Photos and article by Shawn Byers
Naval Air Station Jacksonville held their bi-annual airshow on 22 and 23 October. Although Jacksonville, Florida enjoys a show annually, the odd years are hosted along Jacksonville Beach. This was the first show at the base in four years.
This was my first visit to NAS JAX. The weather was excellent. Sunny skies, a bit chilly in the mornings and breezy, requiring an extra layer of clothing. Downtown Jacksonville can be seen from the base and the St. Johns River is just off the runway. I attended the show on Friday and Saturday.
An abbreviated history of NAS JAX has an establishment date of 1940 but the land was military property since 1917 when the Army trained Quartermasters. After World War I, the property was dormant for ten years before the Florida National Guard used the property. In 1939, the land was offered to the U.S. Navy.
During World War II, a lot of flight training occurred here as well as Overhaul and Repair. Both programs still exist today. After World War II, the U.S. Navy’s Flight Demonstration Team, the Blue Angels, formed here in 1946. During America’s entry into the Korean War, 60% of all Naval Striking Power was located here.
Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 11 was reassigned to the base with P-2V Neptunes in 1950. Through the 1960s and 70s, the base mission became decidedly Airborne Surface Warfare. The P-3A Orion started operating here in 1962, growing to 4 squadrons plus a Fleet Replacement Squadron. Around 1995, additional squadrons came due to the closure of NAS Brunswick. Currently, NAS JAX hosts six P-8 Poseidon squadrons plus one Fleet Replacement Squadron, five MH-60R Helicopter squadrons, a C-130T squadron and a C-40 squadron. There is also a squadron for the MQ-4 Triton unmanned drone and other units I am not even aware of. It is not surprising that NAS JAX is the most requested assignment for Naval Personnel.
Besides a late season airshow in Florida, why did I book this fly and drive event? The P-3 Orion. Seriously, I inquired with the base in July if the P-3 was scheduled to fly in the airshow and was assured that it was. I booked my trip that day to be there and photograph what may be the last public display before retirement of the type from the U.S. Navy, which may occur by next summer. Everything else on the docket was extra.
NAS JAX has two runways, a short, cross wind Runway 14/32 at 5,900 feet and the main Runway, 10/28 at just over 9,000 feet. Because I have a 10/28 at my real job, I know that at most times of the year, this south side is the best side for lighting. In fact, the sun stays behind you all day, moving right to left.
The ramp is large and all the static aircraft were parked at the east end, save one preserved Grumman Avenger towed from Heritage Park at the public entrance. Vehicles were parked on the west end of the ramp. Still, this left a lot of ramp for seating and movement as the vendors were set back from the show front.
The first aircraft encountered was an MH-60R from HSM 72, “Proud Warriors” in the middle of the ramp. Against the show line was an F-15C from the Florida Air National Guard out of Jacksonville International Airport in a 75th Anniversary paint scheme. Each side of the tail had a different design on it. Next to that was a decommissioned F/A-18C in bare metal green and no engines. I assume this is for training of the maintenance personnel. A Coast Guard MH-65 Dauphin was next and a T-6 Texan was parked with two T-6 Texan IIs. Two TH-57 training helicopters were nearby finishing off the line. Along the hot ramp fence on the east side, A UC-12 and a flying club aircraft were on display. A Dauntless Dive Bomber sat alone in the middle.
On the south side, set back from the main ramp, stood a really clean C-130T of the “Nomads” (great job detailing, guys), joined by a P-8 Poseidon and the plane it is replacing, a P-3 Orion.
Flying started at 1100. Fat Albert, the Blue Angels support C-130J, took off with the Special Operations Command Para-commandos parachute team. Aerobatic performers Patty Wagstaff and Rob Holland joined up at altitude with Fat Albert and circled the jumpers after they exited for the traditional flag drop opening with the National Anthem. Afterward, Patty and Rob performed separate teaser routines.
Adam Baker performed next, a full show in his Extra 330. He would fly again later with Redline.
The Coast Guard performed a routine I have never seen before. It was not about the rescue but of the performance of the MH-65 Dauphin. After a few fast passes, the Dauphin flew backwards for a good portion of the crowd line. It exited the airspace as quick as it entered.
Ken Reider performed a solo routine in his Vans RV-8 homebuilt aircraft. He would perform later as the team leader of Redline.
Another helicopter dropped in for a brief display of the Navy’s MH-60R. From the home based, “Proud Warriors”, after a few quick passes, it paused in what I believe was going to be the rescue display. As mentioned, it was quite breezy and I think they just aborted it.
Kyle Fowler performed aerobatics in his yellow Long EZ homebuilt aircraft.
The next slot was supposed to be the U.S. Air Force’s F-35A Demonstration Team and Heritage Flight. Unfortunately, the 388th Wing at Hill Air Force Base which includes the Demo Team suffered a crash near the base. The pilot ejected safely but the Wing enacted a safety stand down. This prevented the team from performing in the airshow.
P-51D, “Agile but Fragile” flown by Steve Hinton, Jr. performed a solo routine instead. Afterward, the show took a 30 minute intermission.
In the second half of the show, a P-8 and something smoky could be seen across the runway warming up. The P-3 appeared from behind a building and held short of the runway while Patty Wagstaff performed her full routine. Once she landed, the home team P-3 taxied down the runway meeting up with the P-8, both of VP-30 “The Pro’s Nest”. The P-3 wheeled around into an immediate takeoff followed in succession by the P-8. After a trip around the pattern, they had closed the gap for a formation pass down the runway. The P-3 banked away in another circle. Deploying the gear and flaps, it made a low approach to the runway. In the opposite direction, the P-8 flew at high throttle for a dissimilar crossing near show center. On the next pass, the roles were reversed. The P-8 deployed the landing gear and flaps as the P-3 made the fast crossing. Both aircraft recovered and taxied back on the runway in front of the crowd.
Fat Albert flew again for the second drop of the Para-Commandos. During this time, Rob Holland had taken off into a hold. After Fat Albert recovered, Rob came in fast at low level pulling up just before meeting up with Fat Albert. Rob recently celebrated his 11th consecutive U.S Aerobatic Championship and performed his full routine.
Redline flew in the final slot prior to the Blue Angels. The team of Ken Reider in his RV-8 and Adam Baker in his Extra 330 performed a formation routine.
The Blue Angels closed the show. On Friday, another gold helmet flew in the back seat of Number 7, no doubt, a new demonstration pilot for next season.
I wish to thank the Public Affairs Team, led by Ms Kaylee Larocque, for their efforts and the privileges afforded us. It was not always smooth but we got there. It was a very enjoyable airshow.