2019 Tinker AFB Star Spangled Salute Air And Space Show
Saluting Our Armed Forces, Past, Present And Future
Report and photos by Scot Meek
September 30, 2019
The 2019 Star Spangled Salute Air And Space Show was held during the weekend of June 1st and 2nd at Tinker AFB, located in Midwest City, Oklahoma. Midwest City is a suburb of the Oklahoma City Metroplex and is located just east of downtown Oklahoma City. The theme this year, “Saluting Our Armed Forces, Past, Present And Future” was chosen as a way to honor all of America’s Service Members, from the past, here in the present, and those that will do so in the future, as well as commemorate the 75th Anniversary of D-Day.
The 2019 airshow was also the first year to have the new Science, Technology , Engineering and Math exhibit. This inaugural exhibit gave children and adult spectators the opportunity to learn the value of a STEM education in the rapidly expanding aerospace industry in Oklahoma. The aerospace industry is the second largest economic engine in the state, coming second only to Wal-Mart.
Headlining the event for 2019, was the United States Navy Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Team. Many different types of aircraft from different era’s provided a full day of high tempo airborne demonstrations and fly-by’s.
Rendezvous With The Angels
APD was invited by Maj. Quinlan, and the rest of the 507thARW public affairs team, to tag along with them on June 30th, aboard one of several of the Unit’s KC-135R Stratotanker’s. Home based at Tinker, the ‘Okies’ of the 507thARW are one of the most active United States AirForce Reserve Units in the United States, with a very proud and distinguished history, that harkens back to the days of flying the P-47 Thunderbolt during 1944.
Before stepping to the aircraft, all of the members of the media entourage, and even a member of the Blue Angels Public Affairs Staff, were briefed by Col. Miles Heaslip, the Commander of the 507thARW. Beginning with a short history of the 507th, Col. Heaslip soon transitioned to an explanation of what to expect on board the aircraft, the day’s mission objective, and times of departure and arrival.
We were scheduled to depart Tinker AFB at approximately 0800hrs, and once handed off to Oklahoma City Approach Control, we expected to turn to a compass heading of 110 Degrees, and proceed Southeast toward the Shreveport, Louisiana airspace.
Once on station, we would set up on an orbit point and wait patiently for the Blue Angels to rendezvous on our KC-135R.
At the same time, the team would be airborne and would be inbound toward Tinker from NAS Pensacola. Once the team joined up, we would be providing each of them a few sips of fuel along the return leg back to Tinker, and the opportunity to chat with the team over the radio comms, as well as grab some awesome photos of them plugged into the drogue basket.
Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work in our favor, and the tanking/photo portion of the mission was scrubbed. The team, much to their credit, were running a few minutes late and opted to skip the photo op, in order to maintain their schedule for the day’s public appearances at the local Children’s Hospital and other event locations.
A decision that I believe, speaks volumes to the credit of Blue Angels, and the importance they place on maintaining their public appearance schedules, and the dedication of setting aside time for those individuals that may not have the ability to attend a Blue Angels Demonstration.
Absolutely. First. Class. Gentlemen. But did you expect anything less?
Welcome to Tinker!!
Kicking off the Star Spangled Salute Air And Space Show for Saturday, was the USAF Wings of Blue precision parachute team. Accompanying the Wings Of Blue while skydiving in tandem this year, was Col. Kenyan Bell, the 72nd Air Base Wing Commander. Once back on earth, Col. Bell officially opened the airshow, welcoming all of the airshow spectators to Tinker’s bi-annual event.
The first demonstration to take to the air was Adam ‘Shake-N-Bake’ Baker performing an eye watering aerobatic display in his ‘Playful Airshows’ sponsored Extra 330, followed by Justin Lewis in his FLS Micro Jet, and then Kent Pietsch in is ‘Jelly Belly’ sponsored Interstate Cadet.
After a brief hiatus, the three aircraft demo known as ‘Team Tinker’ consisting of a USAFR KC-135R from the 507thARW, a E-3G Sentry (AWACS) from the 552ndACW, and a US Navy E-6B Mercury from VQ-4. Because the 507th Air Refueling Wing, the 552 Airborne Command and Control Wing and STRATCOMWING-1 being home based at Tinker, they are the most prominent aircraft seen airborne in the Tinker AFB flight pattern.
They each entertained the crowd with multiple passes at different speeds and at low altitude, highlighting each aircraft’s profile, their missions and in the case of the KC-135R (refueling boom) and the E-3G Sentry, (the large rotating radome) the systems used to complete the mission each aircraft was designed to perform.
Airshow attendees were also treated to a surprise one time fly-by of one the newest airborne tanker airframes in the USAF inventory, the KC-46A Pegasus.
A demonstration that is always interesting to watch, is the Vietnam themed ‘Downed Pilot/Combat Search and Rescue’ demonstration. Several types of historic aircraft from that era took to the air to skillfully replicate a Vietnam era Combat Search And Rescue (CSAR) mission, including a US Army C-7 Caribou, a US Army Bell-Huey UH-1C, a US Navy AD-5 Skyraider, a USAF A-1E Skyraider and a A-37 Dragonfly.
