From 29 April to 9 May 2011, a group of 16 people travelled to the South East of the United States with 4Aviation.The first of several 4Aviation trips to the US in 2011 started for the majority of the participants at Amsterdam-Schiphol airport. The main goals for this trip were the air shows at MCAS Beaufort, NAS Pensacola and JRB NAS New Orleans. All were Tier 1 shows for the 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation. Besides that there were also a couple of base visits at NAS Meridian, NAS Pensacola, Columbus AFB and the C-130 and F-22 production line with Lockheed Martin in Marietta.
In the morning of 29 April, ten Dutch participants gathered at the meeting point. The group got to know each other a little bit and went to drop off their bags, as check in had, as usual, already been taken care off. At London-Heathrow a Belgian, French and four UK participants were greeted and soon we were on our way to Atlanta. Customs in the Netherlands and UK were very smooth, but the arrival procedure in the US took a while. The car rental guys also took their time. Not an ultimate start of the trip, as we left the airfield over three hours later than planned. Fortunately we had rebooked our first hotel from Savannah to Macon, so we only had one hour to drive instead of four.
As the air show at MCAS Beaufort started at 11.00 we had some time for our drive to the Marine Corps base on 30 April 2011. There was not a lot of traffic and we parked close to the static. Compared to European air shows, the shows in the US are not very busy. And even though many thousands visits the shows, the ramps at these airfields are so big, there are plenty of opportunities to take pictures of the aircraft without anybody in the front or back of the aircraft. The show was very varied with several Warbirds in the morning, followed by an Air Power demonstration and several small agile aerobatic aircraft in the afternoon. The end of the show is, off course, for the Blue Angels. By walking around the airfield some extra aircraft could be seen and after asking the friendly security forces it was also possible to take some ‘operational’ looking pictures. After the Blues had landed we contacted the public affairs for access to the flightline. It was not possible that day, but we made an appointment for the following day at 08.45hr.
On 1 May, we again visited the air show at Beaufort. The airfield opened at 08.00 and static area at 09.00, so we could not get to the flightline! After a quick call by the security forces to the Public Affairs office, three golf carts showed up and brought us to the flightline. Their support was great and we spent some time here to take pictures and talk to some of the pilots and ground crews. To beat the crowds we left before the Blue Angels. Our first stop was the impressive Eight Air Force Heritage Museum at Savannah (Georgia). While at the museum parking lot four A-10s came overhead and made a break for the airfield. So we went to the airfield and discovered quite a number of interesting aircraft (apart from the A-10s and the local C-130s we also saw eleven 457FS Reserve F-16s and a number of Marines Hornets). These were all easily visible from outside the airfield. The Navy and Marine guys, as well as the A-10s were at the General Aviation ramp, while the other Air Force hardware was at the National Guard base. The A-10 pilots had no problems showing us around on the ramp, but the lady at the desk would not let us.
On 2 May, after starting with some preserved aircraft, we headed for Warner Robins. We had asked for a tour of Warner Robins, but that was declined. From outside the airfield one could see many dozens of C-5, C-17, C-130 and F-15s in or awaiting overhaul. We did visit the large museum just south of the base. In the afternoon, we had an appointment with Lockheed Martin to tour the C-130 production facility. At the moment there are lots of orders and production is running at its peak. C-130s of Canada, Qatar and the United States were noted in several stages of production. We were also shown the brand new production facility for F-35 mid fuselages. As icing on the cake we also got a glimpse of the F-22 Raptor final assembly line which runs next to the C-130 line. After the tour we were treated to lots of goodies, hats, coins, patches, etc. That was a very nice surprise. We always take a little gift from The Netherlands with us and that was very much appreciated. It was already late and, after a short visit to the museum at the gate, we had to go as we stayed in Pensacola that night, about a five-six hour drive. Along the way we also saw some areas struck by recent tornadoes. It was frightening to see what these large freaks of nature can do.
