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MCAS Yuma Airshow 2007


Welcome to's review and pictures of the 2007 MCAS Yuma Airshow.

Every year, in the middle of the winter, the Marines put on a cool airshow at MCAS Yuma. It's always the first show of the year, my first (and much awaited) chance to see and hear loud jets after three months since the previous year's last airshow. Not only that, but it's pretty much the only airshow where you are guaranteed to see the Harrier demo, which is based there and is only performed at about 5 airshows a year, all over the US. The airshow will typically feature another fighter jet demo or two, a helicopter rescue, some warbird aerobatics and formations, and several high-energy aerobatics acts.

There are always several interesting aircraft on static display, so let's start there. This year's statics featured Harriers (of course), an F-16 and a Hornet, C-17 and C-130 cargo planes, a KC-135 tanker, a B-52 bomber, several military helicopters, a Beech Staggerwing, some Border Patrol aircraft, and several general-aviation airplanes. Ok, not the most exciting static display in the world, especially since previous years have featured F-5s, L-39s, and a German Tornado! (But this year they actually FLEW the F-5s during the airshow, so that's better than having them out on static!)

I didn't get many static shots since there were already a ton of people there when I arrived (unlike last year, when I got to access the flight line before anyone else showed up, as the sun was rising, which allowed me to take many great statics shots). But here are some. Yes, I found the stuff hanging from the B-52's wings to be strangely photogenic:

Yes, some cool motorcycles were on static display too. And balloons were flying when the gates opened! Good to see such a variety of vehicles on display, I guess...

The show started with the US Army Parachute Team demo. The "Golden Knights" are a special Army unit formed to investigate parachuting tactics, techniques, and technologies - and to beat the Russians at international skydiving competitions. They thoroughly accomplish all those goals on a regular basis. They also perform at airshows - in fact, they have two teams, so on most weekends they are at two airshows at once! They jump out of a Fokker F27-400 known in the US as a C-31 Friendship. The first Golden Knight jumps alone and brings in the American flag as the national anthem is played or performed - this kicks off the airshow. He then takes the microphone and narrates the jump made by the rest of the team: They skydive in formation, separate with a "bomb burst" manouver, and open their 'chutes. It is amazing what they can do with those parachutes, which don't just slow them down by drag: They are flexible-wing gliders that generate significant lift from forwards speed, allowing for tight turns and limited aerobatics. The Golden Knights wear smoke canisters on their feet so that we can better keep track of their twisty trajectories through the air. Two "new tricks" this year include one Golden Knight dangling a cable that holds several smoke canisters (making a band of smoke rather than just a line), and two Golden Knights flying together, the forward one a little higher with his feet on the shoulders of the rear one. It's amazing they can manouver while so close together, and they stayed that close up until a couple seconds before landing! A very impressive demo. Looks like tons of fun. (I was lucky enough to fly - but not jump! - with the Golden Knights at Beale last year. They're a really cool group of guys and gals. The most fun I've ever had with a 8mm lens).

We were then treated to some warbird flying. Five Nanchang CJ-6As (a Chinese-built highly modified version of the Yakovlev Yak-18 trainer) taxied past and took off. A rugged, simple, powerful, aerobatic, but surprisingly inexpensive design, the Yak18/CJ6 has been produced since the 1940s and is still in production today! So yes, you can buy a brand new 1940s military trainer just like these, for less than the cost of a Cessna! (It does require more fuel and only seats 2, while most Cessnas supposedly seat 4... although in practice this is like saying that a Ford Mustang seats 4, i.e. not comfortably). Four of the pilots did several fly-bys in different formations. Greg Medford, flying the blue CJ-6 painted in US markings, did a solo aerobatics act that showed off just what the CJ-6 can do. He put it through loops, rolls, knife-edge flight, cuban-8s, and tight turns. An impressive performance, flown smoothly and precisely, and very photogenic too. While I separated the pictures out between the formation act and the solo act, in fact the pilots alternated: One pass by the formation, and one or two manouvers by Greg, then another pass by the formation, and one or two passes by Greg, etc.

