It hasn’t even been six months since the last airshow in Salinas and here I am back for the 39th California International Airshow. This perennially fall airshow had to execute a fast turnaround to gain a slot in the Blue Angels’ 2019 schedule.
Having the Blues was a big deal for the organizers as the team last performed here in 2009 and they were hoping for a good turnout on March 23-24, 2019, with an A-list headliner.
First of all, March weather certainly isn’t the same as September as the Saturday attendees coped with some wet conditions that cleared in time for flight ops. Sunday was better, although a marine layer moved in to challenge photographers, but attendance seemed to have met its goals.
The California International Airshow Salinas lived up to the name with a strong showing from our Northern neighbors. The Royal Canadian Air Force brought no less than five aircraft with one participating in the flight display.
First to take to the air was local resident, and incomparable airshow performer, Sean Tucker for the inaugural performance of Team Oracle.
Those who thought Sean had retired last year are partially correct. He retired as a solo performer and then teamed up with aerobatic performer and air racer Jessy Panzer to form this new airshow duo. This is a dissimilar aircraft routine with Sean flying his Oracle Challenger III while Jessy pilots an Extra 300.
I’ve always enjoyed these types of acts since the variations in aircraft performance add an extra challenge. Team Oracle would return later in the schedule for a full performance.
For a second season, Eric Tucker performed with his Method Seven J-3 Cub, starting with a demonstration of the Cub’s deadstick handling.
Eric would return to the air later on for a comedy act, including landing on top of a moving vehicle. If Eric’s name seems familiar, it could be the fact that he is the son of airshow legend Sean Tucker.
Next was Yuichi Takagi in his RedFox Pitts S-2S Special. Performing since 2015, Yuichi is unique in being one of two Asian airshow performers in the United States. A protégé of Sean Tucker, Yuichi is also an instructor at Tucker’s Tutima Academy of Aviation Safety.
Putting the “international” into the show was a flight demonstration by the Royal Canadian Air Force with its Bombardier CT-142 Dash-8 navigation training aircraft. The CT-142 employs a large radar system that is in its long nose, earning the nickname “Gonzo.”
One of the nonflying acts this year was Robosaurus, a 40′ tall, 30 ton dinosaur transformer-robot that terrorized the flightline and consumed two cars in the process. Another was Hot Streak II, a 1957 Chevy pickup powered by two jet engines capable of 300 miles per hour.
Warbird fans got to see a P-51 Mustang and two torpedo bombers, a TBM Avenger, and a SNJ-5 heavily modified to resemble a Nakajima B5N Kate for the movie “Tora, Tora, Tora.”
Those seeking an amped-up warbird demonstration were rewarded when Jerry Conley took to the air in one of his Cold War era deHavilland Vampire jet fighters.
A spectacular “Wall of Fire” seemed to mark the finale of Jerry’s performance, however Hot Streak II began warming up with afterburner runs on the taxiway culminating with a jet vs jet drag race.
The Blue Angel phase of the show kicked off with Fat Albert, the Marine-crewed C-130T Hercules, warming up the crowd with its flight demonstration.
Then it was time for the main attraction, marking the second show of the 2019 season for the Blue Angels. Unlike the Thunderbirds appearance last year, the Blues are able to fly from and land at Salinas airport, which give the fans the full experience of observing the precise choreography of the pilots and ground crew when they mount and dismount their aircraft.
A few current military aircraft were onsite for static display, ranging from the Moffett-based C-130J Hercules at one end of the tarmac to the NAS Lemoore VFA-122 F/A-18F Super Hornet at the other end, with Blackhawk and Seahawk helicopters mixed in.
Two other C-130 Hercules transports traveled a long ways to see the West Coast, one from the Missouri Air National Guard and another from Kentucky Air National Guard.
Several civilian organizations were on hand with static displays, including both the Monterey County Sheriff’s and Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Cessna aircraft. The Bob Hoover Academy was present with one of their flight training Cessna 152s next to their booth. Founded by Sean and Eric Tucker, The Bob Hoover Academy is a STEM outreach program for at-risk and underserved teens, using aviation as the tool.
STEM was a big presence with a “STEM Runway” set up in the center of the tarmac.
The California International Airshow has provided outstanding entertainment on the Central Coast for 39 years and has raised over $8 million dollars for local charities. The 2020 California International Airshow will be held June 6-7 at Salinas Municipal Airport (KSNS).