Air Show Report : Wings Over Houston 2018
Wings Over Houston 2018 Air Show
Report by Michael Cleaver on the 2018 edition of the annual Houston air show organized by the Commemorative Air Force at Ellington Field. This edition offered quite some Vietnam War era types in addition to the USN Blue Angels. All photos by the author.
Wings Over Houston Airshow - Oct 20-21, 2018
In the month of October, the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) holds its annual Wings Over Houston and Wings Over Dallas air shows in Texas. These are normally held on consecutive weekends, and both shows feature warbirds owned by the CAF, other non-profit organizations and privately owned as well. As the venues (Ellington Field in Houston and the Executive Airport in Dallas) are relatively close to each other - some 250 miles – a trip to see both is quite feasible, and this is what I decided to do in 2018. See also my Wings Over Dallas 2018 report .
My attendance at this year’s Wings Over Houston Airshow coincided with poor weather that not only affected the number of attending aircraft but also reduced the flying content significantly on Friday and Saturday. A very low cloud ceiling of less than 1000 feet did not improve until well into Saturday afternoon and this meant that only Sean D Tucker, who frequently disappeared in the low cloud, and the Blue Angels were able to display. Due to the weather situation the CAF made the decision to honor Saturday tickets for the Sunday show, which had much improved weather prospects.
Wings Over Houston is hosted at Ellington Field, a well-known name from the NASA Apollo days, being used for training Astronauts and in particular used for the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle (LLTV) “flights”. It is also home to the WB-57 Canberra high altitude research aircraft, though unfortunately, none of these were on display at the airshow. NASA did send a T-38 and the impressively sized “Super Guppy”.
With the weather much improved on Sunday morning, I attended the “Sunrise Photo Tour” - a photographer’s package that gives access to the static “hot ramp” aircraft early in the morning. Though not in the display, the Collings Foundation F-4 Phantom and F-100 Super Sabre were both scheduled for early morning departures. These were paid for “revenue” flights that had been postponed due to the Friday/Saturday weather conditions. With the morning sky clear, both aircraft were looking great in the early low light and sunshine.
Flown in on Friday by Jerry “Jive” Kerby was a Draken International A-4K Skyhawk. These aircraft are contracted for adversary training at Nellis AFB in Nevada.
Also, in the static line up were two EA-18G Growlers with interesting makings – Darth Vader. They were from the VAQ-209 “Star Warriors” electronic warfare squadron based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington. Needless to say, with the obvious Star Wars connection, they got a great deal of attention. Perhaps someone will capture them in Star Wars Canyon!
The air show schedule had not unsurprisingly, changed somewhat from that in the printed program. The biggest loss were the Tulsa Air National Guard F-16s from the local 138th Fighter Wing, which normally opens the show.
The show began at 11:00 with the traditional flag jump, followed by an aerobatic display by Debby Rihn-Harvey. The U.S. Coast Guard provided a demonstration of their MH-65D Dolphin search and rescue helicopter. Then the Phillips Aerostars flew in four Extra 300L aircraft and put on an excellent synchronized display.
This being a CAF organized show, the emphasis was on warbirds and this element did not disappoint. The CAF’s Tora! Tora! Tora! were, as always, very enjoyable, though with little wind the (frequent) explosions with the subsequent dense smoke made photography of the aircraft pretty challenging for the photographers (shouts of too much smoke!) but were hugely enjoyable for the audience!
Warbirds involved in the display were a B-17, B-25, P-51, P-63, A-1 Skyraider, C-47, P-40, and a welcome addition to the line-up was the MiG-15bis demonstration from the Vietnam War Flight Museum (which also presented the Skyraider).
Wings Over Houston depends on CAF partners to support the show, many of the presented aircraft are themselves from museum-based collections, and there is indeed a large number of flight museums worth visiting while in Texas. A short list would be Lone Star Flight Museum, Vietnam War Flight Museum, Cavanaugh Flight Museum, Mid America Flight Museum, Texas Flying Legends Museum, Frontiers of Flight Museum, Cold War Air Museum, and of course the CAF Houston Wing itself.
