Wings over Houston 2018, held at Ellington Field just south of Houston, Texas first caught my attention after reading an article on the Texas Flying Legends collection and the Commemorative Air Forces annual airshow in Aeroplane magazine. With such a large collection of warbirds and the turn of the Blue Angels to headline the show (the headline slot is rotated annually with the USAF Thunderbirds) I headed to the lone star state for this year’s show.
Houston had been covered by low cloud all week and this continued into Saturday which despite the best efforts of the ever busy Air Boss meant that only the fly anywhere aerobatics of Sean D Tucker and the Blue Angels were able to fly with a very commendable display from the Blue Angels in very challenging conditions. Thankfully, such is the changeable weather patterns in Texas that Sunday woke to almost clear blue skies.
In previous years there had been a Vietnam era segment but this was noticeably missing from this year’s lineup. Thankfully the Collins Foundation who own a large number of aircraft from this era went up for an early morning photo call and each of the 4 aircraft did multiple touch and goes before finally recovering to the hot pits. This gave plenty of chances to see the fantastic F4 Phantom FP680, F100 Super Sabre AF63 951 and L39 Albatross N633911, all in stunning camo schemes plus L39 Albatross 4355 in Slovak Air Force markings.
After the opening ceremonies the first warbird segment was the famous Commemorative Air Force’s Tora Tora Tora display featuring 8 North American SNJ-6-Mitsubishi zero replicas and their attack on Pearl Harbour, defended by the P40 Warhawk 29629 and B17 Texas Raiders.
Image yourself as a soldier or a sailor on the quiet Sunday morning of December 7th, 1941 on the pacific island of Hawaii. All of a sudden you look up and you see 183 fighters and bombers with the rising sun on them. As the sirens sounds we see 8 aircraft in the same markings of the Japanese Navy Air Service peel off into a diving attack on the airfield.
Flying 4 different patterns of low opposing passes, tail chases with the P40 Warhawk and 60 bomb shots, straggling runs and the wall of fire finale, the Tora Tora Tora is the CAF recreation of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour that signalled the start of the American involvement in WWII and was the code word used to confirm the objective of a complete surprise attack had been achieved by the Japanese Navy Air Service.
The display was fast moving with lots of Pyro explosions and reenactors defending the airfield from below. With a strong crowd on wind, photography was made even more difficult with the smoke blowing towards the crowd but the at the end of each segment the air boss would send each formation of aircraft round for at least one topside photo pass. Something that would prove very popular in the UK, I’m sure.
The next segment, America trains for war was the turn of the trainer aircraft featuring a huge collection of 13 trainer aircraft in a race track formation at various altitudes and usually in groups of threes in front of the crowdline. As it was the turn of each group to break to land they would descend to a lower altitude for a final pass on the crowd.
It was then the turn to showcase the American contribution to the European Theatre of operation with the Commemorative Air Forces impressive collection of B17 Texas Raiders, B25 Surprise Delivery and Devil Dog and C-47 That’s all Brother. Nearly 75 years ago, on June 6, 1944, That’s All, Brother carried the first of the paratroopers from the 101st and 82nd Airborne divisions. Piloted by Lt. Col John Donalson, the plane led over 800 C-47s which dropped over 13,000 paratroopers on D-Day.
Supporting the bombers as they undertook bombing runs on the airfield were the equally impressive fighters. With the strong cross winds we did miss the fighters taking off on the crowd line runway but they each passed down the taxiway directly in front of the crowd before taking off from 04.
The only vintage jet display on the show features MIG 15 NX996 who flew a very high and somewhat distant display.
2018 welcomed back the USAF F16 Fighting Falcon demo. Flown by Maj John “RAIN” Waters in his second year as F16 demo pilot, the F16 was put through its paces before forming up with North American TF-51D Mustang 463187 Bum Steer to fly a very moving heritage flight display.
Performing the traditional three passes from left to right, right to left and then a final pass from behind the crowd before breaking all to the sound track of “We Remember” by Dwayne O’Brian.
Headlining the show and performing in considerably better conditions than Saturday were the USN Blue Angels. Although some cloud had set in during the day the Blue Angels were able to put in their full display which consists of the synchro pair performing opposition passes and mirror formations whilst the four ship perform close aerobatic manoeuvres in their famous diamond formation.
One of the features that drew me to Wings over Houston was the photo pit. Whilst not on a par with FRIAT, for $60 a day with the early booking discount you get a reserved area on the right hand side of the flight line which whilst missing show centre does mean you are always shooting away from the sun as it moves over your right shoulder from around 1pm. The dedicated area included a riser rather than a grandstand which I prefer as you are able to stand and have much more room than being confined to a seat. There is also a tent and free soft drinks and lunch box provided as well as a dedicated toilets. You also get reserved parking near the main gate, so lugging your camera bag on the shuttle bus is avoided. Limited to 100 photographers per day this is the best way to photograph the show and well worth the cost if you book early. The volunteers who run the photo pit are extremely helpful and friendly and try and share as much information as possible about schedule changes.
For anyone considering an airshow stateside I’d highly recommend this show. Ensure you sign up for the Airshow Insider emails on their website to get the early booking discounts and get your photo pit and specifically the sunrise photo tour tickets as soon as they go on sale in June (the sunrise tour sold out in a few days).