MCAS Miramar Air Show 2018

MCAS Miramar Air Show 2018

by John Thow

Back to Miramar, for our annual trek to the California home of Marine Corps Aviation. Upon arriving, the first thing we noticed was that the flight line and show entry had been set up differently. If you have ever been to the show, you will recall riding in on trams after clearing security. At the end of the day, we always dreaded the very long lines for the trams to return to the parking area. That now seems to be a thing of the past. They have moved the “hot pit” area with the performing aircraft down to the east end of the field and have set up the entry to the display area all the way back where the hot pit used to start, at the west end of the flight line. This allows incoming visitors to simply park their cars, walk straight to the entry gate, where there is a multitude of entry points, needed personnel, and metal detectors to get everyone into the show as easily as possible. This has to be the most efficient show entry and exit we have ever seen at any of the shows we attend. Especially at a show this large. Kudos to the show organizers at Miramar. I would still prefer to bring a normal backpack though.

USMC F-35B during flight demonstration at MCAS Miramar. photo: J. Thow ©

USMC F-35B during a flight demonstration at MCAS Miramar. photo: J. Thow ©

Blue Angels approach the Miramar flightline from the west during their Friday flight demonstration.

Blue Angels approach the Miramar flightline from the west during their Friday flight demonstration. Photo: John Thow ©

Patriots Jet Team L-39 Albatross

Patriots Jet Team L-39s. Photo: John Thow ©

The Blue Angels Diamond Breaks Formation

The Blue Angels diamond breaks formation. J.Thow ©

Upon entering the gate, the first thing we came upon was an F-35C Lightning II from NAS Lemoore’s VFA-125 “Rough Raiders”. This was our first time seeing the C model F-35. It makes a powerful impression with larger wings and a beefier landing gear set up than that found on either of its Air Force (F-35A) or Marine Corps (F-35B) counterparts. Not to mention the addition of a bulged housing under the rear of the airplane to accommodate a lengthened tailhook assembly. All of these differences are to handle the additional inherent stresses of carrier aviation. We also noticed that the aircraft on display wears Navy markings on the port side and Marines markings on the starboard side.

We were on site for the Friday show, and as is sometimes the case on Friday, things are still making their way to their final positions and some aircraft didn’t arrive until Friday evening. So the static area was a bit empty compared to previous years, but there were still plenty of great things to stay occupied with throughout the day during any lulls in the flying.

Friday’s weather, as you can see in many of our photos was more reminiscent of some of our days spent at Chino Airport, than those we have come to expect from Miramar. While not too hot, the air was warm, into the 80s and very humid, creating a haze, that any of you aviation photography buffs will know right away is bad for pictures. So we did our best.

The show itself got moving once the skies cleared up a bit. One of the great surprises of this year’s show was the flight demonstration of a Lockheed U-2 now known as the Dragon Lady. It has been years since we have seen one of these in an air show, let alone performing a full flight demo. Great stuff!

U-2 Dragon Lady

U-2 Dragon Lady makes a dramatic entrance at Miramar. J.Thow ©

Tanks in the MAGTF

Marines parade in front of the crowd at Miramar after the MAGTF… J.Thow ©

USMC F-18 Hornets

A pair of FA-18 Hornets tear up the sky in a high-speed pass. J. Thow ©

Another show highlight came in the form of the return of “Fat Albert”. While they did not perform the amazing flight demo that we have come to expect from the Blue’s favorite C-130, they did take off as the jump plane for a team jump with the U.S. Army Golden Knights and the U.S. Navy Leap Frogs parachute teams. “Al” is sporting a fresh coat of paint and looks amazing. It is my understanding that going forward the current C-130 will be replaced with a newer “J” model that is rumored to be coming from Britain’s Royal Air Force. We are not sure exactly when the newer aircraft is expected and whether or not they will return to the full flight demonstration at that time, or if that is simply a thing of the past. The current Fat Albert airframe is very close to the end of its usable service life and we suspect this is why the flight demos have been at least, temporarily suspended.

After Fat Albert and the parachutes came the opening ceremonies and a few words about this year’s theme of 100 years of women in the Marine Corps. Followed closely by a comedy act from Kent Pietsch in his “Jelly Belly” sponsored Cadet. Pretending to wander into the air space accidentally after a prison escape, he banters with the show announcer and manages to lose an aileron and drag his wingtip on the ground, making his eventual landing on top of a box truck.

After a bit of a break, it was on with the show and on to the Marine Air-Ground Task Force or MAGTF Demo. This is one of the things that really sets the Miramar show apart as something unique. The MAGTF is a brief demonstration of all things Marine Corps, from explosions from simulated offshore fire and attack helicopters to strafing runs by Hornets and Harriers. Don’t forget the tanks and APCs (Armored Personnel Carriers). It’s a high-energy demo, makes for some great shots, and gets the crowd fired up too.

The afternoon continued with Jon Melby in his Hangar 24 Pitts, racing the Shockwave Jet Truck, and the Patriots Jet Team. The Patriots are a civilian, all-volunteer jet demonstration team, made up primarily of former Air Force and Navy pilots from the Thunderbirds or Blue Angels, and they put on a great, high-energy show.

Finally, it all wraps up with the always amazing Blue Angels in their trademark blue and gold F-18 Hornets. The Blues are still flying the C and D model Hornets for now, as I understand it, if all goes according to plan, we should see the team transition to Super Hornets around 2021.

Can’t wait until next year’s show. For up-to-date information on this and other air shows for the current year, have a look at our Air Show Calendar.
Have a look at our previous Miramar review, complete with tips to get the most out of your visit.

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