2016 Event Review

Kirtland AFB Open House and Air Show, June 4-5, 2016
Location: Kirtland AFB, Albuquerque, NM
Admission: Free
Parking: Off-site with free shuttle buses
Value:Very Good
Rating out of 10:8 due to circumstances beyond the control of the organizers.
 

Greg "Wired" Colyer, T-33 Shooting Star "Ace Maker II"

Albuquerque Army Air Base was established on April 1, 1941. Its mission was to train air crews for the B-17 Flying Fortress, the B-24 Liberator, and, later, the B-29 Superfortress. In February, 1942, it was renamed Kirtland Army Air Field in honor of Army aviation pioneer Col. Roy Kirtland. Upon the creation of the US Air Force in 1947, Kirtland Field became Kirtland Air Force Base. The pinnacle event of this year's celebration of the base's 75th anniversary was the Open House and Air Show, which took place June 4-5

The Thunderbirds were to be the headline attraction, but were grounded by a safety stand-down after Thunderbird #6, Maj. Alex Turner, the Opposing Solo, crashed after a flyover at the Air Force Academy graduation ceremony. He ejected safely, but the team did not perform at the Kirtland show. Nevertheless, the show did go on. Parking was off-site, with free shuttle buses providing transportation on to the base. Security was handled very expeditiously just inside the main gates, which opened at 9AM. Vendor booths and informational displays were distributed along the tarmac. A large food court was centrally located, with water buffalos providing free water throughout the grounds. With sunny skies and temperatures in the low 90s, this was a welcome resource. A large Kiddie Zone provided amusement for children.

The Wings of Blue opened the show by bringing in the US and New Mexico state flags right at 11AM. They would return later for their full jumping demonstration. The flying performances were interspersed with takeoffs and landings of commercial flights, as the base shares the runways with Albuquerque International Airport. Southwest Airlines made sure that their brightly painted "New Mexico One" flagship departed during the show on Saturday.
Kyle Franklin started off the day's flying with his Piper Super Cub comedy routine. Veteran airshow goers are familiar with the "rookie steals a plane and tries to fly" routine, but it is a real crowd-pleaser and many first-time spectators are taken in by the act. Whereas many performers will dip their wing close to the tarmac, Kyle does an especially impressive job of dragging the wing of his plane along the runway during his Cub Comedy routine and crossing into the dirt between the runways.

In a tribute to the base's bomber training heritage, a group of World War II "heavies" took to the skies. The B-17G Flying Fortress "Sentimental Journey" and the North American B-25J Mitchell "Made in the Shade" were joined by a C-47 Skytrain and flew past the crowd. Afterwards, celebrating the base's current mission of training Special Operations aircrews, a pair of Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft flew by in formation. An HC-130P King, piloted by Maj Christian Walley and Capt Edward Wineland joined an MC-130H Combat Talon II, piloted by Maj Nathaniel Alfano and Capt John Bowman.

Both aircraft are with the 550th Special Operations Squadron based at Kirtland AFB, and both will soon be replaced by the MC-130J Commando II, on static display at the show. This may have been the last time the King and Combat Talon II flew at an airshow at Kirtland and each made a final pass-in-review before landing.

Another set of WWII warbirds then took off. A North American AT-6 Texan trainer, the Douglas A-26 Invader "Night Mission" attack aircraft, and the North American P-51D Mustang "Pecos Bill" fighter made several passes from both left and right. The Texan then put on a nice aerobatic demonstration for the crowd.

Skip Stewart, in his Pitts S-2 Special, and Melissa Pemberton, in her Edge 540, wowed the crowds with their high-energy aerobatic performances. Local talent Bob Carlton slowed things down in his Super Salto sailplane demo, but then, just when you thought he had descended to land he fired up the jet engine mounted on top of the glider and took it to new heights. Greg "Wired" Colyer provided more jet noise later when he put on his aerobatic demonstration of the capabilities of the Korean War-vintage T-33 Shooting Star "Ace Maker II." The Werth brothers entertained the crowd by racing down the runway. But this was no ordinary race, Billy was flying the Pitts S2 biplane mere feet above the concrete while David was on a motorcycle, holding on to the wing.

