom behind the pack ahead of us as we wound down the river. The controls were responsive but not touchy. I felt right at home and I can understand why the aging jet is still perfect for formation displays. The coolest part of the entire flight was when I pulled us into a turn and blasted right through the smoke trail of #3, bobbling slightly as we crossed his wake.
Sadly, my part only lasted a few minutes before we were called to rejoin – a maneuver that included a few violent whips and the hardest G of the flight, probably around 4 or 5. That was the tame version, Pup explained to me; the rejoins during the scripted show are even quicker and tighter.
Back in formation, we did two flybys over Astoria, including a low pass down the runway there before proceeding south along the coast. This was another dose of beautiful scenery, with big bluffs and rocky islands as far down the shoreline as the eye could see. Boss put us into a big 360 degree turn right over Tillamook Rock so that the pilots on each side of the formation could take in the view while also staring at his jet.
We continued a little further south, with a couple more formation changes thrown in. The ocean fell behind us as we climbed up over the hills of the Tillamook State Forest – a bad place to eject, Pup pointed out to me. The team dropped back into trail, and descended into Hillsboro as a line of white dots against the evergreens. The site survey was a quick four passes over the airport, then Pup whipped us back into formation again for a final Big Diamond flyby. The team separated into three groups of three again, and set down smoothly on the runway. Our techs marshaled us into position, perfectly spaced and lined up. My Snowbirds flight had come to an end.
I’m forever grateful to the team for the opportunity to join them and I give special thanks again to Lt. Michèle Tremblay, Maj. Stephen Melanson, and Cpl. Brandon Harvey for their help. If you missed it above, make sure you check out the video of my Snowbird flight!
– Ryan Sundheimer
The Snowbirds have wrapped up their 2018 season, but I highly encourage you to make plans for one of their shows once the 2019 schedule is released in early December. You will be able to find that right here on the AirshowStuff blog, or in our forums.
Also be sure to check out our video playlist from the event!
The Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows, are set to embark on a nine-week programme across the skies of North America is 2019.
The team announced “Western Hawk 19,” an August and September of 2019 tour across Canada and the United States.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said the Red Arrows would display across the Americas, reaching millions of people and showcasing the very best of British aviation.
“Our Red Arrows fly the flag for Britain across the globe, both in the skies and on the ground, and this tour will not only showcase their teamwork and aviation excellence, but also promote our great nation to billions of people across the world.
“After an incredible year celebrating RAF100, it seems only fitting that the Red Arrows prepare to illuminate the skies of our closest allies in 2019, celebrating and strengthening our incredible relationship with the US.”
The team’s last visit to the United States came in 2008, when they performed in New York, Virginia and other states. That visit in 2008 was a “short visit,” according to the Reds, and the 2019 visit is expected to be much longer.
The US program comes after the Red Arrows’ successful 2016 Asia-Pacific and the Middle East tour.
As well as displaying at a range of shows and events, the team will also attend engagements promoting the UK Government’s GREAT campaign, visit local schools, meet with business leaders and showcase the very best of British culture.
Air Vice-Marshal Warren James, the senior RAF officer responsible for the Red Arrows, said: “The deployment of the Red Arrows will demonstrate the global reach and capability of the RAF and our continuing support of the United Kingdom’s defence and commerce industries.
At this time, the shows the team will be performing at have not been announced, but stay tuned to the AirshowStuff Blog and Facebook Page for the information as soon as it’s announced! You can also discuss your thoughts on the tour and potential tour stops for the Reds in our forums.
Aerobatic pilot Jon Thocker was killed in a crash while performing during the Friday night airshow at the 2018 Culpeper Air Fest in Culpeper, Virginia. Jon was the #2 pilot on the Redline Airshows team. The other Redline pilot, Ken Rieder, landed safely shortly after the incident. There is little information on what happened as the performance was flown in the dark.
Jon and Ken, both based in Cincinnati, Ohio, performed formation aerobatics across North America. Each pilot flew a Van’s RV-8 home-built aircraft. They were particularly known for their night time routine, which included sparklers and fireworks launched from the aircraft.
Jon was a former airline captain who retired to focus on building and flying experimental aircraft. The team recently finished building new airplanes with modifications designed to improve their night performances. We here at AirshowStuff were privileged to work with Jon several times in the last few years, and we are tremendously saddened by the loss of a great man.
One such project was this cockpit video from Jon’s aircraft several years ago. Enjoy the ride he was willing to share with us.
The annual EAA AirVenture Oshkosh airshow is well underway and the week has already provided some awesome highlights.
On Monday, the F7F Tigercats flew. Unfortunately, upon landing, one of them encountered a gear issue, but we’ve heard the aircraft has been fully repaired since then.
