Best Air Show in the World – Miramar Air Show

Jason Daniel Shaw

Best Air Show in the World

Miramar Air Show

Marine Corps Air Station Miramar – San Diego, Ca

The Miramar Air Show is the best air show in the world.  It takes place on MCAS Miramar in San Diego, CA, the setting for the movie, Top Gun.  Hundreds of thousands of people make the trip to watch some of the best performers in the air show business perform amazing feats with their aircraft.

F-18 Hornets Vapor Cone at Miramar

Miramar Crowd

Opening Ceremonies – Miramar Air Show

Show center is where you will want to be for the Opening Ceremonies.  Flying happens earlier in the day as well but the Opening Ceremonies are the official start of the show.  You will see some activities happening in preparation such as the U.S. Army Golden Knights and U.S. Navy Leap Frogs departing – this year in the famous Fat Albert.  The Marine Corps Band will march in and stop at show center and perform a few songs.  Then, the National Anthem will be sung and the flag will be brought in by a members of the jump teams that departed earlier.

Afterwards, a few speeches are given by the officers of MCAS Miramar and the band marches by the crowd.  At this time, the remaining jumpers enter the scene and demonstrate their ability to jump from 12,500 feet and hit a precise spot on the ground.  Miramar is officially open.

U2 Spy PLane – Miramar Air Show

This year was the first year that the U-2 Dragon Lady, a spy plane, was flown at the Miramar Air Show.  It was also the first time that I have ever seen one in person and it did not disappoint.  The ultra-high reconnaissance plane has been used since the 1950s to gather intelligence for the U.S. Air Force as well as the CIA.

The team demonstrated the coordination that it takes to operate this incredible machine.  The landing gear sit in a straight line under the center of the aircraft so it requires fall-away gear on the wings that only assist during the initial take-off roll.  After several photo passes, the pilot brought the U-2 in for a touch-and-go and demonstrated the power of the single-engine aircraft.  With such a large wingspan, the Dragon Lady takes on characteristics of a glider.  It can also fly at altitudes in excess of 70,000 feet, high enough to see the curvature of the earth.  Upon landing, a second U-2 pilot follows along in a chase car (this time a lamborghini), calling out the angles and altitudes of the aircraft to the pilot as he touches down and balances the aircraft on the bicycle-style landing gear.

Warbirds – Miramar Air Show

The Warbirds are always amazing to me and probably one of the coolest planes that I have flown in was a North American T-6 Texan.  Another North American aircraft, a dream of mine to fly in, the P-51 Mustang, the T-34 Mentor and the FM2 Wildcat all provided a great look at what I call the glory days of aviation.  This was a time when the development of aircraft was at a pace not seen in many decades.  The P-51 was rolled out 102 days after the contract was signed.  As systems have become more complex, I think that we have lost some of our ability to quickly innovate and pivot.

MAGTF – Miramar Air Show

The MAGTF (Marine Air Ground Task Force) demonstration is one of the unique aspects of the Miramar Show and one that the crowds truly love.  It shows the capabilities of the Marines and their ability to go into hostile territory and conduct a mission.  It starts with air support from the F-18s and the AV-8B Harriers creating some crowd-pleasing explosions near show center as they roar passed the crowd in their high-speed passes.  The passes ofter please the photographers as the vapor forms around the high-speed aircraft.  Next, the AH-1 Cobra helicopters make their entrance, laying down suppression fire and providing cover for the UH-1Y Hueys to bring in the first wave of reconnaissance Marines using “fast rope” techniques.

After the reconnaissance is complete, the Hueys return and pick the Marines up on a giant rope, dangling them below the helicopter as they fly off, demonstrating how they can extract troops without having to land.  The V-22 Ospreys then bring a larger force of ground troops in while the ground troops arrive in the M1-A1 tanks and Humvees.  The troops make their way to the crowd line for a meet-and-greet with kids and adults alike.  One final parade pass of all the air support completes the incredible demonstration.

Kent Pietsch Jelly Belly – Miramar Air Show

A 1942 Interstate Cadet wandered into the skies above Miramar, seemingly by accident, or so the announcers made the crowd believe.  In fact, it was Kent Pietsch and his flying comedy routine.  Acting as though he was just released from prison and doesn’t know how to fly, he wows the crowd with his low-level aerobatics.

