Air Show Report : CAF Airsho 2010 - Midland
Between Midland and Odessa in Texas, the Midland International Airport hosted the 2010 Airsho of the Commemorative Air Force on October 9-10. Ramon van Opdorp tells you about the show and the warbirds present.
Texas Rangers Ė the CAF Airsho 2010
On August 6, 1945, the turning point in modern warfare became fact, and made a end to the horrible Second World War. On this date a B-29 Super Fortress named "Enola Gay" dropped the first atomic bomb "Little Boy" on Hiroshima, Japan. Followed three days later by the B-29 "Bockscar", which dropped the "Fat Man" on Nagasaki, Japan. Now 65 years later, the only surviving B-29 Super Fortress "Fifi" made her first airshow appearance after a nine year long engine overhaul.
The B-29 Super Fortress was one of my main goals, when I made my plans in early 2010 to visit the famous CAF Airsho at the Midland Airport in Texas, United States. When you love warbirds, the CAF Airsho is the place to be. The more than exclusive aircraft present at every CAF Airsho are too many to mention. For the 2010 show, my personal top three list were the SB2C Helldiver, the B-24 Liberator and of course the B-29 Super Fortress.
B-29 Super Fortress "FIFI"
As with most airworthy warbirds today, the history of "Fifi" is a more than interesting one. When the organization behind the CAF Airsho, the Commemorative Air Force, started its search for a B-29 some 21 years post World War II, the hopes were not high. According to the Air Force no B-29s listed in the inventory were available, until one CAF pilot noticed a couple of B-29s in the California desert near China Lake in 1971. A number of B-29s had been parked here and used as gunnery targets by the Navy Weapons Center for 17 years. Besides the gunnery holes all over the fuselage, the airframes also took abuse from the heat and sand of the desert and also vandals.
After much negotiation, paperwork, and a painstaking process of elimination to find the best survivor, the CAF added the B-29 SN44-62070 as the crown jewel to her fleet of 156 historic aircraft. However, the B-29 is fitted with four engines of a type that has a less-than-desirable reputation, the Wright R-3350-57AM engine, which had caused several problems over the years of service. After a lengthy series of meetings with experts, the decision was made to remove all four engines and replace them with custom made R-3350-95W and R-3350-26WD engines. After a successful series of engine runs, engine number two had a pre-ignition of one of the cylinders, damaging the cylinder. After an overhaul of the cylinder, the only flyable B-29 Super Fortress took to the air on Friday September 24, 2010, after many years of hard work.
The CAF Airsho during the weekend of 8 till 10 October saw the first airshow participation after many years. And a great sight it was, seeing this massive beast taking to the air, especially if you take into consideration that this is the only complete survivor of over 3900 aircraft built.
For me personally, the aircraft at the top of the list to see, hear, touch and smell was the SB2C Helldiver. This aircraft is one of the main reasons I became interested in warbirds. It is massive, has a Wright R-2600 Cyclone engine mounted with a whopping 1900 horse power, and above all looks like a real warbird.
Although all stories and handling characteristics are against her, she had a impressive fact sheet. The SB2C-4 had a higher cruising speed and greater range (without drop tanks) than the TBM Avenger, and a significantly higher top speed. It easily outperformed the SBD Dauntless in every category except range. Its cruising speed was only two mph slower than the F6F Hellcat. Only the F4U Corsair of all contemporary carrier-based aircraft had a significantly superior speed. The Corsair did carry the same load as the Helldiver, but over a much shorter range.
The "Big-Tailed Beast", as its not-always-affectionate crewmen called it, eventually proved to be a formidable and highly versatile weapon. It delivered bombs and depth charges with pinpoint accuracy and could strafe with cannon, rocket and machine gun fire. For me it was a goose-bump experience to see this massive beast start up and fly her display, as the only survivor of over 7200 built.
By now you probably understand that I certainly donít have a preference for sleek looking aircraft, as the B-24 Liberator fits in the list of big, fat and maybe ugly aircraft. But this makes them so beautiful in my eyes, and interesting of course with a lot of history involved in the development and operation of these aircraft. As they are slow and bulky, they had to take a few punches over enemy territory, contrary to the sleek and fast fighters. With four Pratt & Whitney turbocharged R-1830 Engines, each taming 1200 horses, the B-24 is a overwhelming sight to see go up in the air.
There are too many stories about this beast to tell here, battered and beaten from all directions it held course over many targets, and delivered the ordinance it had to drop. A nice side note is that several B-24s have operated for my own little country, the Netherlands. In late 1944 Dutch crews operated RAF B-24s based on the Coco Islands, after the war the B-24s moved to Java to become part of the military aviation arm of the Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger (KNIL - Royal Dutch Indies Army).
The CAF Airsho takes place over the Midland Airport in the North-East corner of Texas, U.S.A. The airport is surrounded by the many oil well pump jacks, and several airliners are operating from here. Since 1991 this airport is also the home of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), which is the host of the yearly "CAF Airsho". As mentioned earlier, the participants for this show are too many to name, however I tried to give you a bit of an overview of the other displays.
