Saturday, we went to the Cecil Field Air Show … my first since the 2007 Sea and Sky Spectacular at the beach. While the beach air show is a lot of fun, the flying is at the beach, and you miss out on a lot of the airshow ambiance unless you go look at the static displays at Mayport. At Cecil, you get the entire air show experience all in one spot … and it was worth the trip.
This year’s show was part MS fundraiser, and part tribute to Alan Henly, the former lead pilot for the Aeroshell Acrobatic team (right). Henly was playing with his kids in his back yard when a chin-up bar gave way, and he severely injured his neck, paralyzing him from the chest down. 35 acrobatic acts donated their time for the airshow this year to help raise money for Henly’s recovery, and the flying was spectacular.
The Aeroshell team flies vintage AT-6 Texans, known to Navy pilots as the SNJ. It was the last trainer tens of thousands of pilots saw before graduating to combat aircraft. The big radial engines have a distinctive growl, throaty and low. The precision flying was amazing to watch. 55-hundred pound airplanes flying the paint like they were one aircraft. And they were the finale of a long day of spectacular flying.
From vintage to contemporary. The FA-18 Hornet made a spectacular showing, often flying at just subsonic speeds. In full afterburner, when raw fuel is being dumped into the engine, the sound can be overpowering … about a second and a half after the airplane has passed by. “The Sound of Freedom”, the announcer said, and being there, you can certainly believe it. The Hornet in Marine paint flew formation with a legacy Marine Corps fighter … the F4-U Corsair.
The static displays also featured a lot of military aircraft. I saw a P-51 Mustang that had been completely retrofitted with a glass panel. There was a C-3, the military version of the DC-3. Piper Cubs in both civilian yellow and olive drab. On the far north side of the ramp there were a bunch of helicopters … pretty much anything that flies and has an engine. And there might have been a glider somewhere … but I didn’t see it.
There were civilian aircraft as well. This Super Decathlon features a Lycoming AEIO-360 engine with 180 horses, inverted fuel & oil systems and a large wing which allows the airplane to perform some aggressive maneuvers. Several of the performers showed off the capabilities of their airplanes by flying them sideways to the crowd … and my sideways I mean just as you see here. That’s not an airplane caught in the middle of a roll, but in sustained knife-edge flight, mostly hanging from the propeller.
Cecil Field is such a huge place that putting 10 thousand or so people on the apron doesn’t even begin to fill it up. There was plenty of room at the runway fence to get close and shoot pictures, and I left with some pretty severe lens envy.
It was a great way to become re-acquainted with air shows. I’d forgotten how much fun it is just to wander around among the airplanes and be up close. I’ll be making an effort to get to a lot more of them from now on.