Top Gun treatment at Wings Over Houston air show

jsoutherniconI hope that sometime within the next few days I can get the soundtrack from “Top Gun” out of my head.

Hearing Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” over and over isn’t so bad, but after making three trips in four days to Wings Over Houston, I’m ready to move on. Or am I? In my head I’m still seeing incredible aerobatic maneuvers, smelling the oily smoke and feeling the 4-G pull from a media flight in one of the AeroShell AT-6 Texan trainers.

If you were among the tens of thousands who attended the show last weekend, you know what I’m talking about. If you missed it, you might want to consider putting next year’s show on your calendar. Wings Over Houston is an absolutely incredible experience.

(Photo by Joe Southern) AeroShell AT-6 Texan trainers line up in formation during a media flight Friday for the Wings Over Houston air show held Saturday and Sunday at Ellington Field. The show featured the famed U.S. Navy Blue Angels.

(Photo by Joe Southern)
AeroShell AT-6 Texan trainers line up in formation during a media flight Friday for the Wings Over Houston air show held Saturday and Sunday at Ellington Field. The show featured the famed U.S. Navy Blue Angels.

This year’s show featured the famed U.S. Navy Blue Angels, the F-35A Lightning II stealth fighter jets, the AeroShell aerobatic team and the amazing bi-plane stunts from legendary pilot Sean D. Tucker.

Mixed with the sleek fighters and stunt planes were the graceful old warbirds of World War II, including a B-17 and B-25s.

Speaking of World War II, this year Wings Over Houston was graced by the appearance of 101-year-old Dick Cole, the last surviving member of Doolittle’s Raiders. Cole was Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot and helped lead one of the most audacious and daring missions in aviation history. The raid was America’s first strike at the Japanese mainland following Pearl Harbor.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was re-created by the Tora! Tora! Tora! reenactment group. It’s a spectacular show-stopper featuring a variety of replica WWII aircraft, ground troops and lots of really big explosions. That show alone is worth the price of admission.

Heading into the weekend I had not planned to spend so much time at the show. Media day was Thursday with the arrival of the Blue Angel F-18 Hornets and the F-35s. It was an honor to get to interview Cmdr. Frank Weisser of the Blue Angels and Mgr. Will Andreotta, pilot of one of the F-35s.

Weisser hails from Atlanta and is on his second tour of duty with the Navy’s flight demonstration squadron. He flew with the team from 2008 to 2010 before being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2013 he was stationed in Germany and flew for NATO. Earlier this year he returned to the squadron where he flies plane No. 6 in the opposing solo position.

“Anyone who flies F-18s off an aircraft carrier has the steel to be in the Blue Angels,” he said, noting previous deployments with the aircraft carriers Roosevelt and Stennis.

Cmdr. Frank Weisser of the Blue Angels poses in front of his plane.

Cmdr. Frank Weisser of the Blue Angels poses in front of his plane.

Andreotta is the Air Force’s F-35A Lightning II Heritage Flight Team Commander and pilot, 56th Fighter Wing out of Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. He comes from Arizona and three generations of military veterans.

“I always knew I wanted to serve my country,” he said.

He can’t hide the pride he feels flying the latest generation of stealth fighter jets.

“My favorite thing is that other people can’t see me,” he said. “One of the things I like (about the F-35A) is how much I can see”

Dick Cole, 101, is the last surviving member of Doolittle’s Raiders and was a guest of honor at Wings Over Houston last weekend.

Dick Cole, 101, is the last surviving member of Doolittle’s Raiders and was a guest of honor at Wings Over Houston last weekend.

After the interviews I was pulled aside by the media coordinator and asked if I’d like to take a media flight Friday afternoon. There was a spot open on the B-17 if I wanted it. I did! The next day, my scheduled tightly juggled, I returned to the airport to report for my flight. One of the other reporters was assigned to the AeroShell aerobatic planes and didn’t feel comfortable with that and asked to trade spots. Having had numerous media flights in a variety of aircraft, I was more than happy to oblige. The old bombers are loud and lumbering. I love the thrill that comes from doing stunts.

I got to fly with team lead and co-founder Mark Henley in plane No. 1. The four planes did some formation flying alongside the B-17 before splitting off and doing a 4-G loop and a 3-G barrel roll and another stunt before landing again. During the stunts, the G-forces were so strong I couldn’t lift my arms, let alone my camera to take pictures. I just pointed the lens up in my lap and snapped a few shots.

Major Will Andreotta, center, and his crew stand before a stealth F-35A Lightening II fighter jet.

Major Will Andreotta, center, and his crew stand before a stealth F-35A Lightening II fighter jet.

I spent Saturday at Dave Ramsey’s Smart Conference at Grace Community Church, almost next door to the airport. We could hear the planes all day and during breaks we could sneak out and watch them.

On Sunday I took my two boys to the early service at church and the out to Ellington for the second day of the show. The sights, sounds and smells were mind-blowing. I shot about 1,200 pictures during my three days at Wings Over Houston and had a very hard time winnowing it down to the ones you see in the paper and online.

You can bet that the whole time I was going through those pictures that “Danger Zone” was playing in my head. Before I sign off, I’d like to say a quick thank you to Scott Tims for coordinating everything; the hundreds of volunteers who made the show run smoothly and to pilots Frank Weisser, Will Andreotta and Mark Henley for their generous time and entertainment. And one last shout-out to Kenny Loggins for singing such a great song!

topguna

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