Now here is something I had been wanting to see for YEARS. Yuma is home to an F-5 aggressor squadron, a group of pilots who play the enemy during air combat training and wargames, using enemy tactics to teach US pilots about what they'll face in combat and how to deal with it. If you've heard of this movie called Top Gun, you know what I'm talking about. Anyways, I grew up watching F-5s fly over Rio, and their beautiful sleek shape and loud roar was a huge part of what got me interested in airplanes when I was a kid. They are still Brazil's main frontline fighter. Anyways, I had not seen or heard an F-5 fly since high school, so in the past three years I'd come to Yuma and see them on static and wish that they would be flown in the show. Well, my prayers were answered by the airshow gods, and I finally got to experience again the sight and sound of watching camouflaged F-5s slice through the sky and shake the earth with their roar. We only got a couple of passes, plus takeoff and landing, but it was the best part of the airshow (well, tied with the Harrier flight at the end).

Interestingly, Yuma is an active airport (well, not that active, but you know what I mean). At a few points during the show, we had to stop so that a commercial flight (a couple Brasilias and a couple Canadian RJs, flown by AmericaWest or SkyWest) could land, and later take off. Brasilias and F-5s - geez, I feel right at home! ;]

The local search-and-rescue squadron did a rescue demo in their Huey. It looks like fun, being flown while hanging on to a long cable dangled by a helicopter. Unfortunately, most people in that position are being rescued from uncomfortable situations, so they probably don't enjoy it so much... Anyways, it's cool to see a Huey fly so close, and to hear its distinctive whomp-whomp-whomp sound. In fact, pretty much every helicopter you hear in a movie or TV show, no matter what the helicopter is, will be accompanied by a Huey sound. I don't know if it's because of all the Hueys used in Vietnam movies (the sound was definitely very common in Vietnam during the war), or if some sound people recorded a Huey once and got such great sound that no one ever bothered to record a helicopter sound again. But in any case, it's cool to get to hear the real source of a sound that is very common and familiar to anyone who is an action movie fan. Or a Vietnam vet, I suppose.

All right, let the aerobatics begin. The one thing that is non-ideal about the Yuma airshow is that they have like six or seven aerobatics acts. Now, I can't really complain: Aerobatics are a lot of fun to watch. Those extremely powerful and agile little planes can, when skillfully flown, do things no other airplane can do, such as hoher in the air with the nose pointed up, fly sideways or backwards for brief periods, tumble end over end, corkscrew at dizzying rates, and snap-roll at what appear to be very uncomfortable accelerations. However, after two or three aerobatics acts, they all kinda start to look the same. Again, I'm not complaining - any flying is better than no flying at all, especially such extremely impressive, precise flying at weird attitudes and extreme accelerations - and I love love love the folks at Yuma who get me out of airshow withdrawl in the middle of the winter. But really, do we need this many aerobats? This feels like "filler" material, like when you order chicken or shrimp at a Chinese restaurant but most of what you get is rice, vegetables, mushrooms, and peppers... Ok, all right, I'll quit whining. Here are the aerobatics pictures.

Spencer Suderman in a Pitts S2B:

Sonny Weller in a Pitts S2C :

Jon Melby in a Pitts S2B... or is it an S1-11B? I don't really know...

Tim Weber in an Extra 300:

Doug Jardine in a Sukhoi 29. (And, by the way, he can do a cobra just like the big Sukhois, except it's a lot faster, like an Su-27 cobra played at 3x speed)

(Is it just me or does that last picture look like a person in an airplane costume or something? The airplane is so small, it's like an anthropomorphized cartoon airplane waving to the crowd...)

And last but definitely not least, my favorite of the bunch, Rob "Tumbling Bear" Harrison in a painfully yellow Zlin 50LX:

Now let's get to the good part: Military jets!

First off, the USAF A-10 tactical demo. The A-10 is made for survivability above all else, which leads to a design that is unusual and extremely rugged, with essential aircraft systems that are redundant and placed at widely separated places in the airplane, so pieces can be shot off but the plane keeps flying. Built to be flown at low altitudes in the thick of battle, the A-10 is thickly shielded with armor, and the pilot sits inside a "titanium bathtub" and surrounded by bulletproof glass. The efficient turbofan engines are smokeless and unbelievably quiet. Despite being practically a flying tank, the A-10 can take off from a short runway, turn tight, roll quickly, fly very slowly, as well as be put through aileron rolls and hesitation rolls and Cuban-8s like a smaller, lighter airplane. The demo also included simulated bomb drops and AA-fire evasion, and was narrated by an airman who is clearly proud to be working with such exceptional equipment.

