2008 Wings Over Pittsburgh Air Show

We attended the 2008 Wings Over Pittsburgh Airshow yesterday. It was just the right day for it, with small crowds and perfect weather.

Were I to compare this air show with ones from Colorado, I would have to insist that the most glaring differences would be: the directions along the highway (Pittsburgh took the time to mark each exit clearly for the event), the parking (we were guided along the way by police and military personnel) and the public services. I have yet to see a cleaner “port-o-potty” in my entire life! There were first aid stations located around every corner, friendly and upbeat men and women in uniform to offer directions, and a general sense of Armed Forces pride. The only downside was the sole ATM – it kept running out of money.

Our first stop was near the Virtual Army station, where Better Half chatted with the young men and women from the University of Pittsburgh ROTC program and members of the US Army Recruiting Command stationed in Pittsburgh. (They refused to take Better Half back – Lord knows that I tried! Haha)

Load Master station on a C-17

At the C-17, we met Air Force Reserve Master Sergeant Allen Larson, his beautiful wife and their two adorable (and well mannered) children. MSgt. Larson was “manning” the C-17 and he and Better Half did some “catch up”. Only a few things have changed since Better Half’s paratrooper days.

I have to say, seeing Better Half in his element was delightful to behold. He was like a child in a candy store, eager to see everything. He’s such a handsome fellow.

Golden Knights jump aircraft

I meandered about outside the C-17 while BH visited the MSgt. The airshow began properly at this point, first with a fabulous rendition of Old Canada sung by a honey-voiced alto. The U.S. Army’s Parachute Team, the Golden Knights, began their jump at that time. I caught a quick snapshot of their airplane, a Fokker F27 Friendship (C-31A) as it passed overhead. Our national anthem was sung by the same glorious voice as the first Golden Knight neared ground with an American flag attached to his parachute harness. The rest of the Knights soon came into focus, executing some smart canopy relative work.

No, the paratroopers did not blow up. This is “smoke”
from the ankle canisters in order
for you to see their canopy relative work better.

We returned to the Virtual Army Station, a massive inflatable building loaded with all sorts of media devices, to await the return of the Golden Knights, passing a small Navy band wearing summer whites played rock and reggae along the way. The ROTC cadets passed out information, key chains and stickers, and later were drafted to help do crowd control in order to punch a hole in the crowds so that the parachutes could be laid out for packing.

A young Army hopeful stows
suspension lines on a Golden Knight’s chute

The Golden Knights arrived back at the designation point and Better Half amused himself by standing there looking like an ex-paratrooper Master Sergeant inspecting each tangle, turn and twist of line. Hooah – one never grows out of it. It is a brotherhood of like souls, despite my ribbing, and the men and women on the Team were very friendly towards everyone. They patiently gave instructions on how to repack the chutes and allowed the young adults present to help them. Once everything way stowed away properly into the bag, they permitted the youth to try on the parachute.

Now boys and girls, back in my day, we didn’t
have no fan-cee planes. No sir, they lobbed us
out of giant sling shots. We was called
Golden Knights because that’s what color our
armor was. Hard part was rigging them war
horses, I tell ya.

The U.S. Navy’s F/A-18F and F4U corsair did a couple of joint fly-bys and then the F/A-18F went solo to amaze the crowds as we strolled through the crowds again. Numerous food booths teased us with their heavenly scents. A quick return to the ATM (wing and a prayer at this point) proved to be successful – the happy ATM people had taken the time to restock the machine with money. I a found tasty and inexpensive burger, Better Half ordered an Italian sausage roll. We sought relief from the sun under the lofty T-tail shadow of a C-5 Galaxy.

C-5 tail

Please pardon me whilst a take a moment to profess my love of this aircraft. It is rather difficult to explain the sense of insignificant stature experienced when standing next to this particular plane. The cargo hold, by itself, is 19 feet high, 13 feet wide, and is 121 feet in length. As an interesting tidbit of information, the Wright Brother’s first flight was 120 feet total, which is one foot less than the length of a C-5 cargo hold. The entire nose (including cockpit) flips upward like some sort of bizarre mouth, rendering the innards of the airplane into a long tube capable of accommodating up to 270,000 pounds of cargo. Four GE TF-39 engines, each providing 43,000 pounds of thrust, get this behemoth off the ground. We were permitted to walk up the cargo ramp, through the entire cargo hold, and out the front, where we gazed up to see the nose section locked open above us. Better Half even purchased a “C-5 aircrew” tee-shirt for me.

