Air shows bring out millions of spectators across the U.S. every year. Coast to coast it is the single biggest recruiting tool for the U.S. military, and gives them and civilian pilots the chance to share their passion of aviation with citizens who ordinarily would never get the chance otherwise.
But the shows also give an opportunity to teach the important history of aviation to the country, by bringing aircraft past and present together in the sky and symbolizing a nation united across several generations.
The Navy accomplishes this with their single ship F-18 Hornet and Super Hornet Tactical Demonstration, courtesy of Strike Fighter Squadrons VFA-122 and VFA-106.
For 15-20 minutes they shred the skies to show off just some of what their birds can do. But from time to time, they are joined at the end of their demos by an old Navy warbird from the WWII, Korea or Vietnam era, for something called a “Naval Aviation Tailhook Legacy Flight”, where the past and present of Naval aviation join forces in a symbolic formation.
The flights are now few and far between, so it was a real treat recently to be honored to work with the Commemorative Air Force Dixie Wing and pilot Thom Richard on an air-to-air photo/video shoot with Richard flying the Dixie Wing’s Corsair in formation with not one, but two Super Hornets from VFA-106 TAC DEMO.
Richard, owner of Warbird Adventures and the 2015 Air Race 1 World Cup gold champion, flies the Corsair at select air shows throughout the year. He has nearly 30 years flying experience, and has accumulated over 10,000 hours flying vintage warbirds.
Both were performing at the Cleveland National Air Show over Labor Day weekend Sep 2-4, so the Navy, Richard and CAF Dixie Wing wanted to take the opportunity to get together to produce some new publicity images.
ABOVE: Watch from the cockpit of the Corsair, in 360 Video
Typically these shoots are done on demo fuel and conducted either just before or just after the demo. But this was a dedicated imagery mission, aiming for the golden hour of sunset light.
Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas. We waited 2 days to fly, hoping the late afternoon lingering clouds would break up. We didn’t need clear skies, if anything partly cloudy is preferable for drama and depth, but the clearing skies never came.
The CAF’s FG-1D Corsair “530” never saw military combat, but was used stateside in various roles until being stricken from active duty by the US Navy in 1956. It was rescued from destruction in 1957 by Ernest Huggins, then transferred to Skip Underwood of Tulsa, Oklahoma a year later.
Underwood later sold it to Marvin L. “Lefty” Gardner in 1960, and it was later painted as #530 from VMF-312 representing 1st Lt. MO Chance.
Gary Baker, a career pilot with United, stepped in to be my photo pilot, providing his RV-6 as photo ship, since the air show would not provide one themselves (our thanks again to Gary, as the shoot would have been lost without him).
It was windy on the ground for departure, which concerned us a bit, as we need stable air to use slower shutter speeds to capture the motion of the Corsair’s prop spinning. But once we took off the air became surprisingly smooth.
Our takeoff was followed immediately by Richard in the Corsair, and then both Super Hornets.
Officially, Navy Tailhook Legacy Flights are not back on air show rosters yet, but the formations are flown from time to time (as we saw in Cleveland). That’s because, although the Navy funds the training and execution of the active duty demonstrations, due to the fiscal situation dating back to sequestration in 2013 they are currently unable to provide funding for the civilian side of the program.
It was for this reason that the Navy Tailhook Legacy Flight Foundation (NTLFF) was established in 2015, to raise the funding necessary to accomplish Tailhook Legacy training and then execute a Tailhook Legacy flight at all the air shows on the TAC DEMO team’s schedule.
The grassroots organization relies on donations; the minimum budget for one season is over $300,000. For more information, and to donate, visit https://www.ntlff.org.
The CAF Dixie Wing is a non-profit, tax-exempt “flying museum” based near Atlanta, which depends on contributions of time and donations to carry out its mission. For more info, and to donate, visit http://dixiewing.org
View the 2017 Navy TAC DEMO air show schedule HERE.
A few more images below: