American Heroes Air Show 2008 Review
Saturday 12th July (Hansen Dam Recreation Area, San Bernardino, CA)
Now in its 16th year, the American Heroes Air Show is actually a series of shows which take place across the United States. The concept is to showcase the role of helicopters in law enforcement, the emergency services, and the armed forces, and to allow the American public to get close to the hardware used by these various agencies and interact with the men and women that operate them. In addition to the helicopters, there is also a display of emergency vehicles and hardware, and even a rock concert! Paul Dunn went to sample the unique flavour of the event.
brings us a report from across the pond. All photography by the author.
The Los Angeles American Heroes Air Show is held at the Hansen Dam Recreation Area, in the northern suburbs of LA, and this year took place on a scorching hot Saturday in July. The display is centred around 2 sports fields, one of which is home to the static display of helicopters, the other acts as an arena for the small flying program.
Arrivals to the static area began early, and there was a steady stream of helicopters from a variety of agencies, in a variety of colour schemes. These ranged from low-vis grey military helicopters to a selection of brightly painted and TV camera equipped news choppers.
The USAF was represented in the static park by an HH-60 Pave Hawk from the 66th RQS, based at Nellis AFB, Nevada. The Pave Hawk is a Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) helicopter, and as well as training for an operational CSAR role, the 66th RQS is responsible for providing SAR cover for the huge Nellis AFB Ranges. The Pave Hawk proved very popular with the public, especially as the crew had taken the trouble to bring a "tooled up" aircraft, equipped with a Minigun and a .50 Calibre machine gun!
Another military type on display was a US Marine Corps AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter. The aircraft on display came from a reserve unit, HMLA-775, based at Camp Pendleton, between LA and San Diego. In line with most reserve units, they are a very busy unit with operational tours in Iraq, and also a commitment to assist in training new US Marines at the Twenty Nine Palms base.
A major concern in California is the danger of wildfires. The US Forestry Commission has a fleet of specialist aircraft for fire-fighting, as do other county and city agencies. Several of the choppers on display were equipped for the fire fighting role, and indeed part of the flying display involved a colourful and patriotic water drop from three LA City Fire Department Bell 412 Huey fire-fighting helicopters. After the drop, one of the Hueys landed to join the static park.
There was also a further Huey on display, in this case a smart ex-USAF HH-1, from the Ventura County Sheriff Dept. Based at Camarillo Airport, the Ventura Sheriff Dept have 4 such aircraft which perform several roles, including search and rescue, medical evacuation, and fire-fighting. Another fire-fighter was a rare Sikorsky S-70 Fire Hawk, from the same family as the military UH-60 Blackhawk. This highly capable aircraft is one of three operated from nearby Whiteman Airport by the LA County Fire Dept.
Further law enforcement helicopters included a variety of support helicopters, including Bell Jet Rangers from the California Highway Patrol and Kern County Sheriff, and Eurocopter Ecureuil helicopters from the LAPD and LA County Sheriff Dept (LACSD). The LACSD is also responsible for search and rescue in the mountains surrounding Los Angeles. For this specialised role, the S-61 Sea King is deployed. In fact the aircraft are ex-US Navy HH-3s, delivered to the LACSD in 1999. One of the highlights of the show was a winch rescue demonstration by a Sea King, after which it also joined the static display.
Another search and rescue type in the static display was the HH-65 Dolphin, from the US Coast Guard, based at Los Angeles International Airport. In addition to the SAR role, the Coast Guard also perform patrols of the LA harbour area, as part of their homeland security responsibility.
Of particular interest in the static area was a somewhat anonymous MBB Bo-105, in fact operated by the Drug Enforcement Agency, as a surveillance platform. As part of this role, it carries a large low-light TV camera system. Other externally mounted camera systems were evident on 2 TV news helicopters also exhibited. Rounding up the static display were several training and preserved types, including a Bell OH-58 Kiowa, and several Bell 47s.
The name of the show conjures up images of flag waving and excessive patriotism, that some Europeans can find rather distasteful. Although the "Stars and Stripes" was a constant presence during the show, the patriotism never seemed contrived or insincere. Instead there was a genuine feeling of pride and gratitude for those who risk their lives in protecting the citizens of the United States. The public are very aware of the dangers faced by their military personnel overseas, but this show also gave them an opportunity to meet some of the people responsible for protecting their lives and property back home in the US. On that level, the show was a great success, especially among the young people visiting, who appreciated the opportunity to get "up close" to some of the hardware on display.
All in all, this show was a success, and the organisers deserve congratulations for putting together a very different show, and one which worked very well.