Tag Archives: United States Air Force

Wings over Atlanta: the Dobbins Air Reserve Base airshow

In the last few weeks readers of this blog have had the opportunity to read articles and watch pictures taken at airshows all around the world: in September, with a series of posts, I described the 50th Anniversary of the Frecce Tricolori airshow in Rivolto; then, I reported about the RAAF Williamtown airshow thanks to the pictures and report provided by Ed Armstrong and a few days ago, I wrote a post about the famous Axalp airshow, attended this year by Simone Bovi. The “world airshow tour” completes with another interesting report, this time by Moreno Aguiari, a former Italian commercial and Cropduster pilot living in the USA, who attended the Wings over Atlanta airshow, at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, that among the others, featured the interesting displays of the US Navy Blue Angels and Canadian Snowbirds, a rare sight outside America. Moreno sent me the following pictures and wrote an interesting detailed report of the Dobbins airshow for the readers of this site:

In the Oct. 16-17 weekend, like previous years, the skies over Dobbins ARB in Atlanta were filled with aerobatics during the 2010 “Wings over Atlanta” airshow. Aerial feats were performed by noted military teams like the Navy’s own Blue Angels and the Air Force Academy’s Wings of Blue elite parachute team. International guests, like the Canadian Snowbirds were also in attendance, offering thrilling examples of advanced aerial skills and tricky formations. Along with the performers, the audience enjoyed static displays, food, and opportunities to talk to pilots, civilian and military personnel about their professions. After the 2008 air show became a traffic issue for many visitors, this year’s organizers reached out to area transit providers and lot owners for help. In response, 127 busses were contracted and used to transport nearly 200,000 spectators, free of charge, who arrived for the show both on Saturday and on Sunday. Parking space was provided by Lockheed Martin, located on the Dobbins base. Organizers were pleased with the results as crowds gasped and applauded at the many thrilling aerial exercises provided by the experienced pilots and their support teams. Other performances by Red Eagle, Dan Buchanan, Gary Rower, Bill Braak and his Smoke-N-Thunder Jet Car, F/A -18 Hornet Demo, Kent Pietsch Jelly Belly, Dobbins C-130 Airdrop, “Otto” The Helicopter (a favorite, especially among children), Georgia State Patrol Helo Demo, Viper East F-16 Demo, Sean D. Tucker/Oracle and others provided even more excitement for the day.
The organization of the air show was handled by the 94th Airlift Wing, that is organized into a headquarters element, three groups, and a medical element containing 11 Squadrons and 4 Flights (1,800 personnel) and whose mission is threefold. The primary mission is to train C-130H aircrews for the United States Air Force — active duty, guard and reserve components. The second mission is to maintain combat ready units to deploy on short notice to support contingencies anywhere in the world. The third mission is to support all agencies and tenants at Dobbins Air Reserve Base.

The highlight of the show was, without a doubt, the performance of the US Navy Blue Angels F/A-18s and their support plane, the C-130, affectionately known as “Fat Albert”. The aerial demonstration begun by exhibiting the jet’s maximum performance capabilities during a ten-minute performance. Shortly thereafter, it was the time for the graceful aerobatic maneuvers of the four-jet Diamond Formation, in concert with the fast-paced, high-performance maneuvers of its two solo pilots. Finally, the team illustrated the pinnacle of precision flying, performing maneuvers locked as a unit in the renowned, six-jet Delta Formation.

The Blue Angels, although less aerobatic from a pure jet handling point of view than the USAF counterparts, the Thunderbirds, showed off some incredible precision flying, considering the size of Hornet.
The Blue Angels were scheduled to fly 68 performances at 35 airshow sites in the United States during the 2010 season as the team celebrates its 23rd year of flying the F-18. The Dobbins Airshow was the 66th of the season, and the Angels still have one more show in Homestead, FL before of the Homecoming show in Pensacola, Florida on November 11th and 13th.
This year’s show also hosted the Canadian Snowbirds. Officially known as the Canadian Forces 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, they fly the CT-114 Tutors that were designed and built by Canadair. The Canadians are well known for their precise flight program that includes different formations composed by 9 or 7 planes, as well as solo flights.
Another amazing show was performed by flying legend Sean D. Tucker, flying his custom built Oracle Challenger III biplane which produces more than 400 horsepower, weighs only 1,200 pounds, and is considered the most high-performance aerobatic aircraft in the world. The Challenger III is equipped with a unique set of wings that use 8 ailerons instead of 4. The tail on the airplane is modeled after the tail used on high-performance radio control airplanes. What Sean does with his plane seems beyond the all laws of aerodynamics.