The US Navy, not to be outdone, sent their F/A-18 Hornet demo team. Like the A-10 demo, the Hornet pilot flew a choreographed narrated series of manouvers designed to show off the power and agility of the F/A-18, as well as its slow-flight capabilities and its precise control systems. Unlike the A-10 demo, the Hornet demo also featured a near-supersonic pass, as well as loops and vertical climbs and other manouvers that can't be done with an efficient turbofan engine, only with the inefficient and loud low-bypass-ratio afterburning engines you see in these fighters. Yes, the demo was as awesome, loud, and fast as these pictures make it look.

(Notice how the vortices formed by the LERXs (the thin flat surfaces along the side of the forward fuselage, extending forward from the base of the wing) to keep the plane from stalling at high-G high-alpha manouvers, are so powerful and with such low pressure that they condense the water out of the air! Even in the desert!)

Then, John Collver flew his SNJ demo. Set to beautiful instrumental music, John gracefully and slowly turns, aileron-rolls, barrel-rolls, and loops his SNJ, a naval (Marines, in this case) version of the T-6 Texan. One exceptional thing about John's flying is that, instead of just flying up and down along the runway, he performs his act over an 8-shaped ground track, so he is always turning towards and the away from the crowd during each manouver, making for very photogenic head-on shots. Another exceptional thing is that he deploys his landing gear during a roll, so the wheels go "up" instead of down. He then performs some aerobatics with the gear down before landing. During the demo, the narrator explains how T-6s were THE advanced trainer used from the 30s into the 50s - almost every World War Two pilot learned to fly in one of these, and they were built in huge numbers all over the world, popular due to their ruggedness and reliability. (Even Brazil built many of them, some of which are still flying). The narrator even says that John once flew his Texan at an airshow in El Toro, where the airplane was used back when it was in service, and an older gentleman approached him after the show saying he had learned to fly in this airplane. "Well, a whole lot of people learned to fly in a T-6", John said, and the older pilot said "No, I learned to fly in THIS AIRPLANE", pointing out the serial number on the tail and remembering his student-pilot time spent on that very seat John now performed in. Pretty neat, if you ask me.

(You gotta love Collver's "backseater", visible in the last picture. I must admit I have one just like it).

And finally, the moment we all came to see: The Harrier demo! This British-designed fighter-bomber is powered by the unique Rolls Royce "Pegasus" engine. Instead of blowing its exhaust horizontally out of one big tube in the back, this engine blows it out of four small tubes on the sides of the airplane. These tubes can point straight back for normal horizontal flight like any other jet, but they can also rotate and point straight down for helicopter-like hovering flight. The Harrier demo started with what is known as a Short Takeoff: When it reached some fraction of the normal take-off speed, the engine nozzles were rotated down at some angle, and the downwards component of the thrust plus whatever lift the wings were making at the time were enough to make the jet leap off the runway. This is what gives the Harrier its nickname of "jump jet". The pilot came around for a fast pass, did a tight turn, and then flew away and back in while transitioning to vertical (hover) flight. He hovered for a while (the only time all day that really called for earplugs), pirouetted the Harrier in one spot in the air, then landed vertically like a helicopter. Not yet done, he did a vertical take off, and rocketed straight up leaving behind some dark sooty jet exhaust. It was absolutely amazing. This is the fourth year I've gotten to see the Harrier demo and it does not get any less impressive with time. My roommate accompanied me to this airshow, and he said that if the Harrier had then transformed into a humanoid-shaped robot and started walking around, this would have made the demo only slightly more amazing ;]

Ok. That's it. I hope you enjoyed this review. If you did, or if you have any comments, suggestions, questions, corrections, etc, if you would like high-res versions of any of these images, etc, then please please email me.


- Bernardo

PS: Like I said, my roommate accompanied me to this airshow. Here's a picture of us by the Hot Ramp. He's the one wearing the HURT hat. (HURT, by the way, is actually a pretty interesting program, so do check out these links).

All images & text © Bernardo Malfitano; Unauthorized use is a violation of copyright law, so if you want to use any of this content, please ask.