Dyess Big Country Airfest 2012
Dyess AFB, Abilene, Texas April 28, 2012
An estimated 30,000 people attended the Dyess Air Force Base Airfest and Open House on April 28. The base is located near Abilene, Texas and is named after Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and Texas native William Dyess. The facility was established in 1942 as Abilene Army Air Base and is home to the 7th Bomb Wing consisting of two B-1 Lancer squadrons in addition to C-130 Hercules aircraft of the 317th Airlift Group. With 38 aircraft, the 7th Bomb Wing is the largest operational B-1 unit in the Air Force.
This year’s show served to celebrate 70 years of Abilene airpower while highlighting the different aircraft that have been based at the field. Announcing the show was Jon “Jughead” Counsell. Counsell has been narrating for over 16 years and is a military and civilian pilot with experience in over 42 types of aircraft. Saturday morning arrived with blue skies, warm temperatures and low humidity – great weather for the show! The Army Golden Knights Gold Demonstration Team opened the show with the flag jump, followed by a teaser performance by Tim Weber in his MXS. Weber would return to the sky later in the day to perform his full routine, but this “preview” was a great way to start the show!
Following the opening ceremonies, two B-1 Lancers took-off from runway 16 one after the other in a combat departure spread. I have seen the aircraft fly on several occasions but to see it taxi-by and take-off – WOW! One B-1 returned to show center in a high-speed flyby and the crowd received its first taste of jet noise for the day! Next up was Ron Cain in his DeHavilland Chipmunk. Cain has over 40 years of flight experience and has been flying the Chipmunk in air shows since 1984. After Ron Cain, Andrew Wright began his aerobatic routine in his Giles 202 aerobatic aircraft. With Andrew Wright’s performance complete, it was now time for Chip Lamb in his T-28 Trojan. Lamb flew an exciting solo performance and put on a great show! When Lamb recovered, two C-130s took center stage and executed a cargo drop demonstration. Once that demonstration had ended, another C-130 served as the jump platform for the Air Force Academy Wings of Blue Parachute Team.
After a short lunch break, the show resumed with Randy Ball in his MiG-17F. This particular MiG-17F entered service with the Soviet bloc in March of 1960 and was in active service until May of 1990! Ball completed a four year restoration of this “Fresco” in 2001 and everybody up and down the flight-line clapped and waved to him in approval as he flew by, engaging and disengaging the afterburner.
Next up was the Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II flown by Major John “Beercan” Collier. Beercan made three solo passes that culminated in a two-ship Air Force Heritage Flight when he was joined by Charles “Tuna” Hainline in the colorful “Tarheel Hal” P-47 Thunderbolt from the Lone Star Flight Museum. With the Heritage Flight complete, Beercan and the A-10 recovered and it was now time for the Warbird portion of the show. Tuna and the P-47 remained in the air while the “Texas Raiders” B-17 Flying Fortress of the Commemorative Air Force Gulf Coast Wing took off, followed by the “Devil Dog” B-25 Mitchell of the Commemorative Air Force Devil Dog Squadron. The B-17 and B-25 each flew a single pass and then joined-up with the P-47 as a three-ship formation. The formation returned again for a final time, where it was overtaken at show center by one of the B-1s that had launched earlier in the day!
As the Warbirds began to land and taxi back to the ramp, Jughead announced that we would be receiving a flyby from a B-2 Spirit bomber! The B-2 made three passes and the crowd murmured in awe as the bat-winged aircraft flew silently past. Tim Weber then returned for his complete performance, followed by Jim Gregg in his Super Chipmunk. After Jim Gregg, the Army Golden Knights Gold Demonstration Team jumped with their full show.
Next up was an act that I was anxious to see – the Red Steel Jet Team. The civilian-owned jet team is in its first season on the air show circuit for 2012 and had three L-39 Albatros aircraft in attendance. This was the team’s air show debut and they took turns at show center, alternating between the precision formation maneuvers demonstrated by two L-39s while the solo L-39 executed loops, rolls and low passes down the flight-line. It was exciting to see the team’s inaugural performance and I can’t wait to see them again at another show this season when they add a fourth L-39 and a MiG-23 Flogger into their routine!
After the Red Steel Jet Team demonstration had ended, we were treated to a Vietnam-era simulated rescue of a downed pilot in enemy territory. The demonstration featured two L-19 Bird Dogs and a T-28 Trojan along with pyrotechnics. The T-28 flew several attack passes while one L-19 landed to extract the pilot. With this exhibition complete, it was now time for the modern-day Close Air Support demonstration! This demonstration included two B-1s, a convoy of four vehicles and a Joint Tactical Air Controller (JTAC) soldier. The radio calls between the JTAC and the B-1 crews were broadcast over the public-address system and the aircraft proceeded to demonstrate real-world battlefield tactics with even more pyrotechnics!
Finally, it was time for the headlining act – Tora! Tora! Tora! We were transported back in time to the morning of December 7, 1941 as eight aircraft simulating Japanese Zeros, Kates and Vals flew in from the left for the start of their performance. Complete with the sounds of battle, the smell of smoke in the air and multiple explosions, the entire Tora! Tora! Tora! team did an incredible job of portraying the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor!
Static displays included several Commemorative Air Force aircraft as well as a KC-10 Extender, KC-135 Stratotanker, AC-130 Spectre, T-6 Texan II, T-38 Talon, T-45 Goshawk, C-17 Globemaster III, B-1 Lancer, B-52 Stratofortress, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-18 Super Hornet, F-22 Raptor and a Mi-24 Hind helicopter!
Just as soon as it began, the show had concluded and the Airmen of Team Dyess started turning the flight-line back into a functional base. I had a great time at my first Big Country Airfest and can’t wait until the next one. I’ll be there and I hope to see some of you as well!
Story and photos by Anthony Svihlik (email@example.com)