Cherry Point Airshow … Woo!

The last time I saw an airshow was decades ago. More intriguing, the event was opening on Friday evening, 16 May, 2014, which would place much of the activity under the cover of darkness. The last time I saw an airshow at night was … never!

I’m sure the annual airshow in Havelock, NC, is well-known, but it was a lucky occurrence that I happened upon newspaper coverage of the event just one day before it commenced. Having a flexible schedule allows spontaneity toward such opportunities. Our home at North Topsail Beach made the drive to the show just 90 minutes.

Other household activities could be deferred, and we were off to watch others sail into the wild blue yonder from the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, located in the town of Havelock on the Neuse River southeast of New Bern, NC.

Planes, parachutes, and pyrotechnics were going to present themselves above. Meanwhile, on the ground were military machines of many varieties, along with men and women of the Corps to answer questions. Children climbed aboard some equipment with the help of soldiers while mothers and fathers snapped photos of their future fighters.

The theme of the show was “Inspiration to Innovation.” The Marines pictured here were inspired to see over the crowd from their position by making innovative use of their mammoth front loader, with the crew taking up positions in the bucket lifted an opportunistic four feet in the air (or the height of some vehicle tires, as you can see)!

Now let me get a bit coy, or “flighty,” with you, even before I get this story fully off the ground. I know a secret; I have tales; the show had tails; here are two of them:

What might interest you about those particular twin tails is that unless you attended this MCAS Cherry Point Air Show or work on a western air base, I’m confident you never saw them live before this date, for this was the debut on the East Coast of the brand spanking new and high tech “F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter” jet airplane, shown full frontal below. Yes, you’ve seen it profiled on the network formerly known as “The Military Channel,” but east-coasters have not seen it in person.

Perhaps you can discern two things from those two photos besides the twin tails: (1) there is no photo from the backside of the plane; and (2) a Marine with his large and meaningful weapon stands at the rear of the aircraft keeping eyes on your humble photographer.

Those two observations go hand-in-lens: (1) no photos were allowed from the rear; and (2) a Marine at his post ensured that (1) was more than just a suggestion!

The “JSF” (we were granted acronym access by attendance at the show) was more than just a display item. It delighted the crowd with aerial demonstrations Saturday and Sunday. Lucky for us, it was making practice runs Friday as we walked from the gigantic-spare-runway-turned-carpark to the airfield, and we caught a brief sighting of its airborne capabilities (but no opportunity to capture video).

The JSF is the next kin in the line of the British Harrier jet and the U.S.A. V-22 Osprey propeller plane. The common thread putting all three in the same family is their ability to fly forward like a plane, hover like a helicopter, and stop or start like either: swiftly down a stretch of runway or softly vertical at a specific spot. This is the VTOL concept, “Vertical Take Off and Landing” or STOL, “Short Take Off and Landing.” It is inspiration and innovation in one package. Clearly the rear of the craft has a key role to play and isn’t ready to pose for photos as yet. Smile

Enough of the ground talk!! This is supposed to be an AIR show, eh?

Let’s get off the tarmac and dance like everyone is watching, which we were. This event included the national anthem by the Marine Corps Band, other patriotic songs, the transition from day to night, and the lowering of the American flag. I bring you all of that in this montage:

The spectacle in the air took many twists and turns, all under the guidance of experienced pilots, including the three pictured here in AT-6 Texan aircraft flown by the AeroShell Aerobatic Team.

Nearly all the crews and crafts were private, which surprised me for a moment. But it makes sense. Firstly, military training is serious business with little time for entertaining trickery. Secondly, the precision and daring of the demonstration flights we saw require constant repetition and practice. This is no Sunday drive, especially on this gorgeous Friday night in the skies of North Carolina.

That spectacular demonstration was a show highlight, the Black Diamond team of civilian aviators flying the Aero L-39 aircraft, which, according to Wikipedia, was developed in the 1960s and first produced in the early 1970s in Czechoslovakia as a trainer.

After the sun set, a little less speed and a distinct amount of flair (flare?) took to the air. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Neither! It’s a hang glider in the night sky, motorized to provide the air time required to light the sky to the delight of the grounded observers.

I recommend an evening or a day at the MCAS Cherry Point Air Show. Federal sequester budget cuts reduced the number of events like this, eliminating the Goldsboro, NC, Seymour Johnson Air Show in the summer of 2013. There will be crowds, but you can certainly count on a military base to keep the proceedings orderly and running according to plan.

I hope you had a good time reading about the show. Sure, it took me over a month to complete this recap, but now that it’s the 4th of July on my calendar, and since this was an evening show, this post, and that night feature fireworks at the end. Enjoy a sample four-and-a-half minutes long in the video below.

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