Andrews AFB Joint Service Open House Airshow Report

Saturday 19th May - Sunday 20th May 2012

The Joint Service Open House (formerly Andrews AFB) Airshow is held every year, occupying a regular slot during the third weekend of May. It's an airshow that traditionally attracts a large crowd and this year was no exception. It was a totally new experience to me being driven by bus from the park and ride site directly onto the base itself, after clearing security that was of course tighter than an international airport! The thorough security checks gave one immediately obvious advantage; every aircraft on the static display was not fenced off in any way and the crews were more than happy for everyone to get up close and personal with their favourite types. The number of aircraft on the ground was plentiful and boasted the likes of the mighty C-5 Galaxy, C-17 Globemaster, NASA Super Guppy as well as the old favourites of P-51s, F/A-18, EA-6B Prowler, B-52 and AV-8B Harrier.

Pete Fletcher reports from Joint Base Andrews, located in Prince George's County, Maryland. Photography by the author.

With the weather forecast predicting highs of 86°F and clear skies throughout, the flying display was looking to be a belter. The show was opened by a "warm up" display from the mad man that is Sean Tucker, a world champion aerobatic pilot, who treated the crowd to a little taster of the action that was to come later. The likes of Mike Goulian (former Red Bull air racer) followed afterwards, as well as a display I had been waiting for; namely the USMC AV-8B Harrier demo. The airshow crowd in the UK have been spoilt over the years with displays of the Harrier and I found the display of the AV-8B to be an equally impressive show of how it can hover and manoeuvre, if a little far from the display datum. The Harrier pilot did redeem himself by taxiing back to his pan right past the front of the crowd line, nice and slowly and VERY noisily - just how we like it!

The day was very well paced, allowing plenty of time for the crowds to enjoy both the air displays and ground activities. In the air, the displays from both the Red Bull skydivers and the US Army parachute display team "The Golden Knights" were very impressive and there was an extremely rare warbird display from the only remaining SB2C Helldiver in the world.

It was very evident by the way the crowds swelled to capacity later in the afternoon that most people were there to see only a few displays. The first of them was the USMC MV-22 Osprey demo. It's always nice to see this aircraft perfoming in its many different configurations. The next display saw a rather large surge in people coming to the crowd line for the mighty F-22 Raptor demo, flown by Major Henry "Schadow" Schantz. The display was, as ever, extremely impressive and used the most afterburner I have seen from a display of this type. It struck me watching some of the fast jet displays and also the MV-22 just how close they are allowed to get to the crowd line for their displays. All my shots were taken on a fixed 300mm lens and quite a few times the aircraft overfilled the frame!

A particular highlight of the day for me was the appearance of B-2 "Spirit of Nebraska" from Whiteman AFB in Missouri. The aircraft surprised everyone by not only making three passes of the airfield instead of the single pass advertised, but also with the pilots presenting three different angles to the crowd to show off this wonderful and rarely seen aircraft.

The final display of the day was a real treat and one that I and thousands of others were very looking forward to - the US Navy Aerobatic Display Team, The Blue Angels. Words cannot describe the display, not only from the pilots in the air but the ground crew as well. I had positioned myself at 08:30 in front of the Blue Angels parked on crowd centre, so was able to witness the precision that the whole team displayed. The way they entertained the crowd for nearly 40 minutes was incredible and the flying was of the highest quality that I have only ever seen matched from our very own Red Arrows. The noise too was amazing, and by now the light for photography had come good.

All in all, this was a great display of how proud the American people are of their armed forces. The military personnel were great all day, even up to the point of offering the shade from the wings of the B-52 to people waiting for the shuttle bus at the end of the day. Free water throughout and great barbecue food (very similar to Air Fete days at Mildenhall) made for an excellent day and ensured that I would recommend the Joint Service Open House Airshow to anyone... but take lots of suncream!

Those wishing to attend will unfortunately have to wait until 2014 though, as DoD budget cuts mean next year's show has been cancelled.