Shaw Air Expo
May 4-6, 2012
Shaw Air Force Base
Shaw Air Force Base is home to 20th Fighter Wing and the US Third Army. The tree lined avenues and well manicured grassy areas leading from the main gate to the hangars and runways are quite welcoming and park-like. With temperatures in the 90 degree range and high humidity, it was hot even by the standards of a native South Carolinian. Friday brought a high cloud cover with a breeze that made the heat and humidity bearable.
Massive Hangar 1200, the public entry point and location for many of the exhibit tables and displays, was under the coordination of Sergeant Christopher Gippe. Recently returned from deployment, this father of three was outstanding in his ability to take care of everyone’s needs and problems. Always smiling, he was constantly on the move, checking to make sure that all exhibitors and vendors were cared for and exhibits properly protected.
Inside Hangar 1200 Warbird Radio was broadcasting throughout the event and also exhibiting an L-3 along with a bright yellow Tiger Moth, an aircraft not often seen at airshows in this area. The EAA was present with several aircraft including a Provost trainer and an Ercoupe. The EAA Young Eagles display saw heavy traffic throughout the event. There was a beautiful Stearman sitting by the door and a pure white sail plane tempted those who craved something different. An F-111 Aardvark, veteran of Desert Storm, sat close to a hangar wall, awaiting restoration to display status to “pay tribute to the dedicated pilots, maintenance and support personnel who stood watch for the free world during the Cold War.” It will join quite a number of other aircraft on pedestals at the main gate.
The newly formed South Carolina Historic Aviation Foundation featured a display on the 70th Anniversary of the Doolittle Raid, reminding visitors that most of the Raiders were recruited from Columbia (SC) Army Air Base and the three Raiders were South Carolinians. The Boy Scouts and Civil Air Patrol were represented and the Sumter, SC Chapter of the International Plastic Modelers Society displayed their excellent aircraft models. The USAF Heritage of America Band, The Blue Aces from Langley-Eustis, Virginia performed at intervals Saturday and Sunday.
Friday was airshow practice day and was designated Special Needs Day for those who might have difficulty dealing with larger crowds and traffic. Numerous families with small children took advantage of this along with a sizable number of retirement homes, senior citizens and some school groups. Unfortunately, only one food vendor appeared to be operating that day. A few others definitely would have eased the wait time.
The children’s amusement area was conveniently located just outside Hangar 1200 and featured a number of military and aviation themed, inflatable slides and gentle obstacle courses. For the more adventurous there was a Zip Line. Nearby was a food vendor featuring a family-friendly “Value Price Menu”.
A walk through the static display area brought a pleasant surprise, Tinker Belle, the only military version, flying C-46 in the country. Owned previously by the Commemorative Air Force, she was bought by the non-profit Warriors and Warbirds to prevent possible scrapping of the aircraft. The City of Monroe, North Carolina acquired Tinker Belle and funded restoration to promote the city through tours as well as to provide educational opportunities for students. Tinker Belle honors the airmen who “flew the Hump” in the China-Burma-India theater of World War II.
Next to Tinker Belle was the C-54 Spirit of Freedom with its excellent on-board museum of the Berlin Airlift and its congenial pilot, Tim Chopp. It was good to learn that their C-97 restoration is almost complete and it may be on the airshow circuit within a year. Other static displays included an SNJ, Focke Wulf 149 and a Focke Wulf 190, a U-10A Helio Courier, a C-45 and a King Air. Some of the static military aircraft included A-10s, an F-15, F-22, KC-10, KC-135, C-17, CH-47 Chinook, and an OH-58 Kiowa.
Kudos to Hal Ewing for his amusing and informative sandwich board question and answer sign beside the C-45. Detailed signage was present with the majority of static displays. It would be good if everyone did this.
The Columbia, SC based Celebrate Freedom Foundation had Maggie, its restored AH-1F Cobra helicopter hovering just behind the fence. Named to honor comedienne Martha Raye for her dedication to entertaining US troop through many decades, Maggie is brilliantly painted in three-dimensional tiger-stripe camouflage by artist Dru Blair and sports a shark’s mouth nose from which extends a 20mm demilitarized Gatling Gun.
A flight of F-16s took off for rehearsal promptly at 11:00 a.m. Watching them climb straight up, it became apparent that the cloud cover was not a low as one might have thought. Clearing progressed and by the time the Thunderbirds practiced around 2:00 p.m. the weather was nearly perfect.
Although trash cans were nowhere to be found on Friday, they had appeared by the hundreds on Saturday and were serviced throughout the remaining event, never allowing any overflow. This is another example of the attention to detail which made the event so pleasant. There were several ATM machines conveniently located near food and souvenir vendors. Lots and lots of food choices were available. The South Carolina State Guard had set up a medical, decontamination and communications trailers and there was a large first aid tent near the children’s play area. There was a sufficient number of first rate porta-johns and plenty of hand sanitizer stations. Wide traffic lanes made it possible for walkers to avoid any confrontations with the numerous service carts that scurried about. Security screening was tight and was conducted at the entrance by pleasant but thorough Shaw Air Force Base personnel.
The Third Army has its base of operations at Shaw Air Force Base as part of the military joint use program as required by the BRAC recommendations of 2005. At the opposite end of the ramp from the static displays was “Armyland”, and exhibition of military vehicles and equipment including Humvees, tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and utility trucks and a huge self propelled howitzer.
Also in “Armyland” the previously mentioned Celebrate Freedom Foundation was showing a 1942 Willys Jeep that landed at Normandy in a glider and Hercules, a carefully maintained half-track which also participated in the Normandy Invasion. In addition there was Maggie’s hangar mate, a static display Cobra which is trailered to schools as part of the Foundation’s Project SoAR educational initiative.
Against a clear blue sky, the Saturday air show started with a bang literally as A-10s, F-15s and F-16 staged an attack on the field with plenty of flares, pyrotechnics, smoke and noise, drawing the already large crowd toward the fence as the announcer said “The enemy convoy is destroyed.” Then the F-15 staged a simulated attack on a revetment with more pyro.
As the flying continued, the clouds increased. As Fowler “Big Dog” Cary climbed high, his red, white and blue T-33 almost disappeared at times. By the time the Geico Sky Typers were airborne, their smoke was often obscured against the white clouds and a fairly strong wind quickly dissipated what remained. Nevertheless, the Thunderbirds were able to complete their show and nobody got wet on Saturday. Sunday there were showers in the area, which held the crowd down and forced the Thunderbirds to perform the “low show”.
Dan Tindall, Director of Air Expo Operations, estimates that the crowd on Saturday was in the 40,000 – 50,000 range with another 20,000 attendees on Sunday. Throughout the event Shaw AFB gave much attention to the comfort and safety of the attendees. Without exception, base personnel were well trained in their tasks, helpful and cordial. Although deployments and budget constraints must have had some effects, it was not apparent. Shaw Air Force based produced another fine air show in 2012.
Story by Anna Amick
Photos by Steve Finch