WORDS AND PHOTOS: JEREMY MEYERS
After a five-year hiatus, NAS JRB New Orleans played host to an airshow once again in March 2022. Leading up to the show, the weather looked tentatively fair, but by show days, the sky was clear and blue – particularly good news considering the event had secured a particularly impressive line up of fast jets for the flying display.
On the ground, the static display seemed bare, even with the P-8 and B-52. A vast open space was left by the absence of the promised C-17, C-5 and HH-65 that were listed to be on display, and while there is never any guarantee of statics, this left one wondering.
Where the static display came up short, it was made up tenfold by the amount of military hardware in the air. Kicking the airshow off was the Black Dagger parachute team jumping from a resident MAG-49 UH-1Y Venom at around 6,000ft. Ken Reider of Redline airshows circled the jumpers in his homebuilt Vans RV-8A. Following on in the first segment was the likes of Jesse Panzer in her Pitts, Scott “Scooter” Yoak in his P-51D Mustang “Quicksilver” and even Louisiana native, Kevin Coleman in a Bonanza. Each has a perfected display well known on the East Coast. If you’ve never seen the Bonanza act, it is similar in nature to David Marin in the Baron without the feathered prop – but still inspiring to see such a small civil aircraft do a near full aerobatic routine with rolls and loops.
Then, enter the jets: first, two F-15C Eagles from the 159th FW took to the skies via an unrestricted climb out and then came back around for another afterburner pass prior to exiting to the hold area. Not to be outdone, Chris Darnell and the Shockwave Jet Truck then taunted Adam Baker, sporting a new wrap on his Extra 330. Shockwave surpassed 300mph during the morning race and would be back for more in the afternoon. As the noise subsided from the race, the USCG took center stage for a short but well-polished Search & Rescue demonstration with one of their HH-65C Dauphin helicopters.
Once the helicopter cleared the air space, another locally-stationed unit from the Navy took the airspace, as no fewer than five F/A-18C “Legacy” Hornets of the VFA-204 River Rattlers took off for an airpower demonstration. This performance was more sophisticated than I thought would be, with the jets performing high-speed flybys, minimum radius turns, air-to-air and air-to-ground simulations, as well as formation work in various three- and four-ship fly pasts. It is an act that I wish would travel to more shows. Following this, the F-15s came screaming in and did their own pattern work for several passes, none of which were lacking afterburner.
The next segment focused on the US Air Force, as we celebrate its 75th anniversary year. First up was newly-assigned Capt. Aimee ‘Rebel’ Fiedler and the F-16C Viper Demonstration Team. They brought along the popular “Venom” special-scheme jet, which is still the primary display aircraft for the team, and put the Viper through its full aerobatic routine.
As “Rebel” crossed the flightline for the dedication pass, F-35A demonstration pilot Maj Kristin “Beo” Wolfe took off from the right and immediately joined up for the Heritage Flight. Unusually, there was no warbird in this particular heritage flight, but with both of the main demonstration pilots being female, the lack of a warbird made this the first ever all-female USAF Heritage Flight. Once the formation portion of the display was complete, it was time for the F-35’s full aerobatic performance.
The fourth segment of the day was no less exciting, with the likes of the Black Daggers parachute team’s afternoon jump, followed by a mini-MAG display from the MAG-49 involving two AH-1Z Vipers and one UH-1Y Venom. The three helicopters demonstrated the insertion and recovery of troops in a hostile environment. While there were no pyrotechnics, the helicopters kept it close and repositioned on both sides of the crowd line, showcasing the capabilities well to the whole audience.
Several more civilian performers came next: Scott Yoak in his distinct P-51D and Kevin Coleman in his Extra 330, which this year sports a new Red Bull livery. Adam Baker’s Extra 330 featured for a second time, paired up with Redline Airshows’ Ken Reider in his familiar RV-8. Despite being dissimilar aircraft is very dynamic to watch with rejoins, tumbles and double hammerheads, to name a few.
To round out the afterburner fest, the US Navy brought two F-35C jets from the VFA-125 Rough Raiders. The intention had been for a three-ship Legacy Flight with an F4U Corsair from the Commemorative Air Force, but sadly, one jet had a technical issue and did not join the formation. It was fixed in time to perform a solo tactical display, with plenty more afterburner passes.
After all that, the USN Blue Angels took over the airfield and airspace. The team’s new C-130J, “Fat Albert”, was present, and opened the team’s show with a full display before the jets took center stage. I have seen the Blue Angels many times, and for the first time the preflight checks seemed to not go to plan. Blue Angel #2 shut down not long after it had started, with Blue Angels #1 and #3 quickly following suit. Ultimately, the Boss went to #3 jet, #2 went to the spare thanks to a car that came to pick him up, and #3 sat out for the display. Safety is paramount as one might well know, and even with one aircraft down, the team flawlessly executed their second display of their 76th year.
This is certainly an airshow I would recommend to those who have never been, thanks in the main to its very impressive line up of fast jets. Perhaps the only major problem was the event’s security team, which would have been more welcoming of small children and more accommodating of items such as snacks, which are not always available within the show site. Airshows in general have some clear hurdles to overcome in balancing the need to be family-friendly while also maintaining the level of security needed. That said, it was a great way to start the 2022 season and is one of very few airshows that showcase all branches of the military in the flying display: a feat that would be awesome to see more of in coming years.