2015 Event Review

Wings Over Houston Airshow, October 17-18, 2015
Location: Ellington Field, Houston, TX
Admission: $30 adult, $5 child, under 5 free. Family packs and advance purchase discounts available
Parking: Free on-site. Free shuttle bus service from select Park & Ride lots
Value: Excellent
Rating out of 10: 10
 

The Wings Over Houston Airshow took place October 17-18 at Ellington Field in Houston, Texas under clear blue skies and with perfect temperatures. As usual, the show was dominated by the large number of warbirds, but with civilian aerobatics, the Navy's Super Hornet Tactical Demonstration, the Coast Guard's Search and Rescue demo and two jet teams, there was something for everyone. The Thunderbirds shared the skies this year with the Breitling jet team who were flying their final demonstration of their 2015 North American Tour.

The gates opened promptly at 0800. With so much going on in the sky and on the ground it always makes sense to get there early. Photographers had the option of purchasing a Sunrise Photo Tour Pass or Photo Pit Pass to gain early access or elevated risers, tent area, drinking water, and restrooms in a chalet area. The Legends & Heroes Tent opened at 9AM. Almost all of the warbirds on static display fly during the day, so the whole hot ramp is closed for viewing at 11AM. The number of military aircraft on display is still a shadow of its former self due to the effects of the federal budget sequestration, but there were several aircraft from the US Army, Air Force and Navy as well as several NASA aircraft.

The RE/MAX Parachute jumpers opened the show at 11AM, flying in the US national and Texas state flags. A Coast Guard MH-65D Dolphin helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Houston presented a Search and Rescue demonstration to start off the day's flying. David Martin then put on a very energetic aerobatic show in the Breitling CAP 232. He was followed later in the day by local aerobatic legend Debby Rihn-Harvey, also flying a CAP 232, and newcomer Kevin Coleman in the Extra 300.

Tora! Tora! Tora! began their demonstration just after noon and soon the skies were filled with a multitude of aircraft flying from left and right, diving in from high above and making high-speed passes down on the deck. The smoke from the massive amount of pyrotechnics often obscured the planes, providing a realistic recreation of the morning of December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor. The warbird extravaganza continued with the trainer fly-by, featuring examples of the training aircraft that aspiring airmen would have to master on their way to becoming pilots. Primary, basic and advanced trainers such as the Stearman, Valiant and Texan all flew by in various formations. The European Theater demonstration opened with a bombing pass by the B-25J Mitchell "Yellow Rose" and B-17G Flying Fortress "Texas Raiders." A Messerschmitt 262 jet fighter was scrambled to intercept, which the attracted the attention of a Spitfire MkIX, a P-51D Mustang "Dakota Kid" and two P-40 Warhawks. After a simulated dogfight between these adversaries, the Me262, Spitfire and Mustang joined up for a beautiful and very rare formation flyby. The Spitfire split off and the Mustang and Messerschmitt returned for a few passes. With air superiority now established a C-60 Lodestar "Goodtime Gal" flew over. Members of the Round Canopy Parachute Team jumped from the transport, re-enacting the missions of WWII paratroopers. On Sunday the jump was aborted due to high winds, but one of the skydivers had already exited the aircraft. He drifted into the crowd, landed on a vendor's tent and broke his leg. Then it was time to move to the Pacific Theater of Operations. The action started with low-level passes by the Douglas SBD Dauntless, Grumman TBM Avenger and Curtiss SB2C Helldiver, complete with simulated bomb and torpedo explosions. They were followed by the fighters: Vought F4U Corsair, Grumman F7F Tigercat and two F8F Bearcats and a Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero.
The Breitling Jet Team, composed primarily of ex-French Air Force pilots flying seven L-39 trainers, ended their 2015 North American tour at Houston and they pulled out all the stops. They began their show with a series of smooth aerobatic formations, transitioning from one shape into another. In the second half the tempo increased and the maneuvers became more energetic and exciting. They concluded their show with a dynamic break-out aimed at the crowd, and deployed fireworks as they went vertical. If you missed their show this year, you'll have another chance in 2016, as they have extended their North American tour.

The jet noise got even louder as the Navy's Super Hornet Tactical Demonstration started. The F/A-18F from VFA-122 based at NAS Lemoore powered down the runway with full afterburner and performed a beautiful roll on take-off. Pilot Zach "Sprite" Pleis and WSO Nolan "Fat Hands" Lucas tore up the sky with high-speed passes and high-g turns. During Friday's rehearsal show these resulted in an impressive amount of vapor, including a full shock-cone. The vapor was much less pronounced during the weekend, but the flying was just as impressive.

The Thunderbirds closed the show in their usual style, although Saturday's show was delayed when the #4 plane encountered mechanical difficulties on the runway just prior to taking off. Maj. Curtis Dougherty taxied back in and jumped into the two-seater F-16D spare, but was unable to start it. Luckily another spare was available and the show went on.

Ralph Royce and Rob Reider teamed up once again as Air Boss and Announcer, respectively. We would like to thank Scott Tims for organizing the media opportunities and all the staff, sponsors and volunteers for making Wings Over Houston one of the world's premier warbird airshows.
Performers included:

USN Blue Angels
VFA-122 Super Hornet Demonstration Team
Breitling Jet Team
Tora! Tora! Tora!
U.S. Coast Guard MH-65D Dolphin Helicopter Search and Rescue Demo
RE/MAX Skydive Team
Round Canopy Parachute Team WWII Re-enactors

Aerobatics:

Debby Rihn-Harvey, CAP 232
David Martin, Breitling CAP 232
Kevin Coleman, Extra 300

WW II Airpower Demo - Fighters, Attack, Dive- and Torpedo-Bombers:
Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero “Last Samurai”
Goodyear FG-1D Corsair
Douglas SBD Dauntless
Grumman F7F Tigercat
Grumman F8F Bearcat
Curtiss P-40K and P-40N Warhawk
North American P-51D Mustangs “Dakota Kid II/Long Island Kid
Messerschmitt Me262
Supermarine Spitfire MkIX
Curtiss SB2C Helldiver
Grumman TBM-3 Avenger
Tora! Tora! Tora! Val, Kate and Zero replicas

Bombers and Transport:
Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress “Texas Raiders”
North American B-25J Mitchell “Yellow Rose”
Lockheed C-60 Lodestar “Goodtime Gal”

Trainers, Liaison & Observation:
North American SNJ/AT-6 Texans
Fairchild PT-19 Cornell
Boeing PT-17 Stearman
Beech T-34 Mentors
North American L-17 Navion
Cessna O-2A Skymasters
Stinson Reliant
Vultee BT-13 Valiant

Static displays included:

US Army AH-64 Apache
USAF F-16C Fighting Falcon
USAF C-17 Globemaster III
USAF B-52H Stratofortress “Global Warror”
USN F-5N Freedom Fighter
NASA Super Guppy
NASA WB-57F Canberra
NASA T-38A Talon

Report and photography by Norman A. Graf for The Aviation Magazine

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