REPORT: Wings Over Houston 2017

Wings Over Houston 2017 is in the books; a great show despite less than ideal weather conditions. The airshow for me started on Thursday with the arrival of a USAF B-25H Stratofortress and two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ, along with various warbirds. That afternoon the show’s headliners – the USAF Thunderbirds – arrived at Ellington Field, followed by an HC-130J and WC-130J Hercules from Moody AFB, GA, and Keesler AFB, MS respectively, both for the static display. I then drove to the end of the runway for two further notable arrivals: a MiG-21 Fishbed and F/A-18E Super Hornet from the US Navy’s Tactical Demonstration Team.

Friday is the day of the “special show”, primarily for local children with special needs. The show opened with a parachute drop, accompanied by Debby Rihn Harvey and Michael Wiskus in their respective aircraft. Both pilots then performed their solo display. Another solo aerobatic act followed in the form of Elias Corey in his Suzuki-sponsored Extra 300. After further displays from Tora Tora Tora, the F/A-18E “Tac Demo” and a rare pairing of de Havilland Vampire  and Me-262, the airport re-opened for the remaining arrivals, which included a pair of F-15 Eagles from the Louisiana Air National Guard and a CH-53 Super Stallion from HM-12 in Norfolk, VA. The arrivals gradually slowed down during the afternoon and the weather began to turn. Notably, neither the Thunderbirds nor A-10 Heritage Flight practiced their show.

Saturday began with a sunrise tour of the static display and active ramp, but the show itself began with a lone F-16C Fighting Falcon from Tulsa ANGB, OK, which took off and performed a flypast following the national anthem. Michael Wiskus, making his Houston debut, then performed a brief preview of his full show in his Lucas Oil Pitts, followed by a teaser race with the Shockwave Jet Truck. The next act was a USCG MH-65D Dolphin search and rescue demonstration. This demonstration hit close to home, as it was USCG aircraft such as this one which rescued hundreds during the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey less than two months previously.

As the helicopter landed, the announcer told the crowd that a surprise was inbound: two F-15 Eagles from the Bayou Militia arrived in formation for a tactical break, followed by two solo passes en-route to the Gulf of Mexico. It was a rare treat to see the F-15 flying at an airshow, and although a full demonstration team hasn’t been seen since 2011, I was grateful for the short display we did see. Next up was another fast jet, the F/A-18E “Tac Demo”, performing a full display with plenty of vapor thanks to the high humidity.

The warbirds dominated the next part of the show, starting with the ever-popular Tora Tora Tora, followed by various trainer aircraft. The Second World War was further represented by a B-17 Flying Fortress, two B-25 Mitchells, one A-26 Invader and one SB2C Helldiver representing the bombers, but just three fighters present; a P-51D MustangP-47 Thunderbolt and P-63 Kingcobra completed the lineup.

Next was a very rare formation indeed – and a possible world first – as a replica Me-262 and de Havilland Vampire joined up together for a Heritage Flight. It was aptly followed by the USAF Heritage Flight comprising one A-10 Warthog, Skyraider and the aforementioned P-47. The sky was starting to cloud over at this point and lighting conditions did not lend themselves well to photography.

One of the highlights of the show was a Vietnam War set piece, including an enviable selection of aircraft from that era, complete with troops on the ground. The display started with an O-2 Skymaster, which provided top cover as the Skyraider ran in for bombing and strafing runs. Next into the sky was the A-4 SkyhawkP-63 Kingcobra and UH-1 Huey, all joining the fray. The Skyraider and A-4 soon landed, but were quickly replaced by Randy Ball’s MiG-17 and the Collings Foundation’s F-4D Phantom, the latter of which was making its post-restoration display debut. Both aircraft then flew several passes and chased each other round the airfield in what was one of the biggest hits of the weekend. North America’s only F-100 Super Sabre currently participating at airshows was also due to take part in the display, but remained on the ground due to technical issues on Saturday. On Sunday, it was the F-4 that didn’t take part, although the F-100 did.

The show ended, as usual, with the Thunderbirds, flying a polished display with their six F-16s. Unfortunately they were limited to a flat show on Saturday due to the cloud which had been building up throughout the day, and on Sunday a cold front, which had brought heavy rain and low cloud to the area again forced them to fly a flat show – although it did contribute to some stunning vapour from the F/A-18.

The cold front that swept over Houston played havoc with plans for Sunday’s show, and the gates remained shut until midday. The air display started one hour later, and although there were no pyrotechnics this time around, almost every aircraft was able to fly. It was, overall, the best edition of Wings Over Houston in a long time, and I cannot wait to see what they have planned for next year!

Nathan Thompson is a professional flight planner from Texas. Wings Over Houston is his regular event.