Wings over Houston 2018 was headlined by the US Navy Blue Angels display team. With a big concentration of Commemorative Air Force (CAF) warbirds all around the oil-rich state of Texas the line-up of WW II airplanes was also strong. The most impressive airshow act was the “Tora! Tora! Tora!” air power demonstration with plenty warbirds in the air, and pyrotechniques on ground.
Where? Ellington Airfield, Houston, Texas, USA
When? 19-21 October 2018
Low clouds dominated the days preceding the show and continued well into Saturday, the first day of Wings over Houston 2018. This did not only lead to quite a lot of ‘no shows’ that could not fly to Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base, but also led to the cancellation of nearly the whole flying display on Saturday. With the cloud cover hanging low at around 1000ft over ground luckily the Blue Angels decided to fly their ‘low show’, which was the bright spot on that rather dull day.
It also goes without saying that it is unfortunate, but very understandable that the static display was rather thin, as a lot of invitees just could not make it to the Houston area due to limitations of flying in bad weather. This is especially valid for the warbird ramp, as either way pilots or owners would not want to risk being stranded somewhere on route.
However it was also very regrettable that some of the airplanes listed on the events website did not show up for any other reason. NASA’s WB-57, F/A-18 Hornet or the S-3 Viking did not attend, even though the Canberra is based at Ellington and could be seen flying a mission on the Thursday before the show. The NASA’s static display therefore consisted only of the T-38 Talon and the Super Guppy – just as in the previous year, which is cool to see, but any of the other planes would have added a great additional variety.
For the modern military participation, hurricane Michael not only smashed Eglin Air Force base in Florida, but all regular planning of aircraft attendances as well. Jets from Florida had to be dispersed on other airfields around the US and this caused quite some disruption within the Air Force. It also went as far as influencing (=cancelling) the participation of F-15E Strike Eagles or the F-35 Lightning II at Wings over Houston.
The list of missing warbirds was unfortunately still longer. No Navy fighters on the warbird ramp, and the Ellington based Lone Star Flight Museum only had a very limited participation as did the Collings Foundation. Also the Vietnam War Flight Museum did not show up, and the Cavanaugh Flight Museum had also silently cancelled its participation. Understandable was the absence of the collection of the Texas Flying Legends Museum, as it was sold and broken up earlier that year. As a compensation for the missing flying displays, the Collings Foundation F-4D Phantom II and F-100F Super Sabre went out for a photo flight on Sunday morning and could at least be seen in action. Unfortunately the take-offs were completely backlit, and this activity on the warbird ramp meant that it was only opened about 90 minutes late for the general public that had thus less time to enjoy being up close to the dozens of warbirds parked there. Maybe choosing another location for start-up and shut down would have been a good idea there, even though in the end it made up for some nice photos of those unique warbirds, and the sole flying Phantom on the American continent.
US Navy Blue Angels
All this might sound like a lot of complaining about a good show, and it seems your reviewer was spoiled by an excellent display last year. But this year’s flying was good though, with not too much fancy aerobatics, still a strong focus on warbirds, and of course the Blue Angels. But it was less than in the previous year, with many of the expected highlights lacking.
Fortunately on Sunday the Blue Angels flying display was blessed with sunshine and a blue sky!
Obviously the USAF F-16 “Viper” solo display could not really compete with the show of the “Blues”, but it did put a nice display in the humid sky of Houston and the Heritage Flight in formation with classic warbirds – this time a P-51 Mustang – is always something special.
CAF’s Tora! Tora! Tora! and C-47 Dakota “That’s All, Brother!”
A great spectacle was the re-enactment of the air war in the Pacific by “Tora Tora Tora” with a strong and explosive support by the CAF Blastards / Explosive Ordnance Detachment. They take care of the big explosions, big red and yellow fireballs, and thick black smoke covering the airfield.
A newcomer and a highlight was the C-47 Dakota “That’s All, Brother!”. It is the plane that carried the first of the paratroopers from the 101st and 82nd Airborne divisions during D-Day on June 6, 1944. The plane is now in the care of CAF’s Central Texas Wing and Wings over Houston was one of the very first public displays for the plane that is planned to return to Normandy in 2019 for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion.
All in all the Wings over Houston airshow 2018 was again a good opportunity to see lots of airplanes. Access to the warbird ramp in the morning is something special, and as the flying program only starts around midday, the lightning conditions get better and better as the displays continue throughout the afternoon. For the serious photographer the photo pit, which is an additional option to the entrance ticket and that can be pre-booked is highly recommended, as is the sunrise photo tour, which allows for some additional any very nice photo opportunities. So despite a lower aircraft participation in this year, this airshow still caters well and takes care well of their visitors!