MCAS Miramar Air Show 2008
October 9, 2008 by Bryan
This past weekend Jamie and I attended the MCAS Miramar Air Show. This is the first time we attended this air show so it was all new to us. I had been to an air show at El Toro a long time ago when I was a kid and I remembered some of that but this was a much different experience. If you happen to go to this event here are a few things to know. The Marine Corps Air Station is not designed to handle this many people. You either decide to come early and make the morning show and maybe get a real parking spot or if you are like us you arrive at around 9:45 AM or so and they are already parking people in dirt lots about a mile from the gate. Then you can decide to walk the mile like we did or wait in an extremely long line for a shuttle to bring you closer. Security is very tight and every bag is checked and tagged. Then you pass through detectors for what I can only assume are WMD’s because they are not metal detectors. Before you even park you may be selected at random for a vehicle inspection. These are conducted in complete military fashion by the book. Luckily I didn’t win THAT lottery.
Finally Jamie and I arrive inside the gates with our two bags of camera equipment and no food or water. Yes, I know it wasn’t the smartest move. We got grandstand seats and once in the grandstands I used my telephoto lens to read the sign on the water stand. It read “Water $3”. It was highway robbery I know but I didn’t want to pass out so I invested in some water and later a hot dog and a pretzel. We did bring lots of sunscreen though so we were good on that front. We arrived right in the middle of the morning show so those acts were already going on. We saw the tail end of Bill Reesman flying a MiG17F which is a Russian jet that looks like basically a jet engine with wings and a cockpit.
We got situated and began shooting when the “Patriots” were flying. This is a team of pilots on four L-39 jets. The L-39 is a soviet designed trainer jet which is not known for it’s speed but is still highly maneuverable. The pilots on the team are extraordinary and perform many of the same formations and flight patterns as the Blue Angels although at slower speeds. They are sponsored by Frys.com which I think is pretty funny. The announcer for them was basically selling the audience on visiting Frys the whole time the Patriots were flying.
Shooting was difficult for most of the day because a storm was rolling through a few miles out and there was cloud cover up high in the sky. This made many of our images flat and lacking contrast. It also made the sky too light and the aircraft too dark. Luckily the sky would open up later in the day.
The next thing we saw were the U.S. Army Golden Knights. This parachute team can jump again and again and land on target every single time and do it in style. While the Golden Knights were still looking for the best place to jump a whole slew of aircraft and helicopters took to the air in preparation for the MAGTF demo.
The Marine Air-Ground Task Force demonstration was an overwhelming display of force all used in coordination. The demo involved F/A 18 multi-role jets, AV8B Harriers, AH1W Super Cobras, UH-1N Iroquois helicopters, CH-53 Super Stallions, CH-46, KC-130 aircraft, M1 Abrams tanks and Infantry Fighting vehicles all participated in this exercise. Words can’t even describe how awesome this display was. At any given time at least three or four things were going on.
Next was Sean Tucker in the “Oracle Challenger”. This is a purpose built aerobatic biplane designed especially for him. Sean performs some of the most amazing stunts in this aircraft including barrel rolls which lead to inverted loops and anything else you can think of. Sean has a microphone in the plane and can talk to the ground and the audience over the PA system and lets just say that this is one excited guy.
The F/A 18F Super Hornet demonstration came next. Many people don’t know that the Super Hornet is actually a completely different aircraft from the original F-18 design which the Blue Angels still use. It is larger, faster, more powerful and can project force at a greater distance then the earlier design. In the demo the first thing you see is the pilot perform a “dirty” takeoff where he rolls off the runway way before he normally would just to show how much power the engines produce and is propelled almost straight up just by the awesome amounts of thrust the aircraft can produce. The other amazing thing the Super Hornet did was a high speed pass at just below the speed of sound. At this speed you could see these formations of water vapor appear and disappear over the aircraft in a conical shape. Until that day I did know that such a phenomenon really existed. I had seen photos but I never saw it for myself. Well now I have photos to prove that it does happen.
The F-16 Fighting Falcon demonstration came up next. The F-16 is older then the F-18 but is in some ways more fun in that it is very light and agile and can pull up to 9 positive g’s. Now humans can’t really sustain that kind of force for any period of time but thanks to pressure suits and training, pilots can pull off those kind of maneuvers.
Then came what I was waiting for all day. The F-22 raptor demonstration. The F-22 started at the opposite side of the runway coming towards our side. The first thing I saw was the jet already off the ground with the landing gear retracted but only a few feet separated the aircraft from the ground. Then the pilot broke hard up and away from the crowd. At this point I could see just how large the jet is. It is larger then a Super Hornet. The F-22 pilot then proceeded to perform maneuvers which I only heard described in textbooks but never actually performed in real life. The pilot pulled a Hammerhead were the jet is going straight up and then once it reaches a very slow speed the rudder is kicked over to pitch the jet back towards the ground. Next the pilot put the jet into a flat spin high above the airfield. Lastly the pilot demonstrated a power loop which is a maneuver that the F-22 excels at in which the loop it makes is super small. They call it the smallest loop you will ever see.
Well that was it for me. I spent all my camera’s memory on that demo. Jamie continued shooting the F-22 and I took some videos of the AV8B VTOL demo and of course the venerable Blue Angels. Then we huffed it back the whole mile to the car and sat in traffic for an hour just to get off the air station. It was a fun and educational day that was both exciting and exhausting at the same time.
Make sure to check out the rest of our air show photos in the gallery.