The power of the Oracle’s engine allows Sean to “hang” vertically in the skies without losing altitude. Sean D. Tucker’s “Sky Dance” daytime performance begins with an unbelievable sequence of events. One second he’s tumbling the 330 HP Randolph Sunglass Challenger end-over-end, and then all the sudden flying it tail-first, straight towards the earth for 500 feet at negative airspeeds of up to 90 MPH while rolling his aircraft counter-clockwise! Before the first spiral of smoke begins to fade, Tucker plunges into a powerful and complex aerobatics sequence that demonstrates the talent that won him the coveted U.S. National Advanced Aerobatics Trophy in 1988. Tucker’s spectacular sequence includes original, adrenaline-pumping maneuvers like “The Centrifuge,” “The Son of Edwin,” “The Spiraling Tower,” “The Tucker Upper,” “The Harrier Pass” and the heart-stopping finale “The Triple ribbon Cut.”

The static display, whose centerpiece was the F-22 Raptor with its incredible engines strictly covered, was very impressive this year with some of the greatest warbirds, such as P-51 Mustangs, the P-40, the mammoth Grumman TBF Avenger and many more. As usual the planes were open cockpit and from the giant planes like the C-5, C-17, and KC-135 it was possible to enter in the cargo bay and climb up into the cockpit.
Delta Airlines flew one of its B-757’s to Dobbins, promoting the fight against cancer.

Without a doubt this year’s Wings over Atlanta was another successful airshow for the 94th AW.

Air-to-air photo sessions: when better communication would prevent panic

During my career as a journalist, I’ve had some chances to chase other aircraft and take interesting air-to-air pictures. It happened when I took the a/a pics of the F-104s, of the AMX, Tornado F.3, MB-339CD etc (if you browse through the posts and pages of this blog you can find many of those images and related stories). But, none of those sorties caused stir as the following two examples.
On May 16, 2002, a C-135E panicked the city of Sydney, Australia, overflying at low level the city center during an air-to-air photo session. The aircraft, using c/s “Agar 72”, performed a few orbits above the Opera House and Harbour Bridge escorted by a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Hawk and many, watching the scene from the ground, thought that a remake of the 9/11 terrorist attack on NYC was in progress. Actually, both aircraft were involved in a promotional flight aimed to gather imagery of the C-135E, one of the most interesting and less known to the Australian aircraft of the USAF inventory. The presumed hijacked C-135E Argus over Sydneycommercial wide body, serialled 60-0372, was one of the three flying for the Air Force Material Command (AFMC), headquartered in Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio, employed by the 452nd FLTS (Flight Test Squadron) of the 412th TW (Test Wing) based at Edwards AFB, California, the weapon systems’ testing and development unit of the USAF. The aircraft was previously a C-135N, converted to stydy the atmosphere within the ABL Airborne Laser program. During the various testing campaigns, whose aim was to evaluate the actual range of the laser at various altitudes, temperature, seasons and optical turbulences, the C-135E flew in simulated and realistic scenarios and the one that scared Sydney was probably returning to Edwards from a Forward Operating Base (maybe Osan airbase, Korea). Something similar happened on Apr. 27, 2009, when the Presidential Airlift Group conducted a photo mission above New York City involving the VC-25 and an F-16 between the 10.00L and 10.30L. The flight was coordinated by the Defense Department and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and notifications were sent to the emergency centers, to the NY Police Deparment and to the New Jersey State Police (plus a few more operations centers in the area) but people didn’t expect to see a fighter escorting a wide-body (one of the two flying for the POTUS as the “Air Force One”) above Battery Park City and the Hudson River. The sight of the two aircraft frightened residents and workers in Manhattan who called 911 and other authorities asking for information. Some buildings even self evacuated.
Here’s a video of the photo session taking place over NYC (many more are available on Youtube):

As a consequence of the NYC photo shoot, President Obama ordered review of the NYC flyover, as explained in the following interesting Associated Press article (containing much details):