We spent two nights in a Pensacola motel. We knew of a Fleet Week event at the Naval Air Station, but not the exact details. After arriving at the airfield, on 3 May, we found out the air show was at eastern end of the base, the former Chevalier Field, over three kilometres from the museum and operational ramps. Photography was against the sun. The static was at the museum storage ramp and could only be accessed with a trolley bus. We had pre-arranged tours of the operational part and museum storage ramps. As there was not a lot to do at eight in the morning we contacted the museum and asked for the tour. That was no problem and after a few minutes we walked the ramp, taking pictures and enjoying the stories of our guide. The ramp is filled with dozens of aircraft. Then it was time to visit the National Museum of Naval Aviation. Mid-afternoon, we had a little break from the museum as we had scheduled another tour. This time walking the operational ramps of Training Wing Six. Many aircraft, like the T-6, T-39 and T-45 were seen and photographed during this excellent tour. Strangely enough the Blues were a bit funny, as we were not allowed near their hangar. But we had already seen them a couple of times and were about to see them once more this week. Before heading for the hotel we made a quick stop at the Pensacola Regional Airport and saw a dozen military visiting aircraft. It was also a good time to exchange one minivan, as the climate control was broken. And that is something we really needed!
On 4 May, a second day at Pensacola was planned to spend at the airfield. The majority of the group however was not into a second day and wanted something else. Although we did not have a visit to Whiting Field, it was allowed to watch the aircraft movements from outside the base. One group was dropped off at NAS Pensacola and the others went to the basic training base. On arrival nothing happened, but soon many T-6 and T-34 aircraft were noted taking off and landing. Over fifty aircraft were seen during our stay here. Early afternoon we picked up the guys from Pensacola and headed west to Mobile. Here we spent some time at the USS Alabama museum. This had been completely destroyed by Katrina in August 2005. In the meantime the museum had been rebuilt to excellent condition. After this little stop we headed north as we spend the next two nights in Meridian (Mississippi). Although it had been bad weather (hurricanes and lots of rain) in the past couple of weeks, we were very lucky. We only had blue skies with an occasional white fluffy cloud in the afternoon.
It was already day 6 in the US and we would see lots of aircraft today, 5 May 2011. In the morning we would see many T-45Cs at NAS Meridian and in the afternoon we would visit the Air Force training base at Columbus with T-1, T-6 and T-38 aircraft. Our guide met us in time at the main gate. We now found out that several more groups would join us for the tour, in total we were 32 people. That is a bit too much. The usual tour over the flightline was limited to walking along the flightline. But a big bonus was the tour to the touch down point near the runway. ‘Do not stand on the runway’ was the only limitation and several great shots were made. Due to our visit to Columbus we had to leave a bit early. As our schedule was flexible for the next day, we asked if it was possible to return. ‘No problem’ was the answer we were hoping for and also received. At Columbus we had to share the tour again, but the group was not that big as at Meridian. 4Aviation was there in time. Others, however, were half an hour late. Nevertheless we got a great tour of the airfield and the guides went out all way to show us everything we wanted. We saw over 180 aircraft in a couple of hours. Many could also be photographed. After conclusion of the tour we headed back to Meridian and had a quick look at Meridian Key Field. Big bonuses for the day were several brand new MC-12W aircraft and some other bits.
On 6 May 2011, as said before, we went to NAS Meridian for the second day in a row. Our hopes came through as we could walk over the flightlines and get close to the aircraft and aircrew. After our tour we headed back to Key Field for some additional aircraft. Then we leisurely drove south to New Orleans, picking up some nice aircraft along the way. We arrived in the city early and most were eager to go downtown. After driving around for a bit we found some cheap (free) parking spots and ventured into Bourbon Street. Around the corner Nicolas Cage was shooting his latest movie Medallion. Bourbon Street is great, possibly the only street in the US where one can drink a beer on the street.
Even though we stayed up a bit late yesterday, we had to get up early again for the N’awlins air show on Saturday 7 May. We had to wait in line for thirty minutes to get on the air show and a couple of hours to get off at the end of the day. But it was all worth it. The static was varied and the aerial demonstrations were great. Lots of photographic opportunities, for everybody. Again, the security forces were laid back and after asking lots was possible.
Sunday, 8 May, was the final day of the trip. We had a great week with no disappointments and all our expectations were met or exceeded. Today we slept in and left the hotel at 09.00. What was to be a quick peak at Pensacola Regional Airport took a while longer as we noted a General Aviation ramp filled with 26 visiting military aircraft! We asked at the front desk for a visit, and this was granted. In two groups we walked over the flightline and talked to some of the crew. A T-39 started up and went on its way to Patuxent River. Aircraft 27, a C-9, came in to drop some passengers and left again. This was a worthy end to a great trip.