BEAUFORT, S.C. — Top military and civilian aircraft thundered over the Marine Corps. Air Station at Beaufort during the final weekend of April as an estimated 105,000 spectators visited the base’s popular Open House and Airshow.
Hot, muggy conditions and cloudy skies over Fightertown East did not deter visitors from arriving on Saturday and Sunday. Many waited several hours to see America’s Pride — the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, GEICO Skytypers, F-16 Viper Demo Team, and the F-35 Lightning II perform during a four hour window. Top civilian aerobatic pilots also headlined the airshow including Scott Yoak, Jim Tobul, Gary Ward, and Rob Holland.
Marine hospitality and support by members of Col. Peter D. Buck’s office and staff provided visitors with an inside experience of the air station located in South Carolina’s Low Country. “We’re excited to have the community to come aboard,” expressed Beaufort Commander Col. Buck during the air show. “We’re excited to share with the community our mission. We have a great deal of pride associated with our role in defense of our nation, and we’d like to show them our role in marine aviation.”
The Beaufort Air Show provided a rare treat as they allowed guests an up close static view, and the chance to witness a rare flight demonstration of the Marines F-35B Lightning II aircraft. The United States military’s latest defense support fighter carries unique features such a rear stealth mode and can hover prior to landing on land or an aircraft carrier. Beaufort, also known as Fighter Town East, is the home to an F-35 pilots training school.
“The Beaufort community has fought very hard and supported us in bringing the F-35B, the joint strike fighter, to Beaufort,” Col. Buck said near the airfield. “Those jets are here with the VMFAT-501 as we work with the operating capability of that squadron and that aircraft.”
The Blue Angels provided their duel performance as the airshow headliner. Their six F/A-18C’s departed the airfield to begin their nearly 40-minute flight demonstration each day. As the four-jet diamond team performed several sharp and gravity defying maneuvers, the two solo jets would align up on cue to come screaming across the runway’s center point with speed of nearly 400 m.p.h. once the diamond had cleared.
The Blues’ Commander and Boss Ryan J. Bernacchi is in his second and final season as pilot in Angel 1. The Diamond Team includes LT Damon Kroes, LT Nate Scott, LT Lance Benson. The two solo pilots who push the envelope of what the Hornet can do are lead solo CDR Frank Weisser and opposing solo LT Tyler Davies. The voice of the Blue Angels is that of LT Brandon Hempler. Hempler, Blue Angel 7 pilot, and LT Dave Steepe as Angel 8, serve as the advance pilot and events coordinator, respectfully.
The six World War II-era aircraft of the GEICO Skytypers made for a great centerpiece between the F-35 and Blue Angels. The Skytypers’ Navy SNJ-2 planes, known to the Army as T6 Texan, gave the crowds the same thrills and gasps as the military jets. Their silver single prop aircraft performed dizzying aerobatic flights to simulate aerial combat maneuvers during the second World War.
“All the maneuvers are fun!” Skytyper Left Wing pilot Ken Johansen stated during the air show weekend. “The precision and the trust that you have in your fellow pilots flying next to you, The non-verbal communications is absolutely incredible.”
Johansen, whose father Bob also flies with the team, expressed with a smile his own favorite maneuver, “I’d have to say it’s our six plane cross. It’s a lot of fun.”
The F-16C Viper demonstration team performed twice over the Low Country. Piloted by Capt. John Waters, callsign “Rain”, the F-16 Fighting Falcon is a multi-role fighter jet which can switch from air-to-ground to air-to-air in a second. Capt. Waters demonstrated many of the maneuvers air force pilots use during combat operations overseas.
Popular civilian aerobatic aircraft also highlighted the Beaufort airshow. Pilot Jim Tobul and his F-4U-4 Corsair, nicknamed, “The Korean War Hero”, performed alone, and later, along side his close friend, Scott Yoak. Yoak’s P-51D Mustang Quicksilver is a shining example of aerobatic flight by the top warbird of the Korean War.
The success of the Marine air station’s open house and airshow will lead to hosting its next air show in Spring 2019. A preliminary announcement will be made this December in Las Vegas.