Robert Turner reports from the 16th Annual 'Wings Over Houston Airshow', held over the weekend of 20-21 October 2001 at Ellington Field, Houston, Texas.
Called an "Airpower Armada Festival", the organisers, the 'American Airpower Heritage Groups Gulf Coast Wing' and 'West Houston Squadron' had, despite the terrible events of 11 September, decided to go ahead with the show even though the majority of other shows across the United States had been cancelled. They had stated on their website that they were determined to go ahead with the show as a memorial to those lost on 11 September and to the servicemen now on active service against the terrorist threat.
The website also warned the public to come earlier than usual as extra security measures would be in place and that no bags or containers of any sort would be allowed onto the field, camera bags and coolers included.
So it was an early start from north Houston and we joined the line of traffic about two miles from the field - thankfully the traffic was moving at a steady pace and the 'Vomit Comet' soon came into view. For those who do not know, the 'Vomit Comet' is NASA KC-135A N930NA (59-1481) now in position atop a mound at the entrance to Ellington Field, for when in service it was used to demonstrate the effects of weightlessness to astronauts, hence its nickname.
Once parked and through the security check at the gate it was onto the static park where a good selection of modern military aircraft were laid out for closer inspection, with lots of warbirds further down the ramp.
One of the best parts of the static were those types never seen in Europe, such as Randolph marked T-6s and T-38s, Euro Nato marked T-37s and Holloman 'Team Stealth' T-38 along with 69-7252, a QF-4E still carrying its AMARC codes. Other modern USAF aircraft on static comprised a pair of SJ F-15s (87-0187 and 89-0477), T-1A 95-0062/CB of the 14 FTW, Kansas ANG B-1B 85-0081, A-10A 79-0145/BD and WC-130H 64-14861 from 53 WRS/AFRC. The residents of Ellington also put some of their aircraft on static display, NASA equipment ranging from the Guppy to the T-38 and including a F/A-18A (843/161519) while the 111 FS Texas ANG had a F-16C (83-1132/EF) as an example of its mount, meanwhile the TX ANG had AH-64A 85-25433 on show. For enthusiasts further down the ramp a further ten F-16s and ten AH-64s could be seen along with NASA's hangar door open to reveal a pair of WB-57Fs (N926NA/63-3503 and N928NA/63-13298) while inside the USCG hangar could be seen a pair of HH-65A Dolphins (6511 & 6548).
The US Navy sent a nice selection of aircraft including a pair of F-14s (161297 & 158628) from VF211, a F/A-18F (165807) from VFA122, a P-3C (161007) from VP94, a C-2A (162145) from VRC40, a T-45A (163602) from VT 1/22 and a T-2C (156691) of VT 9. Just before the start of the flying display USNTPS F/A-18B 161357/01 which had been visiting taxied along the crowdline and departed after much waving and cheering from the crowd. Having walked around the modern military and, of course, tested the burgers for quality (not bad) it was time to check out the warbirds. Advance publicity had indicated there would be a hundred plus, a number not far from the truth as far as I could see. This area of the flightline was open until the flying display was due to start so there were a lot of people milling around the aircraft which were all devoid of any form of barrier, but photography was still possible. The assembled aircraft covered everything from light types such as Cubs through to the bigger birds such as the B-17 and the star for many "Fifi", the CAF B-29.
The flying display opened with the usual arrival of the state and national flags and, of course, the national anthem, followed by a two and a half hour 'Air Power' demonstration that was basically a shorter version of the CAF 'Airsho' with a couple of modern military demos to start with. The first item up was F-16C 93-0552 from Shaw AFB flown by the official USAF demo pilot, which after its solo show was joined for a formation routine by a P-47 and F-86. Unfortunately at the end of the demo the F-86 blew a nose wheel tyre on landing and came to a halt at the end of the duty runway 04, this making life a little difficult for the 'Air Boss' as the main runway 35L was out of use due to work in progress. Thankfully the other aircraft could still take off and recover despite the downed bird and the show, as they say, went on. The next modern aircraft to appear was, if you believe the commentators, on its way back from a mission to Afghanistan. The B-2 'Spirit of Texas' made three runs over the field to the delight of the assembled crowds and was nearly drowned out by the cheering and shouting of the assembled multitude. For a Brit it made a change to see a B-2 without a pair of F-15s escorting it, something to do with no Rapiers being present I guess!
Due no doubt to the current situation all of the other advertised modern military in the flying display were 'no-shows' and the American Airpower Heritage Demo swung into action, starting with the attack on Pearl Harbour. After much use of pyrotechnics and many runs across the field by 'Zeros' and 'Vals', the build up to the fight back (as the commentators called it) began with the training aircraft, the sky being filled with T-6 Harvard/Texans, PT13s and all manner of training aircraft including several T-34s, which were slightly out of context! Each theatre of the war involving American airpower was touched upon so that the various types could display, including five B-25s to tell the story of the Doolittle Raid and a pair of B-17s, the 'Lone Star Flight' Museum's "Thunderbird" and the CAF's "Texas Raider" for the bombing campaign over Europe. The various Corsairs, Bearcat, Avenger, Hellcat and Helldiver depicted the Pacific War and the fight against the Japanese, but for British enthusiasts there was a Hawker Sea Fury although the commentator kept calling it a 'Spitfire' for some unknown reason. Once "Fifi" had demonstrated how the Pacific War was brought to an end along with much smoke and flame the air was filled with aircraft coming over the field in waves - although I didn't count them the hoped for total of 100 was, I believe, achieved.
With that the flying display ended and although the field was open for another ninety minutes to view the static aircraft most people made a beeline for the exit, along with the numerous stallholders who had shut up shop as soon as the last aircraft touched down.
So ended a show that I for one had thought would not take place but was very glad for the fact that it did, giving us the chance to see a wide selection of both modern military and old aircraft. The weather was very good too, the temperature in the mid-eighties with a breeze.
So after another walk around the static to get those pictures not possible in the morning it was back to the car and away - next stop Pensacola, but thats another story!