PENSACOLA, Fla — The North American air show season began with a star-spangled flyover salute above Super Bowl LIII and was followed by several jaw-dropping aviation moments during the year ahead.
AvGeekery.com has compiled our top six “oh wow!” stories we covered during the 2019 air show season. We know that each time a military or civilian aircraft performs, it is truly stunning.
We take a look back at both the historic and interesting moments of the recent season. If you recall one aviation moment which made you gasp this year, please comment below.
6. Aerobatic Airshow Pilot Julie Clark Retires After 40 Years
Julie Clark began flying American aerobatics in 1978, and on October 19, she said farewell as she retired from the air show industry. Clark’s patriotic aerobatics aboard her T-34 Mentor aircraft pushes the limits of flight.
Across North America, Julie has been a staple at air shows for forty-two years. Nicknamed “Free Spirit”, Clark has flown the same aircraft everyone of those years. She laughs and says, “It’s my best friend”. Her final performance will be on November 17, during Nellis AFB’s Aviation Nation air show.
“I’m gonna miss being apart of this great industry,” Clark said “We talk about STEM/STEAM and bringing in young people into this industry. We need that, we want to keep the crowds up and we want to keep the innovations going.”
5. Navy’s Super Hornet Demo Team Cancels Season
The U.S. Navy’s popular Super Hornet demonstration team cancelled their five remaining air show appearances in June in order to train new pilots. The squadron performs at air shows across North America aboard the Rhino — an F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet jet.
Known as the VFA-106 Gladiators, the demo team decided to spend the last half of the season training new pilots for 2020 and beyond. The announcement came as the Navy’s last legacy Hornets are being phased out for the Super Hornets.
“The mission of VFA-106 is to provide the fleet with superbly trained replacement aircrew to support fleet readiness,” VFA-106 Commander Brandon M. Scott said on Wednesday. “This mission will always take priority over displaying the remarkable Super Hornet across the country.”
4. Canadian Snowbirds Pilot Safely Ejects Prior to Crash
The Royal Canadian Snowbirds suffered their first jet crash in years on October 13 as the team prepared to perform at the Atlanta Airshow.
The Snowbirds nine CT-114 Tutor jets had just taken off from Falcon Field about fifteen miles from the air show site at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. As the investigation continues, details of the Snowbird 5 accident have not been released.
What we know is an issue occurred aboard the Snowbird 5 jet minutes following take-off. Pilot Captain Kevin Domon-Grenier pointed the jet toward a vacant field and successfully ejected away. He was recovered and visited a nearby hospital for a few hours to be checked out.
It was the squadron’s first crash in eleven years. Moments following the crash, the rest of the air show was cancelled.
3. U.S., Great Britain Air Force Jets Perform NYC Flyover
The jets of the United States and the United Kingdom performed one of the largest military flyovers on August 22 above New York.
The late-morning tandem flight featured six Air Force Thunderbirds jets, followed by the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows’ nine-jet delta. Two American F-22A Raptors and two F-35A Lightning IIs followed in a diamond formation.
The massive formation over Manhattan brought sky watchers to the windows of the skyscrapers. Social media was abuzz with images and video of the rare formation as the nineteen jets flew past.
“It was certainly a history making flight,” New York Airshow spokesperson Chris Dirato said. “It was exciting to see these teams make their way down and back up the Hudson River, while passing the Statue of Liberty.”
The Navy’s Blue Angels were originally to have also flown. However, the team dropped out one day prior due to having logged the maxium flying hours for the week.
2. Allied Warbirds Retrace D-Day Route on 75th Anniversary
America’s own D-Day squadron successfully flew fifteen C-47s/ DC-3s to the United Kingdom in May to join up with their European counterparts to create a historic June fly over to honor the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
The U.S. C-47A Skytrains and DC-9 aircraft flew in a huge formation with their European counterparts. They crossed the English Channel on June 5 for a formal flyover over Normandy Beach in France.
“Few veterans of D-Day are still with us, and this celebration may be our last chance to honor these brave war heroes,” D-Day Squadron’s executive director Moreno Aguiari told AvGeekery.com. “We are committed to ensuring their significance and sacrifice is fully appreciated for generations to come.”
The aircraft also dropped nearly 200 paratroopers over France along the way. A few of the Skytrains in attendance, Thats All — Brother! and Placid Lassie, make regular stops at U.S. air show sites.
1. First Female F-16 Demo Pilot Announced … then Quickly Replaced
The U.S. Air Force announced on January 29 the selection of the first female to both command and pilot the F-16 Viper Demonstration Team for the next air show season. Thirteen days later, Capt. Zoe “SiS” Kotnik was removed from duty due to a lack of confidence by her base commander.
For nearly two weeks, Capt. Kotnik was the gem of the Air Force across social media. Her own social media account — filled with gratitude and cockpit videos set to popular music — was deleted the day of the stunning announcement.
“I removed Capt. Kotnik from her position as the commander of the Viper Demo team, because I lost confidence in her ability to lead the team,” Col. Derek O’Malley, Commander of 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw AFB, stated on February 11.
Kotnik said on Jan. 29 that she looks forward to having “an influence on younger generations.” She was poised to break new ground for women in her new job.
“I know first hand how impactful air shows can be and what a difference it makes to young people to see just one example of what they too can do and who they can become,” she added.
(Charles A Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates via social media @Military_Flight.)