In addition to my top three, other aircraft that performed during the show are also more than interesting. Like for example the PV-2 Harpoon, a long range reconnaissance and escort aircraft, mainly operated from the Aleutian Islands in the Pacific. When confronted by a Japanese Zero, sufficient power could be added for the plane to out run the Zero, but these high power settings usually necessitated an engine change if the escape was successful.
Another great aircraft is the P-51C Mustang "Tuskegee Airman", the P-51C (N61429) itself has never seen war action, as the aircraft started as a trainer, and at the end of the second world war, dropped out of the USAF Inventory. From then on it was moved all over the US, with a variety of owners. To be completely restored in 2001, and telling the story of the "Tuskegee Airman" squadron. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African American military aviators in the United States armed forces. During World War II, African Americans in many U.S. states still were subject to racism. The Tuskegee Airmen initially were equipped with Curtiss P-40 Warhawks fighter-bomber aircraft, briefly with Bell P-39 Airacobras (March 1944), later with Republic P-47 Thunderbolts (June/July 1944), and finally the fighter group acquired the aircraft with which they became most commonly associated, the North American P-51 Mustang (July 1944). When the pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group painted the tails of their P-47s red, the nickname "Red Tails" was coined.
And last but certainly not least, is the PBJ-1J, a modified B-25 Mitchell. PB indicates Patrol Bomber and the J is an alpha-code designating the manufacturer, North American Aviation. During the second world war North American produced more B-25s than the Army Air Corp could use. The U.S. Navy itself was not interested, however the Marines were looking for a medium-sized bomber. They agreed to take the B-25s and use them for "night heckling", anti-shipping missions, and close air support of beachheads and landings. The Marines were innovative in customizing the PBJs for the jobs they faced. As most of the missions were performed at low altitude, there was not much need for the glass nose/bombardier position. It was replaced with a solid nose and armed with up to eight .50 caliber machine guns, or in some versions, a 75mm cannon.
Besides the many World War Two warbirds, there were also some Vietnam warbirds present, which of course included the UH-1 "Huey" and AH-1 Cobra helicopters.
I want to mention two civilian acts, which performed an excellent display. First the Pirated Skies, an act flown by Kyle Franklin, with his wife Amanda Franklin on the wing. The act is absolutely awesome to see, and not something you would see in the European airshow scene. The main part of the act is a modified Waco JMF-7 powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-985 with 500 HP.
The second great act I should mention consists of a Beech 18 flown by Matt Younkin. This aircraft was not designed to fly aerobatic maneuvers, however this is exactly what Matt is doing with it. Turns, steep climbs and dives with the gear extended, all this amazed the designers of the Beech 18, with maneuvers they had only dreamed of doing.
The CAF Airsho is mainly a Warbird gathering, however each year a number of modern military acts invited. With this year the F-15E Strike Eagle demo, which is always an awesome display to witness. During the anthem at the start of the show, two Texas based F-16 Fighting Falcons made two fly-bys. Furthermore there was a fly-by planned by the B-1B Lancer, this turned out to be a full display with high speed passes and steep climbs.
Planned for an heritage flight with the C-47 the C-17 Globemaster also turned up, but this display was cancelled for unknown reasons and the C-17 was only available for static. Furthermore a A-10 Warthog operated by the 47th FS "Dogpatchers" was present in the static, the A-10s operated by this squadron are characterized by the "Hog Breath" nose art. Finally there was a C-130H Hercules belonging to the 911th Airlift Wing sporting a "Pittsburgh Pirates" mural on its nose.
As any other airshow, the CAF Airsho was also subject to cancellations by some participants, which was all out of the hands by the organization, and is more plausible when you are hosting a warbird show. Most regrettable cancellations were the P-63 King Cobra, P-38 Lightning and the OV-1 Mohawk. The cancellations were completely forgotten once you took a look at the tarmac with aircraft you can only dream of to see in Europe.
After the Flying Legends airshow in Duxford, United Kingdom, I was searching for another "Warbird adrenaline shot". And the one country in the world with a very large number of warbirds still in flying condition is of course the United States. All warbirds are treated with respect and the whole world is moved to get one bird flying, which is the spirit I love to see when it concerns these golden oldies. And when you finally made the decision to visit the U.S. for a warbird show, there is one place to go: Midland, Texas. Midland is the headquarters of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), a volunteer organization that preserves WWII-aircraft.
For me this show is the best there is next to the Flying Legends airshow. After all, at which other airshow do you get to see a flying SB2C Helldiver, B-29 Super Fortress, B-24 Liberator, PV-2 Harpoon, PBJ-1J and lots, lots, and lots more of great historic aircraft. For me definitely a show I will try to visit again in the future.
The next CAF Airsho is scheduled for October 8-9, 2011. For more information visit the official website: airsho.org
The Author would like to thank the entire crew of the Commemorative Air Force, and in special Autumn Hicks for her excellent support and hospitality.
Report and photos by Ramon van Opdorp ( view portfolio )