Tuesday featured the departure of the Honeywell Flying Testbed 757. This unique aircraft is used for in flight testing and includes a special third engine mounted to the fuselage.
On Wednesday, the US Navy Blue Angels performed a flyover and several delta passes to kickoff the show. This came as a surprise to many- including announcer Rob Reider, who was singing the anthem.
While the night show on Wednesday was cancelled (rescheduled for Thu), the B-1 still put on a show. The Bone took off shortly after 8:15, in full afterburner and climbed while circling the airport in full burner!
On Thursday, two F-35 Lightnings arrived during the airshow. They were able to negotiate a few low approaches- much to the delight of the crowd.
Friday’s show includes several military arrivals- including F-15s and F-22s. We’ll be sure to post the videos soon!
The Canadian Forces Snowbirds made a visit to NAS Pensacola, home of the US Navy Blue Angels, ahead of their show in Anderson, SC.
The team arrived Sunday night, and joined the Blues in ‘buzzing the beach’, their tradition when returning home from a show. Because the Snowbirds were low on fuel, the teams did not join up but flew along the white sandy beaches of Pensacola at the same time.
Fans in the area also got a special treat during the week from the Canadian team as they practiced over the base. Traditionally, the Blue Angels practice during the week at Pensacola, with performances open to the public. To have two jet teams perform several times in one week was quite the show!
The teams took the opportunity to ride with each other and discuss best practices. Last year, the US Air Force Thunderbirds stopped by Pensacola for a similar visit.
The teams also took some time to sign autographs following their practice performance.
The Thunder in the Valley airshow, held annually in Columbus, GA will not be returning in 2019.
The Board of Directors of the event announced that due to raising costs and a difficulty in obtaining sponsorship money, the event would not continue.
“We feel the air show competes with many other events for the same patrons’ time and money, as well as corporate sponsorship dollars. We’ve had great success for 21 years, and we believe the time is right to bring the show to an end,” Phaedra Childers, the event coordinator said.
The air show, which began in 1997 as a local fly-in, had grown to be one of the largest outdoor family events in the Chattahoochee Valley. An average of 10,000 guests per day attended the show each year. Over the show’s 21 year history, more than $1 million in donations have been donated back to Chattahoochee Valley youth organizations and charities from the profits the show collects.
The 2018 edition of the show was held in April and included performances by the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team, Viper Airshows, Kent Pietsch and others.
The USAF Thunderbirds have canceled their planned appearance at the 2018 Wings Over Columbus airshow at Columbus AFB in Mississippi. The move was announced in a video update by Thunderbird #1 following the death of Thunderbird #4, Maj. Stephen Del Bagno, in a crash during practice last week. The team had previously announced they were skipping their performances at the March ARB airshow this past weekend as well as Sun ‘n Fun in Lakeland, FL next weekend.
It is important to note that while the Thunderbird performances have been canceled, the airshows themselves will be held as originally scheduled. The Air Force’s Air Combat Command has been working to add single-ship demonstrations to affected shows; Sun ‘n Fun recently announced that the F-16 Fighting Falcon demonstration team (Viper Demo) will perform there to fill in for the Thunderbirds.
We have updated our 2018 USAF Thunderbirds schedule to reflect the confirmed cancellations, but we expect more appearances to be canceled as part of a safety stand down after the accident. Stay tuned to AirshowStuff for future updates.
Following a crash which killed Thunderbird #4, the team has canceled some upcoming shows.
As of April 6th, the team’s performances at March AFB and Sun ‘n Fun have been canceled. The rest of the season schedule is still to be determined. Canceling shows while the team stands down to investigate the mishap and take time to grieve is standard protocol following crashes.
“Though we are deeply saddened by their loss of a valuable teammate, we totally understand and support the Thunderbirds’ decision. They have a requirement to take the necessary time to assess their current situation and plot a path forward, and we certainly respect their professionalism and diligence in ensuring their safe return to airshows,” said John Leenhouts, SUN ‘n FUN President/CEO.
Leenhouts also confirmed that this year’s daily airshows will include several activities to honor the service of Maj. Stephen Del Bagno, the fallen Thunderbird Number 4, and that a portion of the proceeds from this year’s event will be donated through the proper channels to support the Thunderbird family.
The Air Force’s Air Combat Command (ACC) and Sun ‘n Fun are working together to bring alternative USAF demonstrations to the event.
In a statement, Airshow Director Greg Gibson said “We appreciate ACC’s efforts on our behalf in such a short timeframe. They are working to make available a potential first-line combat aircraft to perform full aerial displays and/or engage in Heritage Flights with several of the numerous rare WWII fighters we have in attendance this year. We will make periodic announcements throughout the following days as these appearances are confirmed.”
Please visit our forums for further discussion on the crash and what it means for the airshow season.