Obama orders review of New York City flyover

By Anne Gearan – The Associated Press
Posted : Tuesday Apr 28, 2009 22:09:41 EDT

WASHINGTON — The White House plans an inquiry into a low-flying photo shoot
by a presidential plane that panicked New Yorkers and cost taxpayers
$328,835. President Barack Obama said Tuesday it won’t happen again.
But the origins of the government public relations stunt that went awry
remained an engrossing mystery — and a potential political problem for
Obama. The White House military office approved the photo-op, which cost
$35,000 in fuel alone for the plane and two jet fighter escorts.
“I think this is one of those rare cases where we can all agree it was a
mistake,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said of Monday’s “unfortunate”
flight low over the Hudson River that for many on the ground evoked chilling
memories of Sept. 11, 2001’s attacks that brought down the World Trade
Center’s twin towers, just across the water from Monday’s flyover.
The sight of the huge passenger jet and an F-16 fighter plane whizzing past
the Statue of Liberty and the lower Manhattan financial district sent
panicked office workers streaming into the streets.
“It was a mistake, as was stated … and it will not happen again,” Obama
White House officials did not say why new photos were needed of the plane
that is sometimes used as Air Force One — Obama was not aboard the flight —
or who the presumed audience of the planned photographs were.
Air Force officials began to provide basic information Tuesday about the
cost of the flights, but did not disclose how long the public has paid for
similar photo op flights.
And public officials from the White House to New York still had not
explained why they acceded to a plan that informed several dozen officials
about the impending flight but kept the public in the dark.
“I think we’ve all learned something from it, and now it’s time to make sure
our procedures are better and to get on with other things,” New York Mayor
Michael Bloomberg said. “It does seem like it was a waste of money, but
that’s up to the federal government.”
Air Force officials Tuesday said the fuel cost of the three-hour round trip
from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and back was $35,000 for the flight
of the Boeing VC-25 presidential jet and the two accompanying F-16 fighters
flown by D.C. Air National Guard pilots. The large jet, a Boeing 747,
carried only military personnel, the White House said.
The Air Force estimated the total costs for the flights to be $328,835,
including fuel used in air for the planes and on the ground for trucks and
support vehicles. The cost also includes the average price for parts that
need replaced, repaired or restocked after flights.
Air Force officials said the team would have spent that money regardless;
they said the photo op flight was run as a regular training mission, so that
the costs of the aircraft were considered training costs and were handled
under the operations and maintenance budget of the 89th Airlift Wing.
They said they reached that total based on an average of past costs when the
aircrafts were used.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday that there would be an
inquiry into how the decision was made to make the flight. He made no move
to defend the midlevel White House civilian who had accepted blame for it on
“The president will look at that review and take any appropriate steps after
that,” Gibbs said. The inquiry would be led by Deputy Chief of Staff Jim
Messina, Gibbs said.
White House officials said Obama was fuming mad and thinks Air Force One did
not need a new publicity photo anyway.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates “did not know in advance about this flying
photo op,” Morrell said. “Once he found out, suffice it to say he was
surprised and not very pleased.”
The presidential air fleet answers to the White House military office, whose
director, Louis Caldera, issued a mea culpa on Monday.
“While federal authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local
authorities in New York and New Jersey, it is clear that the mission created
confusion and disruption,” Caldera’s statement said. “I apologize and take
responsibility for any distress that flight caused.”
For a half-hour, the Boeing 747 and one of the F-16s circled the Statue of
Liberty and the financial district near the World Trade Center site. Offices
emptied. Dispatchers were inundated with calls. Witnesses thought the planes
were flying dangerously low.
A White House official has said the New York City mayor’s office and other
New York and New Jersey police agencies were told about the Boeing 747’s
flight. The official said the FAA, at the military’s request, told local
agencies that the information was classified and asked them not to publicize
Bloomberg initially lambasted the government for failing to notify him, then
criticized one of his own aides after learning that the aide had not relayed
notification that the flight was coming.
New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine said Tuesday he also received no warning ahead
of time that the backup Air Force One jet and military fighters would be
flying low around the Statute of Liberty.
Corzine said he had yet to find a New Jersey official who was told in
advance about the Monday morning fly-over.
The Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl
Levin, said the Obama administration should have been more careful about
alerting New Yorkers to the photo op.
There should have been better communication,” Levin said Tuesday. “They’ve
expressed their regrets for not having a better communications line to New
York, and I think New York people should have known about it.”