2014 Davis-Monthan Air Force Base Open House
Thunder & Lightning Over Arizona
Article by Steven Valinski
Photography by Barry Griffiths, Ned Harris, Steven Valinski, and Bill Word
The residents of Arizona were fortunate enough to have three major military air shows this year. The first two took place in mid-March at Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix, Arizona and Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Yuma, Arizona. Recently, on April 12th and 13th, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base held their biennial Open House. Located approximately 120 miles south of Phoenix, Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base has been a key military base in the Tucson area since 1925. Currently, Davis-Monthan AFB is headquarters for the Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) (12AF – AFSOUTH), which is part of United States Air Force Air Combat Command (ACC), the 563d Rescue Group, the 55th Electronic Combat Group, the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), the 943rd Rescue Group of the Air Force Reserve Command, the 214th Reconnaissance Group (214 RG) and the 355th Fighter Wing. From an aviation perspective, there are two things closely associated with Davis-Monthan AFB. These things are: the Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II (Warthog) and AMARG (the military aircraft “boneyard”). As a training ground for new A-10 pilots, and experienced A-10 pilots looking to improve their skills, Davis-Monthan has been leading the way since 1979. In addition, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is known as the gatekeeper for AMARG. Many military aircraft have taken their last fight into Davis-Monthan AFB for retirement to the “boneyard”.
The 2014 Davis-Monthan AFB Open House “unofficially” began on April 11th with “Hero’s Day”. According to the Davis-Monthan AFB press release, Hero’s Day: “was organized to accommodate members of the local community who would enjoy the open house demonstrations but might not be physically able to deal with the extensive walking and large crowds”. Air shows can be a rough environment for some people, with large crowds, long lines for refreshments and a long day in the sun, Hero’s Day was an opportunity for people with special needs or disabilities to enjoy a scaled-down version of the airshow in a more relaxed/less crowded environment. Hero’s Day also provided an opportunity for the performers to get in some extra practice before the public show on the weekend. Over 700 people attended Hero’s Day. Members of the USAF Thunderbird’s crew handed out Thunderbirds themed souvenirs to the children and elderly that attended and, after their performance, the Thunderbird pilots came to visit the children in attendance. Hero’s Day was an excellent way to show the local community how much the USAF, and, specifically, the personnel of Davis-Monthan AFB care about them.
Military air shows can be spectacular events. They provide an avenue for the public to see the aircraft that represents modern airpower, along with how the aircraft is used. The list of performers included:
|USAF Wings of Blue Skydiving Team|
|U.S. Customs/Border Patrol Vehicle Interdiction
|Desert Rats Warbirds|
|B-25 Flyby/DAV Flight Team|
|Smoke-n-Thunder Jet Car|
|Red Bull Helicopter
|Will Allen Flying Tenor|
|Kent Pietsch Airshows|
|Jacquie B Airshows|
|U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds|
Many modern aircraft demonstrations can be specific to what squadrons, and what aircraft, are flying at the base that is hosting the airshow. In the case of Davis-Monthan AFB, the key demonstration was in the form of Combat search and rescue (CSAR). CSAR consist of search and rescue missions that are carried out in hostile environments, often during wartime. These missions help save the lives of the brave military personnel that protect and serve our country. The CSAR demonstration at the Davis-Monthan AFB Open House showed the public the aircraft, skill, effort and precision it takes to perform these missions to save the lives of others. Since the U.S. Customs/Border Patrol fly missions out of Davis-Monthan AFB, it was appropriate for them to show the public how they perform in real-world scenarios. Their demonstration consisted of a vehicle interdiction. This was an opportunity for the public to see the, black with gold striping, UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters the U.S. CPB uses and what they are capable of. The obvious highlight performance, for most of the show’s attendees, was the USAF Thunderbird Demonstration Squdaron. The Thunderbirds demonstrate the capabilities of the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon in acrobatic form. The crowd-pleasing performance left air show attendees in awe as the grand finale of the air show.
For those who like historic aircraft, the B-25, P-51, O-2 flybys, along with the performance of the Desert Rats Warbirds, showed the attendees the airpower of yesteryear. Other performers such as: the Smoke-n-Thunder Jet Car, the Red Bull Helicopter, Will Allen, Kent Pietsch, Wright Flight and Jacquie B Airshows, provided wonderful entertainment to fill the afternoon. Let’s not forget the opening performance of the USAF Wings of Blue Skydiving team which opened the show with an outstanding skydiving demonstration, with Will Allen “the Flying Tenor” in his Pitts S2-B singing the National Anthem.
Being the headquarters for the Twelfth Air Force, having access to AMARG (the boneyard) and being in close proximity to the Pima Air and Space Museum, provides Davis-Monthan AFB with a wealth of resources for static displays. The organizers of the open house did not disappoint. Some of the more interesting static displays included:
– Rockwell B1-B Lancer
– Boeing B-52H Stratofortress
– McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle
– Lockheed Martin HC-130J Combat King II
– Boeing RC-135S Cobra Ball
– Lockheed AC-130H Spectre
– Boeing C-17 Globemaster III
– Lockheed C-5 Galaxy
– Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II
– General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon
Direct from AMARG were displays such as:
– McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II
– Grumman F-14 Tomcat
And many more static displays of interest (over 42 total).
Both days of the show were very entertaining. The Saturday, April 12th show had many challenges due to the weather. There were wind gusts over 30MPH, which caused the cancellation of the USAF Wings of Blue Skydiving Team and the USAF Thunderbirds performances. I know these cancellations were a disappointment to those in attendance, but with aerial demonstration teams, high winds-equals-high risk. What these pilots do is very dangerous and requires precision. This precision is impacted substantially by abnormally high winds.
In a “real life” act of heroics, six Airmen from the 48th Rescue Squadron provided initial care to a collapsed man during the open house on April 12th. An elderly man went into cardiac arrest, collapsed and stopped breathing. According to a Davis-Monthan AFB press release: “After the initial defibrillation shock and another 30 chest compressions the man started breathing again on his own. The Airmen continued to give him continuous care until Tucson Fire Department was able to transfer the individual to the hospital”. These airmen utilized their training and experience as first responders, which gave the man a chance to survive.
As mentioned earlier, air shows are a way for the U.S. Military to show the public military airpower, past and present, while demonstrating the capabilities of the aircraft. Davis-Monthan’s 2014 Open House – Thunder and Lightning Over Arizona succeeded in many areas. With a well-organized show, and a great list of performers and static aircraft, the 2014 Davis-Monthan AFB Open House is one of the premier air shows in the U.S.. With Hero’s Day and the Open House, the supporters, organizers and the performers sent a clear message to the community stating that: “they care”. This air show was a wonderful way to show the community how much they are appreciated.
Aviation Photography of the West would like to thank the 355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office, with a special thanks to 2d Lt. Ranaweera and SSgt Ruiz for their gracious hospitality throughout Hero’s Day and the 2014 Davis-Monthan AFB Open House.