In the Photo-Pit discussions turned to the reduced number of warbirds on the ramp this year, notably missing was the Collings Foundation Me-262, and while compared with previous years there was less variety of warbirds, there was still enough to impress in the air and the show was very well organized. The Photo-Pit was well worth the asking price and provided a very good location for taxi and take-off shots as well as shots of aircraft maneuvering to line up on the show line and flying round the curve from behind.
Of much historical interest was the C-47 “That’s All Brother” which was recently restored to flying status by the Central Texas Wing of the CAF and carried the first US Paratroopers from the 101st and 82nd Airborne divisions over Normandy on June 6th in 1944. Amazingly it was resting in a junkyard before being discovered by the CAF.
This aircraft and three other CAF C-47 Skytrains/DC-3 Dakotas will fly over the Atlantic next year for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The flight will retrace the ferry route used in the second World War – From the States, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland, and England to join up at Duxford (2nd to 5th June) with other Daks to fly to Normandy for the D-Day commemoration. This is an event organized by the Daks Over Normandy project, which will bring forty or more Dakotas together. Twenty of these will be equipped to actually drop paratroopers. Some large portion of the aircraft is also planned to then continue to Germany for the Berlin Airlift commemorations (1949-2019).
A sight I never tire of seeing is the USAF Heritage Flight. At the Wings Over Houston 2018 this was scheduled to consist of the F-16 Demo aircraft and a P-47 Thunderbolt. Unfortunately, the P-47 did not make the show, so a P-51 took its place. The flight honors those who have served in the USAF, as well as promoting its history pairing vintage and modern combat aircraft. A big thanks is owed to its chairman Dan Friedkin for ensuring that the Heritage Flight, which originated as part of the USAF 50th Anniversary in 1997, can continue to appear at selected air shows.
The 1929 era Waco biplane, now jet equipped, “Screamin’ Sasquatch” provided another dynamic aerobatic display, with its radial engine and a jet engine fixed underneath the fuselage adding 3000lbs thrust. Fully fueled, the airplane weighs approximately 4,000 pounds, its unusual twin-engine configuration provides a more than 1-to-1 thrust-weight ratio. Due to the additional thrust and speed, the Screamin’ Sasquatch’s control surfaces were specifically modified to accommodate higher aerodynamic forces. Various parts of the aircraft’s structure were converted from wood and fabric to carbon fiber. The cockpit was moved 3 feet aft to make room for twin fuel tanks.
Notably the weekend was also the last event at which Sean D Tucker was flying as a solo performer. I have seen Sean D Tucker a few times in the past and his energetic routine was familiar and still very impressive. To mark the occasion of his last solo performance, the Blue Angels made him an honoree member of their team. The low flying and the triple ribbon cutting combined with stellar aerobatics cemented his place as one of the USA’s Living Legends of Aviation.
Overall the show, while probably not being a special year for photographers, remained exciting and enjoyable for the majority of the public. And it should be remembered that the Commemorative Air Force is constituted of volunteers and so are the airshows it organizes and manages. The volunteers freely giving their personal time to provide the organizational and piloting resources needed for making the show happen is highly commendable and showcase the CAF’s enthusiasm for promoting aviation history to the public.
The closing act was the US Navy Blue Angels demonstration. The Blue Angels alternate with the USAF Thunderbirds at this show and 2018 was the Navy’s turn. For me, the Blue Angels are the best US display team. They provide some great photo opportunities thanks to the skill of the pilots in the team and are always exciting to watch. I look forward to being able to revisit this show in the future with better weather fortunes!
The Wings Over Houston 2019 is scheduled for October 19-20. For more information please visit the Wings Over Houston Air Show website.
A big thanks to the CAF volunteers for organizing the event and in particular to Leah Block Vice President of Marketing for enabling the media access
and Scott Tims for organizing the activities for the media.
Report and photos by Michael Cleaver ( view portfolio )
Last Modified: 7 March 2019