Wings over Houston 2017 was an awesome airshow! Plenty of warbirds, a Messerschmitt Me 262, jets from the Vietnam era, amongst them the venerable F-4D Phantom II, made up for a great program. This great mix on show at Ellington Airport in the South of Houston was enriched by aerobatic acts and the USAF Thunderbirds. With a 34-year long history the airshow is still very much alive and kicking!
Where? Ellington Airfield, Houston, Texas, USA
When? 20-22 October 2017
The „Wings over Houston“ airshow is organized by the Houston Wing, Gulf Coast Wing, and „Tora! Tora! Tora!“ of the Commemorative Air Force, and receives strong support from the Lone Star Flight Museum, Texas Flying Legends Museum, the Collings Foundation, and the Vietnam War Flight Museum. Most of them are directly based at Ellington Airport or at least in the close vicinity, which is very beneficial for the variety of aircraft that can be put on show.
Weeks prior to the 2017 airshow hurricane Harvey caused severe flooding in the Houston area, but being Texans it stayed out of the questions for the organizers to cancel the event. Keeping it with the slogan „Don’t mess with Texas“ and „Houston Strong“ a fabulous flying display was set up!
Vietnam Era Jets of the Collings Foundation
Imagine seeing the line-up of an airworthy TA-4J Skyhawk, F-100F Super Sabre and F-4D Phantom II on the „hot ramp“ of active aircraft. Seeing those immaculate jets it felt like being in Vietnam. But despite this view and the sweltering humidity, seeing their former adversary, a MiG-21 Fishbed, parked right next to it and a Messerschmitt Me262 in the same row quickly ended this illusion. All these aircraft were presented due to the massive restoration efforts of the Collings Foundation.
The Collings Foundation is the owner of currently the world’s only airworthy twin-seater of a (re-build) Messerschmitt Me262 „Schwalbe“. And it was a real treat to see this plane flying in formation with other aircraft from the same era. But, being honest, the other fast jets stole the Messerschmitt the show. Quite obviously as it is difficult to beat the howling sound of the mighty, and legendary F-4 Phantom II or the banging noise when the Super Sabre engages its afterburner. And apart from that it was the first time for the Collings Foundation F-4D Phantom II to perform at an airshow at its home airfield!
The Vietnam era was a really big theme in 2017, with many aircraft as good and bad guys being engaged in an imaginary rescue scenario. For this the jets performed together with an O-2, A-1 Skyraider and UH-1 Huey and AH-1 cobra helicopters.
Flying the WWII warbirds was mainly up to the different wings of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF). Previous editions already saw more warbirds in the air, but as it wasn’t a main topic this time, their involvement stayed low. Some warbirds such as the P-63F Kingcobra or P-47 Thunderbolt flew, but the main part were the big and heavy bombers such as the B-25 Mitchell or the B-17 Flying Fortress. Obviously the Collings Foundation Messerschmitt Me262 from that same era joined the warbirds for the display. And it seems it even scored some hits against the big bombers like the B-25 Mitchel or B-17 Flying Fortress.
The Wings over Houston airshow was opened by two F-16s of the138th Fighter Wing that is based at Ellington. They took of with a full afterburner as they departed on a training exercise. Unfortunately not much else was seen of these nicely decorated F-16s other than the take-off spoiled by the heat haze on the far runway. At least the fly-in and fly-out days provided some opportunities to catch some of the modern planes in the air and the USCG provided a rescue demo with one of their helicopters during the show.
The main act of the USAF were of course the USAF Thunderbirds with their F-16 Fighting Falcons and their proven display routine. This one however did not go as smooth as usually on Saturday as one of the jets had trouble before take-off and had to get back to change his jets. Also another jets had a stuck landing gear during take-off.
The USAF Heritage Flight with the A-10 Thunderbolt II went better and it performed flying in formation with the A-1 Skyraider and the P-47 Thunderbolt.
Also the US Navy was present with demo jet of the Oceana-based VFA-122. The humidity coming from the nearby Gulf of Mexico produced amazing vapor cones during the Super Hornet display.
Anyway the weather was rather unsettled. Being still too warm and humid for the end of October it was just bearable for the show and nice to spend the dinner in the evening outside instead of sitting inside a chilly restaurant. But on the other hand this weather also produced a severe thunderstorm that completely washed out the show on Sunday morning. Due to the heavy rain the parking on the grass got flooded, and strong winds caused a closure of the event in the morning. The gates only opened with a big delay at around 1pm, but hats of to the air chief to start the air display very shortly after the gates have opened and squeeze in all the airshow highlight in the remaining available hours until the end of the show.
NASA at Houston Ellington
Based at Ellington is also NASA, which flies it T-38A Talons for Astronauts training. Other hangars host the WB-57 weather reconnaissance aircraft, and the biggest hangar is the resting place for the Super Guppy. Whereas NASA does not participate in the flying display, its aircraft can be seen in the static display, as well as being rather active in the days before and after the show.
Apart from NASA aircraft the static display included F-15C of the 159th FW Louisiana ANG, an F-16C 138th FS Oklahoma ANG, the mighty B-52H Superfortress, MH-53E and AH-64D helicopters as well as the US Coast Guard presenting their HC-144 Ocean Sentry and MH-60 helicopter.
Wings over Houston was a fantastic show! A small downer was that not all of the fantastic planes based at Houston Ellington airfield could be seen in the air, but that would have been too much asking for. With so many great collections in the area, I am pretty sure that they will appear at future editions of the next or another airshow, which will then come along again with another impressive flying display. And some variation will for sure add some spice to the event in future editions and will keep it interesting for the years to come.
Considering the hurricane in the area a few weeks before the Sunday morning was also a complete wash-out with a severe thunderstorm affecting the airfield. Therefore being lucky with the weather is another ingredient to a great event, and fortunately clear blue skies in the afternoon made up for the rain in the morning. Even if some areas of the showground and parking places got flooded…