Heritage Flight Conference 2012.

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The Heritage Flight Conference provided an opportunity to meet air crews one on one and get a glimpse of flight demonstration operations up close. This A-10 pilot enjoys a cup of coffee before his morning flight demonstration.

Senior Airmen Dean (left) and Staff Sergeant Stacy (right) prepare data logs for an A-10 flight demonstration at Davis-Monthan, Arizona in Tucson, Arizona during the Heritage Flight Conference on March 4th, 2012. Both men wear the Oakley tactical specific sunglasses, a must in the Arizona sun.

Davis-Monthan AFB is a hub of A-10 operations and training for the entire USAF. This view of the A-10 close air support and forward air control aircraft shows it’s imposing GAU-8 Avenger 30mm cannon capable of firing the PRU-13B high explosive and -14B armor piercing projectiles up to 4,200 rounds per minute.

A-10 pilots may be the last generation of low-level ground attack combat pilots. These pilots fight with their “nose in the mud” at low altitudes where they are vulnerable to air defense weapons. They are superb stick and throttle men, constantly pulling high G loads and ringing their aircraft through every corner of its flight envelope.

Heritage Flight Conference provided a rare close up look at the incredible F-22 Raptor, the consummate air superiority aircraft. It’s net-centric, low observable capabilities enable it to dominate the battle space in the first 24 hours of a conflict.

 

Heritage Flight Conference gave us a chance to chat with the flight crews up close and get the insider’s perspective on their busy flight demonstration season. Here I fire questions at a flight crew member about his beautiful F-22 Raptor.

The F-16 Fighting Falcon or “Viper” as its pilots call it may be the single most successful fighter aircraft in the history of aviation. It takes its place alongside the P-51 Mustang as a truly great combat aircraft. Tucson is a hub of flight training operations for international F-16 pilots.

Another view of a pretty F-16 Viper ready to fly in the Heritage Flight formation. Notice the aircraft shelters in the background to protect the A-10’s and other aircraft at Davis-Monthan AFB from the sun.

Heritage Flight is about the history and legacy of aviation. This resplendent P-51D Mustang is a part of the Heritage flight. Its gleaming bare metal finish, invasion stripes, unit markings and even enemy victory tally below the canopy is a living record of aviation history.

The P-51 Mustang was a consummate multi role,  air superiority/escort fighter in WWII and after. It flew combat missions in every theater of the war and went on to fly in Korea. There was even as a special twin fuselage night fighter version. As recently as 30 years ago some third world air forces still operated old Mustangs. It first flew in 1940.

One of the Heritage Flight P-51D Mustangs parked on the flightline at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona for 2012 Heritage Flight Conference.

This Mustang was a treat, an early P-51C version from before the development of the later bubble-canopy P-51D. Notice the older three-bladed propeller. This aircraft also had guns that fired through the propeller like older WWI era aircraft.

This could be a photo from Davis-Monthan AFB in the 1950’s. A beautiful pair of F-86 Sabres on the flight line at Heritage Flight. The F-86 was the first widely used US air superiority aircraft. It saw combat in Korea against MiG 15’s in jet-on-jet engagements and was used by international air forces as recently as 1994. They are beautiful, classic aircraft. A true fighter plane in every sense.

Phantoms Phorever. A rare sight in the U.S. today: A flight line of F-4s. The venerable F-4 Phantom in its many versions was an enormously successful multi-role aircraft used by many free world nations. These are QF-4E aircraft still in Air Force service with the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron at Tyndall AFB, Florida.

These two F-22 Raptors wear the tail codes for the 53rd Test and Evaluation Group at Eglin AFB in Valparaiso, Florida. This unit has operated the Global Hawk and Predator RPV’s as well as nearly every frontline combat aircraft in the USAF arsenal.

A QF-4E Phantom of the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron assigned to the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group at Tyndall AFB in Florida. These aircraft provide the unusual role of being flying targets for weapons in areas like the White Sands Missile Range and the open areas of the Gulf of Mexico. They operate with unmanned aerial targets for testing. One of the aircraft in the squadron was actually flown by the famous Col. Robin Olds who lead the raid on the Thai Nguyen Steel Mill outside Hanoi in the Vietnam conflict.

There are about 150 remaining P-51 Mustangs flying. Some have been converted to TF-51 versions with two seats and sets of flight controls. After WWII surplus Mustangs sold for $2000. Now a restored P-51/F-51TF-51 is over a million dollars. This pretty two-seater is getting pre-flighted for Heritage Flight.

A Mustang stampede! It’s rare to see so many nice P-51’s together. Note the older “C” version closest to the camera with the three bladed propeller.

Every time I get to see one of these old F-4’s I wonder if it could be the last time. The F-4 holds a special place for most US aviation enthusiasts and seeing these beautiful examples was a real treat.  This QF-4E taxis to participate in Heritage Flight.

Major Henry Schantz (left), call sign “Shadow”, walks to his F-22 Raptor in preparation for another scintillating flight demonstration of the F-22.

A head-on view of Major Schantz returning from his flight demonstration in the F-22 Raptor.

A Heritage Flight formation with an F-22 Raptor, QF-4E Phantom and two P-51 Mustangs. It is challenging for pilots in dissimilar aircraft to fly in formation, especially for the QF-4E pilot who approaches the lower end of the aircraft’s speed envelope.

Heritage Flight pilots flew their entire demonstration routine at Heritage Flight Conference. This flyover was a spectacular opportunity to see these three unique types and gain perspective on the history of military aviation since the 1940’s.

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