“Laughing” C-5

Walk toward the light! Inside the cargo hold of a C-5

From this vantage point I was able to see a movie that was being shot – eh, so what. I grew up in the industry; I don’t really give a shit about it anymore nor am I impressed by anyone who claims to be a part of it, amateur or professional. How dare it interrupt my enjoyable outing. I turned by nose up at it, and Better Half and I began to peruse the other static displays and booths.


EC-130J “Commando Solo” Psychological Operations Aircraft

Young WWII reenactment people

This is the 60th Anniversary of “one of the biggest and most amazing events in aviation history, the nearly year-long saving of an entire city, the Berlin Airlift,” according to Col. Gordon Elwell, Jr., the 911th Airlift Wing Commander who’s command sponsored the air show. One of the C-54s used in the actual Berlin Airlift was on display; behind it, a grouping of WWII memorabilia such as the old jeeps, rifles, machine guns and tents. Up farther from them was a living diorama depicting Vietnam era items.

The Official U.S. Navy Parachute Team - Leap Frogs - gave a quick performance during the show. We also caught snatches of Julie Clark’s acrobatic work as well as some lovely maneuvers by Sean Tucker. Both of these utilized smaller, more nimble craft. I can not recall all of the performances as one would have to constantly be paying attention to the heavens as things flew about. There were two performances that Better Half and I did wish to see, so we found a spare patch of tarmac apart from the stands, grabbed lemonade slushes and waited.

F-22A Raptor

The F-22 Raptor did not disappoint. The pilot treated us to a series of intense twists and turns, loops, whirls, tailslides, and maneuvers that I simply do not know the name for. His performance was tight and downright wicked as he pushed the stealth fighter through its paces. Perhaps the most impressive trick in the speed department was slowing down to a mere 90 knots with the nose pointed up at a 70 degree angle as he slowly “flew” across the entire length of the airfield in a perfect straight and unwavering fashion. God Himself could have attached a string to the nose of that jet and slowly moved it along, so quiet were the engines and so steady the craft in air. My only regret is that my own (lack of) knowledge limits my ability to give this pilot and jet proper recognition.

Forces Canadiennes stole my heart, displacing the F-22A. The Snowbirds and their CT-114 Tutors gave us a phenomenal performance.

Snowbird Solos

A display team, the Golden Centennaires, was formed in 1967 and ten Tutors were modified for use as acrobatic aircraft. The team was disbanded, the craft forgotten and life when on until the 431 Air Demonstration Squadron was reactivated as the nine-aircraft team, the Snowbirds.

The Snowbird’s jets, unlike the U.S.’s F-22A, F-16, F-18 or F-22, do not rely upon computers to “make the plane act right” when doing acrobatic work. It is all hand, eye and nerves of steel. They do not fly as “tightly” as other formations, however they do fly nine jets at a time, often with two jets performing acrobatics such as crossovers while the main formation lines up its next run. This makes for a very fast paced performance with very little lag time between passes.

Thy executed a goodly amount of “tricks” low enough in altitude that we could appreciate them with the naked eye. Indeed, of all the craft in the show, the Snowbird’s jets were some of the only ones that I was able to capture with my wimpy digital.

The Canadian Snowbirds

I found myself marveling at the beauty of the Canadian military as seven of the jets formed a small diamond on the horizon. They do not have the best equipment or the latest in technology for the aircraft. They struggle to get their Minister to approve certain equipment for “up North”. They are suffering just as surely as our boys are as we wage war in Afghanistan. A roar of engines snatched me from my musings and the two missing craft streaked in to join their team; Canadian loyalty and a sense of cohesion. Could anything be as beautiful? That is when those nine craft burst outward, trailing their “smoke” and forming a fragile maple leaf in the blue spring sky. National pride.

Static Displays, 2008:
Beech AT-10
C-130 H
(CC –130 the Canadian
Forces or Forces Canadiennes craft)
C-5 (Galaxy, wasn’t on
display schedule)
F/A-18D and F
Piper Cub (in
Italian Army colours)
S-58 (beautiful red one!)
T-38 (MIA)
T-45 (MIA)
And the “FedEx” plane and a
cargo van!
There were other craft present but I can not recall them

MIA on Saturday but on the program:
AH-64 (was missing on Saturday)
Beech Staggerwing (MIA)
C-47 (MIA)
E-2C (MIA)
S-3B (MIA)

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