Tuscaloosa, Alabama – The Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration team headlined the Tuscaloosa Air Show on March 31st & April 1st, which is held at the Tuscaloosa Regional Airport every other year. It is a free event for the public, but viewing areas along the runway were sold in two tiers – chalets (including lunch) for $50 per person or blocks of reserved space for groups of six a little further down the runway for $27. TCL’s east-west runway was closed and used for display aircraft.
Getting into this air show was very easy. Most of the parking was along the streets surrounding the airport and shuttle buses picked people up almost right at their car and dropped off at the field. As far as static displays, the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation was on hand selling short rides on one of two of their Vietnam-era Huey helicopters.
One interesting display was a Canadian Forces McDonnell-Douglas CF-18A Hornet from the Canadian Forces’ 425 Squadron based in Quebec. This allowed people to get an upclose look at what is nearly identical to the plane flown by the Blue Angels. The pods under the wings are called drop tanks; they’re extra fuel tanks that can be installed for longer flights.
There were at least five of these planes, used as training jets by the U.S. Marines and part of unit VT-9 at the naval air station in nearby Meridian, Mississippi.
Normally at a Blue Angels air show you would see a Lockheed C-130 nicknamed “Fat Albert” doing a short demonstration before the Blues. This plane is flown by a U.S. Marines crew and is also used to provide transportation for personnel and equipment for the team. This time, however, the familiar blue yellow and white plane was replaced by another Marines C-130 in standard grey paint and it didn’t fly. I came to find out later that the usual plane, which had been part of the Blue Angels air shows for the last ten years, was being overhauled and wouldn’t return to the air show circuit for another month or two.
The Blue Angels pilots for the 2012 season are: Capt. Greg McWherter (#1), Lt. John Hiltz (#2), Capt. Brandon Cordill (#3), Maj. Brent Stevens (#4), Lt. C.J. Simonsen (#5), and Lt. David Tickle (#6). They’re all in this shot, flying in formation with #6 overtaking and passing through the middle at a higher speed.
The one thing I didn’t like at this air show was the fact that the viewing area along the fence that had been free in previous Tuscaloosa Air Shows was now reserved for purchase in blocks of 6. This offered basically no view of the runway for those who didn’t pay and a partially obstructed view of the planes in the air depending on where on the airport you were watching from. As for photography, this location is decent for late afternoon because you’re facing southeast when watching the planes fly but because its still early spring its not the best. Photos of planes flying earlier between 11am and 3pm will likely have harsh shadows. This air show will return again in the spring of 2014.