Simulated CSAR radio communications were broadcasted over the showline speakers providing the airshow crowd a better understanding of the details and intricacies of rescuing someone near or behind enemy lines. Once the inbound Sandy pilots established radio contact, the ‘downed airman’ was asked a series of questions that only he would know the correct responses to. This is done in order to confirm his identity. Once confirmed as a friendly and located, the Skyraider’s and the A-37 Dragonfly then conducted multiple simulated bomb and strafing runs, emulating the close air support and LZ clearing efforts to rescue the downed airman. Once the simulated enemy combatants had been held at bay, the UH-1C Huey helicopter, often called ‘The Angel’ for obvious reasons, arrived in quick fashion, touched down briefly to pick up the ‘downed airman’ and exited the designated LZ in just a few seconds. Quite a remarkable simulation. The thick humid Oklahoma air that day along with the pyrotechnics of simulated bomb explosions and cannon fire, added a very realistic effect to the overall demonstration. A demo that you definitely want to see if given the opportunity.
‘What’s Up Doc? Super Rabbit!’
To commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day invasion, many WWII era aircraft were in attendance, including the beautifully restored B-29 Superfortress ‘Doc’, the B-25J ‘Super Rabbit’. With the darkening skies in the northwest, these two highly polished and immaculately kept warbirds provided aviation photographers a beautiful photographic opportunity, with their highly polished fuselages gleaming like brand new chrome against the quickly approaching dark gray storm clouds.
Viper Demo Team
Also an airshow favorite performing this year at the Tinker show, was the Air Combat Command Viper Demo Team. After the rain delay Saturday afternoon, Viper Demo Team Commander Maj. Garret ‘Toro’ Schmitz flew the teams Blk50 F-16C ‘Viper’, in an 18 minute long, fangs out, afterburner blazing demonstration, showcasing the F-16’s mind-boggling abilities to airshow attendees.
After the solo display, ‘Toro’ joined up to fly formation with a P-51 Mustang and a Vietnam era camouflaged USAF A-1E Skyraider, for the always photogenic USAF Heritage Flight.
‘Toro’ and the Viper Demo Team definitely “don’t bring it weak” as the team says in their social media postings, and they truly are a ‘must-see’ airshow event if you ever have the chance.
Aviation Photography Digest had the opportunity to chat with Maj. Garret ‘Toro’ Schmitz for a few brief moments after his initial arrival to Tinker AFB on the Thursday prior to the airshow. ‘Toro’ flew his very first demonstrations as the newly selected Commander of the 2019 Viper Demo Team, the previous weekend at the Latrobe, Pennsylvania airshow. Arriving at Tinker AFB for his second scheduled Demo weekend, we were able to get with ‘Toro’ literally minutes after unstrapping from his ejection seat and climbing out of the jet.
APD: What is the biggest takeaway from your first full show weekend as the Viper Demo Team Pilot and Commander?
“The last one? So there was a little sporty terrain” ‘Toro’ said, “a lot of hills around Latrobe…so…. just be conservative with what you’re doing, because….you are dropping in from hills that are a couple hundred feet higher than where the airfield was”. “Just taking that conservative approach to it.. I think that’s probably the biggest takeaway. Other than that, it is pretty much…once you start flying, it felt like every day flying. So you stick to your routine, stick to what we do everyday.”
APD: What is the length of time for training and the other associated requirements that an individual must meet before being selected as the Viper Demo Team Commander? :
“So…the syllabus is about twenty rides.” “ It’s a mixture of front seat and back seat… So I do two rides in the backseat, and then…there’s a mixture of ‘C’ models and ‘D’ models….so two seaters, one seaters” ‘Toro’ explains. He continues: ‘So total…it’s about twenty rides once everything is said and done”
APD: What is the most challenging maneuver for you to ace every performance during your short tenure as the Viper Demo Team pilot? :
“I mean…acing it? I’d say I ace…pretty much zero of them” He says. “Just cause ‘acing’ it in my mind..is flying it absolutely perfect…which I don’t think I could do” “The most difficult maneuver to fly?” With a brief hesitation, he continues: “I would say…the triple roll… surprisingly sometimes.” He explains further: “It doesn’t give me any issues, but if your arm is positioned wrong, or if you are rolling with any type of loading on the jet, once you are done…then it’s going to kick you forward a little bit.” “So that’s probably the one…that you can make the most mistakes on.” “The triple roll…surprisingly.” “But I….I wouldn’t say that any of them are difficult at all..they are all pretty easy to fly”
“I am nothing special” ‘Toro’ says…. “Pretty much any Viper pilot can do this, with the exception of a few probably.”
APD: “But people regard you as a ‘better than average’ fighter pilot… “I mean…we are all assuming that’s why you got selected for this position?”
