[Airshow USA] “Thunder and Lightning Over Arizona” at Davis Monthan Air Force base

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On the weekend of 23 and 24 March, the Davis Monthan Air Force base hosted the “Thunder and Lightning Over Arizona” Airshow. The U.S. Air Force base (*) is located 5 miles south-southeast of downtown Tucson, Arizona. It was established in 1925 as Davis-Monthan Landing Field. The host unit for Davis–Monthan AFB is the 355th Wing (355 WG) assigned to Twelfth Air Force (12AF), part of Air Combat Command (ACC). The base is best known as the location of the Air Force Materiel Command’s 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (309 AMARG), the aircraft boneyard for all excess military and U.S. government aircraft and aerospace vehicles.

The program remained the same for the two days although on Saturday, we had a flyby of a F-35 for the heritage flight formation.

The program featured many static aircraft like Warbirds, T38, local law enforcement, Bordel Control, and some aircraft coated with special paint, taken from the boneyard where they remain on hold until further notice.

We reached out for the gates at 8:30 each day in order to avoid jams and get a decent parking spot from the main entrance. Each day was a smooth entrance to the base. Organisation was well setup and onsite staff (all volunteers) made the all access easy.

As you would expect on a military base, security was tight and despite a published full list of prohibited items; many visitors were forced to return to their car to leave some of their bags. Only mesh or clear bags were allowed, even for photographers.

*tip* for U.S. Airshows: buy a $3 plastic bag at a local store to store all your equipment. We didn’t do so we had to carry all our gear, water, folding chair without a bag.

© Martin Gillet
© Martin Gillet
© Martin Gillet

Once we entered the airshow ground, you would walk through static displays. Grand Public was – most of t3he time – invited to come on board and to engage with the crew members.

© Martin Gillet

U.S. military aircraft are always impressive not only by their size but also by the volume of cargo they can hold. Many visitors used them as cooler place, using their shades.

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We managed to fight a good spot along the flight line with other plane spotters (Russia, England, local photographers, local press etc). We were facing two parked A10 and were close by the Thunderbirds parking.

The show started on time with the opening and the U.S. flag and the pledge of allegiance.

© Martin Gillet
© Martin Gillet

Parachutists were dropped using a C-130 Hercules. Their team work and precise landing illustrated their perfect know-how.

We then had a stunning demo of a Search and Rescue mission (SAR) protected by no less than 4 A10 warthogs securing the area. Two Blackhawks were dispatched on location to recover two crew members “in distress”.

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First time that we could see the A10 startup and aircraft up close, the ‘ugly aircraft’ built around the gun. The airborne demo are more than impressive, they illustrate the saying ‘don’t mess with us, else you’ll get into trouble’. The capabilities and the quick responsiveness of the A10 are a true asset to field operations.

© Martin Gillet
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A10 later on demoed during the show more maneuvers with simulation of fire, before joining the heritage flight formation.

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© Martin Gillet

Less noisy but still very impressive as the take off and flybys of the Boeing C-17 Globemaster. The C-17 whereabouts in the sky were almost unnoticed as it was very quiet. Just amazing to see such airborne aircraft knowing the cargo volume it can hold. The (short) landing was also interesting, not only because of its short landing but due to the fact that it backtracked in reverse mode on the runway !

© Martin Gillet
© Martin Gillet
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Another first for us was the F22 Raptor demonstration Team with loud flybys and demos of its capabilities. It also flew right above us, revealing its cargo bay. Photographers enjoyed the afterburners and figures of style as aircraft flew through the allocated airspace.

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Only on Saturday, we had the privilege to have another guest, namely an airborne F-35 that also demoed its skills set with a lot of noise (‘music to our ears’) before joining the heritage flight formation.

© Martin Gillet
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© Martin Gillet

On both days, to honor the present, the past and the future along with all personnel and lost souls who dedicated their lives to our freedom, the Heritage Flight Formation took place allowing a gorgeous line up for all photographers and the Grand Public.

