NBVC Air Show at NAS Point Mugu Report

Saturday 26th September - Sunday 27th September 2015

It's been five long years since NAS Point Mugu last hosted a major airshow and therefore its return to the annual West Coast calendar is more than welcome. Whilst it isn't the biggest of events held on the West Coast, with a relatively small static and afternoon-only flying display, the Point Mugu Air Show has traditionally been all about quality over quantity. That's not only in the participants stakes but also with the weather; the light angles on flying displays being some of the best you can find at any airshow in the world.

Held over the weekend of September 26th, Andy Evans travelled to the US West Coast to provide his view on the return of this popular airshow. Photography by the author.

NAS Point Mugu alongside Port Huenerne and San Nicolas Island form the tri-base known as Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) which provides an almost unique mobilisation and test facility located just north of Los Angeles that employs over 19,000 people. NAS Point Mugu itself holds a significant place in the history of Naval airpower, representing one of the primary test facilities for the US Navy including hosting the development programs of significant air-to-air missiles such as the AIM-54 Phoenix and the AIM-7 Sparrow. The base continues to be at the forefront of development and now hosts a number of units, including developmental UAV programs, the long-based VX-30 test squadron, a number of E-2C/D Hawkeye squadrons and the California Air National Guard to name a few. In coming years, the base will also play host to the MQ-4C Triton maritime patrol UAV.

Not surprising for a Naval test base, the local US Navy units were out in force for the static display. An example of the F/A-18E provided by VX-31 from nearby China Lake, locally based VX-30 S-3B Viking, EA-6B Prowler (soon to take its place preserved on base), MH-60S Knighthawk, E-2C Hawkeye and C-130 Hercules were all on display. Fitting nicely with the growing UAV presence at Point Mugu, the static also included examples of many UAVs operated from the base including the relatively new MQ-8C based on the Bell 407 "Long Ranger". In addition, joining this show of US naval firepower from further afield were a pair of E/A-18G Growlers from VAQ-133 at NAS Whidbey Island. The US Air Force were also present in the static with quadruple heavy hitters in the form of a C-5M Galaxy, B-52H, locally based C-130J and the ever popular C-17A.

As is common at US military airshows, the military aspect of the flying display was limited, with the event relying heavily on the regular civilian airshow performers together with warbird displays from the Commemorative Air Force (CAF). The latter appeared en masse both on the ground and in the air.

Contributing no less than five venerable warbirds to the flying display, the sky filled with the drone of prop engines for much of the afternoon. The CAF are certainly the masters of displaying their aircraft with very close, high-speed, topside dedication passes being the order of the day from their Spitfire, P-51D "War Horse", Hellcat "Minsi III", Bearcat and an extremely rare Zero. Whilst a welcome sight, the commentator's repeated claims that the size of this gathering of warbirds was one of the best ever witnessed in the world did grate as the show progressed. Whilst impressive, the size of the gathering was a fraction of the spectacle seen at Planes of Fame displays at Chino, Wings over Houston or - back home - any Shuttleworth or Duxford display.

Other civilian acts at Point Mugu included the very popular Sean D Tucker in his Oracle Challenger III who performed his usual low-down aerobatic display, including a triple rope cut during his second display of the day. Sean wasn't the only act to fly twice, being joined in the sky in this regard by Matt Chapman in his Embry-Riddle sponsored Extra. However, not everything had a propeller with the based ATAC aggressors showing off one of their Hunters to the crowd with a short but aggressive display. Rising above these acts, the civilian star of the show was the Breitling Jet Team who, during their display, announced their tour was being extended into 2016. Although it was great to see them in their special tour livery (and using flares!) - as with the Blue Angels display later in the day, the lack of wind resulted in much of their display disappearing behind a thick haze and smog created by their own smoke.

In addition to the ubiquitous Blue Angels, the military did provide a couple of unique displays which are rarely seen anywhere else. However, as this is primarily a US Navy facility, it was surprising that these were provided by the Coast Guard and the Air National Guard. The former provided a Search & Rescue demo not unlike that seen by RAF and Royal Navy Sea Kings at home; however the display provided by the ANG was rather unique. Utilising the California ANG's role as fire bombers, a locally based C-130J was outfitted with the Modular Air Fire Fighting System (MAFFS II) and during a single pass down the runway, proceeded to dump 3,000 gallons of water, providing a superb photographic spectacle.

Whilst relatively small, the show was an example of how, if the organisation is right and the weather is good; quality can triumph over size. We look forward to hearing whether the event will be repeated in 2016.

NAS Point Mugu was free at the point of entry with all food proceeds going to local charities and the best views at crowd centre being at a cost for a premium seat. This format, of course, is drastically different to UK military airshows where entry tickets can be in excess of £30 to enter, the best views command a further premium charge and the (extortionate) food proceeds are pocketed by the vendors. Which is the better format? We'll leave that up to the reader to decide.