‘Toro’: “I mean…I think I’m better than the average fighter pilot (laughing)… but every fighter pilot thinks that so…(shrugging shoulders)”
APD: “Ok…but they called you…you didn’t call them..”
‘Toro’: “I was in the right place at the right time..” (Smiling)
APD: “Do you have a particular favorite maneuver?”
‘Toro’: (Without hesitation) “The Max Climb..” “So…when we are at 300 feet, rolling in, pointing at the corner marker…and then (G) limiter pulls…straight up…” “That’s by far my favorite..” “Just…One…It’s the most fun to do…and…I know how it looks from the ground.” “That’s what got me hooked on wanting to be a fighter pilot.” “It’s by far my favorite one to do.”
APD: “This one is more for the aircraft maintainers on the team… What is their longest workday ever for a demo weekend?
‘Toro’: “They regularly put in twelve hour days” “A typical workday, honestly for these guys, is between the ten and twelve(hours).” “Most maintainers is about a twelve hour day.”
APD: “Is there one thing that is always giving you fits on the jet?”
‘Toro’: “No…not necessarily…”
APD: “Nothing engine related?” “I really find that surprising, that there is nothing fuel or engine related..” (Considering the copious use of max afterburner during the airborne demo!~ Author)
‘Toro’: “We will get engine related stuff…but it’s here and there..” “Ummm…FLCS…” (pronounced Flicka’s in reference to the Viper’s FLight Control System) “Just because we’re putting it through the ringer…”
“Sometimes we will come back down and have some FLCS malfunctions…but these jets…they are tried, true, tested.” “Viper’s…they’ve been around so long, that they’ve worked out most of the kinks…so if something messes up during a sortie, it’s usually a pretty easy fix. These guys (maintainers) are incredibly professional. “These guys..” (referring to the Viper Demo Team maintainers) “Are like…literally the best at their jobs…unequivocally..that’s how they got on this team..because they are the best at their jobs.”
“Blue Angels…You Own The Airfield And The Airspace”
The headliners of the Tinker Air Force Base Star Spangled Salute Air And Space Show for 2019, was the always entertaining and thrilling United States Navy Blue Angels Demonstration Team. 2007 marked the last time that the Blue’s had graced the Oklahoma skies with their dynamic and aggressive airborne prowess.
But despite the Saturday afternoon thunderstorms that threatened to delay or possibly even cancel their 3:00 P.M. demo, the majority of the air show attendees and the die-hard Blue Angel fans, did not give up hope though, and were rewarded for their patience with a fantastic demo, that appeared to consist of a mix of what seemed to be maneuvers taken from the ‘low-show’ (i.e. low altitude) script, as well as several ‘medium-show’ (medium altitude) passes, with a couple of ‘high show’ (high altitude) maneuvers thrown in for good measure.
Considering that 14….yes…fourteen(!) long years had transpired since the last appearance by the Blue’s in the skies above Oklahoma, it is highly probable that this year was to be the last Blue Angel performance in Oklahoma,with the Team flying their maintenance intensive ‘Legacy’ F/A-18C/D airframes. The team is already well underway making provisions to begin transitioning to the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet models, and are tentatively scheduled to be fully up to speed in their new mounts, at the beginning of the 2021 show season. Hopefully, airshow fans here in Oklahoma will not have to wait another 14 years to see what will undoubtedly be an even more exciting demonstration, with the team as they absolutely shred the TFR airspace above Tinker AFB in their General Electric F414 powered Super Hornets.
We at AviationPhotoDigest.com would like to extend a very sincere ‘Thank You!!’ to the Commander of the 507thARW, Col. Heaslip, as well as the 507thARW Public Affairs Staff , Maj. John Quinlan, 2nd Lt. Ashlyn Paulson, Tech. Sgt. Lauren Gleason, and Tech. Sgt. Samantha Mathison, for graciously, inviting us tag along on the KC-135/Blue Angel rendezvous flight. We also would like to extend our deepest gratitude to the first class crew of ‘Okie0-2’,
Lt. Col. Cory Glenn, and Maj. Andrew Vaughn and the numerous enlisted crewmen aboard our flight that day. Regardless of the tanker mission getting scrubbed, we had a fantastic time and are honored that we were able to hang out with every single one of you! Thank you!!
We also would like to express our gratitude and appreciation to the members of the Viper Demo Team, for allowing us the opportunity to interview Maj. Garret ‘Toro’ Schmitz and get a ‘behind-the scenes’ look at being the Viper Demo Team Commander, as well as the demands of being a part of the Viper Demo Maintenance Team, during the day-to-day operations while meeting the demands of a hectic air show season schedule.
To Maj. Garret ‘Toro’ Schmitz, MSgt. Chris Schneider, SSgt. Ryan Davis, SSgt. Austin Dixon,
SSgt. Trevor Griswold, TSgt. Ryan Hutchison, TSgt. Luis Lopez, TSgt. Drew Wilson, SrA. Kathryn Reaves, thank you for the privilege of your time, your thoughts, and your assistance to make our interview possible! #SendIt!! #DontBringItWeak