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© Martin Gillet
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More entertainment took place, featuring Kirby Chambliss and the Red Bull Helicopter, the Red Bull Skydiving Team and Kent Pietsch and the Jelly Bell aircraft along with  Vicky Benzin’s Stearman.

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Last but not least: the Thunder birds, the main piece of the Airshow!

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They illustrated ‘one of the best definition of Team Work’. From group formation, to diamond formation, solo passes, reflection pass and more, the crowd was really amazed. Thunderbirds demonstrated their skill set over sunny Tucson, with stunning agile and precise maneuvers. You can tell this was the most expected moment from the crowd as after the airshow, the line up for the autographs was huge. The popular pilots did not fail their reputation to engage with the beloved public.

In addition to Airshows, the Thunderbirds are always executing several fly over during events such as the Super Bowl, Daytona or other major events. On Friday 22 March at noon, the Thunderbirds were announced to fly over Phoenix during the memorial services for U.S. Air Force Col. (ret.) Roger Parrish.

Excerpt from their press release “The United States Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron “Thunderbirds” will perform a ceremonial flyover during the memorial services for U.S. Air Force Col. (ret.) Roger Parrish, at approximately 11:30 a.m. over Phoenix, Ariz., March 22, 2019.

The formation will feature four F-16 Fighting Falcons, the Air Force’s premier multi-role fighter aircraft, soaring over the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona.

Col. Parrish led a distinguished career as a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot from 1957 to 1983 including an assignment as the Thunderbirds’ Commander/Leader from 1973 to 1974″.

A US Airshow wouldn’t be a show without the famous Shockwave Jet Truck which made a several stunning appearance on the runway.

© Martin Gillet

The airshow concluded each day shortly before 17:00 when the guests could still enjoy refreshments along with the static display while heading back to their car.

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© Martin Gillet

Mike Drowley, Commander, 355th Wing, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base was very pleased of the Teams outcome, tweeting I quote ‘Awesome job team – you crushed it!’ and ‘Airshow complete – amazing experience’.

(*) Davis–Monthan Air Force Base is a key ACC installation. The 355th Wing (355 WG) provides A-10 Thunderbolt II close air support and OA-10 forward air controllers to ground forces worldwide. The 355 FW is also the host unit, providing medical, logistical, mission and operational support to all assigned units. The 355 FW is also the sole formal training unit for the A-10 aircraft, providing initial and recurrent training to all U.S. Air Force A-10 and OA-10 pilots, to include those in the Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) and the Air National Guard (ANG). The 355th is also ACC’s executive agent for INF and START treaty compliance.

One of the wing’s tenant units, the 55th Electronic Combat Group (55 ECG), is a geographically separated unit (GSU) of the 55th Wing (55 WG) at Offutt AFB, Nebraska and is an ACC unit tasked to provide offensive counter-information and electronic attack capabilities in support of U.S. and Coalition tactical air, surface, and special operations forces with its Lockheed EC-130H Compass Call aircraft and employing the EC-130H in tactical air operations in war and other contingencies worldwide. The 55 ECG also provides initial and recurrent training to all EC-130H Compass Call pilots, navigators and air crew.

Two other major tenants, the 563rd Rescue Group (structured as a GSU under ACC’s 23d Wing at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia), and the Air Force Reserve Command’s (AFRC) 943rd Rescue Group (structured as a GSU under AFRC’s 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida), are tasked to provide combat search and rescue (CSAR) and personnel recovery (PR) support worldwide.

Perhaps the most prominent tenant is the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (309 AMARG) of the Air Force Material Command (AFMC). As the main location for the 309 AMARG, Davis–Monthan AFB is the sole aircraft boneyard for excess military and U.S. government aircraft and other aerospace vehicles such as ballistic missiles. Tucson’s dry climate and alkali soil made it an ideal location for aircraft storage and preservation.

(source Wikipedia).

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