Story and photos by Frank Lorey III


Over a million people watched as what is billed as the "worlds largest military airshow", and also as the "largest airshow in the United States" was held at MCAS Miramar from October 13-15, 2000. It was the third year that the Marines have hosted the event, after taking over from the Navy due to base realignments.

The show included three daytime performances and one special night show on Saturday. In addition to the military showing off all the current inventory of aircraft, many top civilian acts were also there. Aviation legend Bob Hoover, who had received some of the top billing, unfortunately was a no-show.

Three Mig-17’s took to the skies during the show, with the "Stoli" Migs (formerly the "Red Star" Migs) joining regular performer Bill Reesman in his Mig-17F. Reesman flies his "Red Bull" Mig in both a daytime "Mig Magic" show, and night "Mig Meteor" performance. It is Reesman’s second Mig, having totaled one in a spectacular crash a few years back.

Reesman is based out of the former Norton Air Force base, now a civilian field, near San Bernardino. According to Julie Reesman, his wife and airshow announcer, they make it to "16 or 17 shows a year—East Coast, West Coast, all over the U.S."

The immaculate Mig-17F is put through 8-g maneuvers during his performance. Reesman flew an opposing jet during Vietnam, with over 320 combat missions in the F-100 Super Sabre. He is also a former Northwest Airlines pilot and United Airlines instructor.

The USMC/Vietnam Helicopter Association brought in Jim Moriarty’s 1961-vintage SH-34J Choctaw helicopter for static display. All of the current crewmembers served on the same model helicopter during the Vietnam War. It is maintained in the markings of HMM-362, the "Ugly Angels", which served in Vietnam during the 1960’s.

Another beautifully restored aircraft that frequents the Miramar show is a Ryan PT-18 trainer. The open-cockpit World War II primary trainer was produced in San Diego during the war, so it is a local favorite at the show.

Vintage warbirds also took to the air for a variety of "Heritage Flights". The airshow was dedicated to the fifty-year anniversary of the Korean War, and planes that flew both in World War II and Korea were featured. Two P-51 Mustangs, an F8F Bearcat, and F-86 Sabre jet were joined by a FG-1D Corsair and F7F Tigercat from the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, CA.

On a sadder note, two QF-4 Phantoms were also on display. The Vietnam-era jets, which would be a welcome addition to many an air museum, were apparently slated to become targets for the joint U.S.-Britain-Canada war games that were held off the Southern California coast the week following the Miramar airshow.

The AV-8B Harrier jump jet was back again this year, but instead of coming from the USMC, it was provided by the Royal Navy. The jet is used for close air support of Marine ground troops, and can stay on station for up to 30 minutes. Seven external store stations can handle a variety of missiles, mostly air-to-ground, and a 25MM six-barrel gun pod with 300 rounds of ammunition.

The F-14 Tomcat, one of the world’s most heavily armed fighters, put on a low-level display before the crowd. The two-seat aircraft has a RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) who can track up to 24 targets from over 100 miles away. With full afterburners, the Tomcat produces 50,000 pounds of thrust, which was fully demonstrated during the show while doing minimum-radius turns.

The B-1B Lancer bomber was also a crowd favorite, showing what the Mach-2 aircraft could do at much slower speeds with 600 MPH passes before the crowds. The Lancer is half a football field long, and weighs about a half-million pounds when fully loaded.

The Red Baron Stearman Squadron is always a crowd favorite at the Miramar show. The four PT-17 World War II vintage trainers have been restored with certain modifications including the addition of a 450-HP engine to allow the antique aircraft to perform stunts beyond belief. These guys fly really tight formation, and still pull off amazing feats.

The F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter-bomber grabbed the attention of everyone present as it went through a tactical demonstration flight. The New Mexico-based jet is part of the 49th Fighter Wing, and gained fame in missions during Desert Storm, with over 1000 combat missions flown without so much as a scratch to any of the aircraft.

Another strange-looking aircraft is the A-10 Thunderbolt II "Warthog". The tank-killer came to the show from Tucson, and is really quite nimble in the air. With a 30-mm. Gattling gun that fires between 4,000 and 6,000 rounds per minute, it packs a potent punch.

The pride of the show is the Marines MAGTF demonstration, where F/A-18 fighters and Cobra helicopters "soften up" the airfield before CH-46, CH-53, and UH-1 helicopters insert the troops. The CH-53 can even drop off a howitzer, and shortly thereafter Marine ground forces reach the airfield in M1-A1 Abrams battle tanks and other ground combat vehicles. MAGTF stands for the "Marine Air-Ground Task Force", and shows how quickly the Marines can respond to a crisis situation that calls for maximum force.

The "Number One" featured performer each year is the Navy’s Blue Angel flight demonstration team. Before the colorful blue and yellow F/A-18 Hornets take to the skies, the C-130 Hercules that backs up the team demonstrated a JATO-bottle short-field takeoff. "Fat Albert" gains altitude quickly with eight JATO bottles shooting out their fire.

Eight of the F/A-18’s arrive at the show, but only six actually perform before the crowds. The final two do PR work, including media and celebrity rides, and their pilots provide the commentary during the performance.

The four-plane "Diamond" formation is meant to show off the graceful aerobatic formation maneuvers that demonstrate Navy-trained flying skills. The other two jets are there to provide fast-paced high performance maneuvers with the two solo pilots. The Blue Angels fly at about 35 air shows each year, before an estimated 15 million spectators.

The Marines provide an excellent show each year at Miramar, and for those living in Southern California, it is a "must-see" event.








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