10 Tanker Air Carrier is a company devoted to researching, developing and operating fixed wing jet aircraft for aerial firefighting. It is based in Albuquerque and they rolled out their DC-10 tanker for a fire-fighting demonstration. The DC-10 delivers almost 12,000 gallons of retardant per load, which is four times more than any other tanker employed today. It can either deliver an unbroken line of retardant over 50 feet wide and more than two thirds of a mile long, or split the drops to any amount and length required. During the show it dropped a belly full of water along the full length of the runway. Many overheated spectators were hoping it would make a drop over the crowd to cool things off.
On Saturday, a B-2 Spirit "Spirit of Georgia" made several passes in front of the crowd, showing off how agile and maneuverable this large stealth bomber really is. A B-52H Stratofortress, "The Devil's Own," and a B-1B Lancer, "Dark Knight," were on static display. It would have been fantastic to see all three in the air to honor the base's bomber heritage, but just seeing all three in a single day was a rare treat.
Other "heavies" on static display were a C-5 Galaxy and a KC-10 Extender from Travis AFB. An unusual sight in this land-locked state was a brightly painted US Coast Guard HC-144A Ocean Sentry. In what must have been one of its last airshow appearances, the QF-4 Phantom II was on static display. Flown in by Lt Col (Ret) Jim "WAM" Harkins from Holloman AFB, it was a sight to see, albeit fated to soon be shot down as a drone in live-fire exercises.
There was a separate Special Operations display area, featuring many aircraft which few get to see: fixed-wing AC-130W Stinger II, HC-130P King, MC-130J Commando II, MC-130H Combat Talon II, along with rotorcraft such as the CV-22 Osprey, HH-60G Pavehawk and the venerable UH-1N Huey.
The US Navy's F/A-18F Super Hornet TAC DEMO was scheduled to perform late in the day, and on Saturday LT Scott "Bromer" Sulich was going through pre-flight checks on the taxiway when a Rocky Mountain storm brewed up over the Sandia Mountains and headed for the base. Several lightning strikes were recorded within a five-mile radius, causing the show to be suspended and spectators were told to seek shelter in the voluminous base hangars. A few minutes later the show was cancelled and visitors were instructed to leave the base. Unfortunately we were unable to attend the show on Sunday, so were not able to see either the Super Hornet demo, nor the 58th Special Operations Wing Capabilities Demonstration, which was a simulated Combat Search And Rescue mission. Another instance of "schedule subject to changeā€¦"
Despite the heat and thunderstorms, an estimated 50,000 people attended during the show's two days. This is not surprising, as it had been five years since the last airshow at Kirtland AFB. Air Show Announcer Howard "Howdy" McCann did a terrific job of informing and entertaining the crowd while Air Boss David Schultz did an exceptional job of scheduling the flying performers while accounting for all of the interruptions. We would like to express our thanks and sincere appreciation to the 377th Air Base Wing Public Affairs Office, in particular MSgt Phyllis Keith, for their hospitality and assistance during the Open House and to all the Airmen at Kirtland Air Force Base for their service. Hopefully we don't have to wait another five years before coming back to see the 58th Special Operations in action.
Performers included:

U.S. Air Force Academy Wings of Blue Parachute Team

58th Special Operations Wing Capabilities Demonstration

U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet TAC DEMO

A-26 Invader "Night Mission"

B-17G Flying Fortress "Sentimental Journey"

B-25J Mitchell "Maid in the Shade"

C-47 Skytrain

T-6A Texan

P-51D Mustang "Pecos Bill"

Melissa Pemberton, Edge 540 Aerobatics

Skip Stewart, Pitts S2 Aerobatics

Bob Carlton, Super Salto jet sailplane

Kyle Franklin, Piper Super Cub Aerobatic Comedy Act

Sibling Rivalry: Billy Werth, Pitts S2 biplane, David Werth, Motorcycle

Greg "Wired" Colyer, T-33 Shooting Star "Ace Maker II" Aerobatics

B-2 Spirit "Spirit of Georgia" flyover (Saturday only)

Static displays included:

B-52H Stratofortress "The Devil's Own"

B-1B Lancer "Dark Knight"

C-5 Galaxy

KC-10 Extender

T-6A Texan II

AC-130W Stinger II

QF-4 Phantom II

HH-60G Pavehawk

UH-1N Huey

MC-130J Commando II

MC-130H Combat Talon II

HC-130P King

CV-22 Osprey

HC-144A Ocean Sentry, US Coast Guard

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

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