WORDS & PHOTOS: JEREMY MEYERS
The 2023 Guardians of Freedom airshow was held over the weekend of 26th-27th August – the first time since 2016 that an airshow had been held at Lincoln AFB. This year’s airshow turned heads, advertising one of the biggest military line ups of the season, featuring the Blue Angels, F-35C Lightning II, EA-18G Growler, KC-135R Stratotanker and F-16C Fighting Falcon in the flying display, as well as warbirds from the Horsemen Flight Team, a pair of F-5s and an F6F Hellcat from the Fagan Fighters.
The static park was vast, including Army vehicles, warbirds, a WWI replica and no fewer than five KC-135R from the 155th ARW. Also of note was the Czech Air Force A319, accompanied by a Czech Air Force tent with children’s activities as well as a band and drill team also performed demonstrations throughout the weekend. At the southern end of the static park was an E-4B Nightwatch, RC-135 Rivet Joint, B-52 Stratofortress, KC-46 Pegasus, C-17 Globemaster III and several C-130s. In the middle of the field were five T-38 Talons, two EA-18 from VAQ-144 “Main Battery” (including the brightly painted CAG bird) and two A-10s from the 442nd Fighter Wing, one being painted in D-Day stripes. In addition, an Army UH-72 Lakota, UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47D Chinook were on display on the west side of the ramp.
The flying began just after 10am with the USAFA Wings of Blue parachute team, using a local Army National Guard CH-47F Chinook as the jump platform. Of note, the 155th Air Reserve Wing and Texas Air Guard have a long-standing partnership with the Czech Air Force, so it was fitting to see some Czech officers jump in with their flags as well; in total, about 11 jumpers exited during three separate passes. The flying then moved to the Horsemen Flight Team. Although flying just two aircraft, piloted by Jim Beasley and Ed Shipley, this was rare and unmissable display with some very tight formation work, and it looks often as one P-51 rather than two. Earlier in the season I had seen them with fly as a three-ship (see This is Flight’s review from Dyess AFB), but this was equally if not more impressive.
Following a series of flypasts by a local KC-135, the show moved quickly to its main feature: Naval displays. The EA-18 Growlers and F-35C demonstrations produced copious amount of vapor making the displays all the more entertaining. The Growler routine is similar to the dynamic pairs displays seen in Europe, with high-speed passes and close formation work displaying the operational tactics and flight envelope of the aircraft. As they completed the demonstration, an F-35C took off to the hold with one of the EA-18s and a WWII era F4U Corsair. Then, a second F-35C began its demonstration. It seems slightly shorter than the USAF’s version, but included some of the same maneuvers like the high alpha pass, high speed pass, and tactical pitch. During the landing sequence, the other F-35 exited the hold to perform a sneak pass. Wrapping up this segment was the Navy Legacy Flight, with a Corsair, EA-18 and F-35C.
This made room for local pilot Doug Roth in his Staudacher S-300B Champion. He had been flying it for over 20 years and his skill was certainly evident in the high energy aerobatics, tumbles and more. There aren’t many S-300s on the circuit, so it was fun to see another new aerobatic mount and I was impressed with Doug’s use of aerobatic box, this being the first time I saw him. Following on, the Fagen Fighters from Minnesota took to the skies with their P-51D Mustang “Twilight Tear” and F6F Hellcat, performing a series of parade and topside passes. Of note, this particular P-51 has actual combat experience in WWII.
Turning the noise back up was the USAF’s F-16 Viper Demo Team, which performed a solo display and Heritage Flight. The F-16 demonstration still holds a special spot for me, being the spark for me joining the Air Force and having crewed it for much of my tenure in the USAF. Unfortunately, the planned Heritage Flight formation of the F-16 and two civilian-operated F-5s was cut back to the far more common sight of an F-16 with a single P-51. Closing the show was Fat Albert and the Blue Angels. The Fat Albert Pilot in Command was from Omaha, NE, and was greeted by thunderous applause when he was introduced.
The Guardians of Freedom Airshow had a robust line up and showcased the Navy especially well, but there are areas for improvement away from the flying and static displays. For example, rules banning bags or even chair covers were so strictly enforced on the Saturday that many ended up sitting outside the gates or making the long walk back to where they had parked. Even for those who had arrived early, that meant joining the back of the line after making a roundtrip to the vehicle, delaying entry into the grounds even further. Having been to over a hundred airshows, I have never seen these rules so tightly enforced.
Even with some VIP passes, those helping park the cars and man the entry gate did not seem to be well informed about where to direct spectators or what rules applied. Even camera bags were not allowed and some with diaper bags had to convince those manning the gates to allow them in. I even saw a few women who were turned away with a simple purse on their person. It was very disappointing and hopefully in future years, restrictions will be eased and more sensibly enforced.
Another area that proved disappointing was the STEM Zone, which seemed more like a recruitment fair. While there were a few memorable items, next time it would certainly help to have more engaging and entertaining exhibits to more effectively provoke interest in STEM careers. Finally, it seemed like some of the timings for events and ground shows by the Czech Air Force were not publicized; future editions could perhaps post more detailed schedules, or at least make it well known that these activities will be taking place.
Nebraska will host another airshow in 2024, when the Thunderbirds are scheduled to fly at Offutt AFB on the 24th-25th August.