He transitions into a different kind of act, attempting to land his Jelly Belly airplane on top of a truck driving down the runway – a land-based aircraft carrier.  Me being a pilot, this seems as though it would be extremely difficult to do and would demand precise control over the aircraft.  However, Kent Pietsch seems to have that control and manages to set the Cadet down on top of the truck and is even able to take off from there during a parade lap.

Kent Pietsch shows off once more, his precision flying, during the weekend at Miramar by shutting off the engine, thousands of feet above the airfield and bringing the plane to a stop at an exact spot at show center.  However, not before he has some fun with some aerobatics.  The crowd seems to really love his mix of comedy and skills.

V-22 Osprey – Miramar Air Show

If you have never seen the V-22 Osprey, it is an incredible aircraft to watch operate.  It has two modes, one when it flies like an airplane and the other when the giant twin rotors rotate upwards and it comes to a hover.  This allows the Osprey to operate from short, unimproved fields, carrying troops to the front lines of battle.  To allow the aircraft to be stored in tight spaces such as aircraft carriers or assault ships, the “wing” is able to rotate.  The V-22 Osprey is such an incredible marvel of engineering!

Jon Melby Hangar 24 – Miramar Air Show

This was the first time that I had the opportunity to see Jon Melby in his Pitts Hangar 24 biplane.  He is a master at taking aerobatics to the extreme and I can’t wait to see him again.  He will be performing at the Hangar 24 AirFest if you missed him at Miramar this year.

AV-8B Harrier Jump Jet – Miramar Air Show

The Harrier has always been one of the crowd favorites at Miramar and air shows around the world due to its ability to hover.  Its demonstration typically starts showing a “normal” takeoff, followed by a few high speed and photo passes along with some of its basic maneuvers.  The jet then comes around for a pass but begins to slow as it approaches show-center until it comes to a stop, hovering over the runway.  Then, with crowd’s attention, the jet slowly turns to face the crowd, demonstrates its lateral moving capability and finally lands, vertically.  The crowd erupts in applause and excitement.  Despite the incredible noise that the jet makes when it goes into a hover, the crowd absolutely loves seeing the hovering demonstration.   This capability in a high-speed attack jet has historically been unique to the Harrier but with the addition of the F-35 Lightning II, the Harrier has some competition.

F-35 Lightning II – Miramar Air Show

The F-35 is a fifth-generation fighter/attack aircraft that has been dubbed the Joint-Strike Fighter (JSF).  It comes in three variants, one for the Air Force that is a standard jet, one for the Navy that is designed to take off and land on aircraft carriers and one for the Marines that is designed for short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL).  The latter is the one that is generally demonstrated at air shows due to its unique hovering capability.  It is demonstrated in a very similar way to the Harrier, showing off its beauty before surprising the crowd with its more unique ability to come to a stop in the air and hover like a helicopter.  In addition to being supersonic, the F-35 also betters the Harrier by having stealth technology.  The F-35 is also one of the latest and most capable aircraft in the world.  If you haven’t seen one operate, I would highly recommend it.

Patriot Jet Team – Miramar Air Show

The Patriot Jet Team is a civilian jet demonstration team that flies L-39 Albatros aircraft at air shows around the country.  The pilots are often ex-Blue Angels and ex-Thunderbird pilots (among others) that demonstrate a highly choreographed show that focuses on graceful maneuvers.  Similar to the Blue Angels, the Patriot team flies six ships, typically with two solo jets performing together and the remaining four in a diamond formation. However, the Czech-built L-39 is much quieter than the more powerful twin-engine F-18 so it adds to the gracefulness of the show.  Make sure to check out the Patriots and their red, white and blue patriotic smoke.

Sean D. Tucker Oracle Challenger – Miramar Air Show

Sean D. Tucker is one of the world’s best aerobatic performers.  He has performed for millions of fans over the last few decades while becoming a living legend in aviation.  His show is high-energy and contains maneuvers that will make most on the ground wonder how is plane is still flying.  From loops to rolls and everything in between, he can make his custom-designed/built airplane do whatever he wants.

Sean’s place, the Oracle Challenger III is designed and built specifically for him.  With more that 400 horsepower and only weighing 1,200 pounds, it has a weight-to-thrust ratio of greater than 1 meaning that it can hang on its prop and hover in the upright position.  Sean demonstrates this during his show.  The unique plane also uses 8 ailerons instead of four to give him precise control over the aircraft.

This is Sean’s last year performing at Miramar as a solo performer, although he will be back next year as a two-ship demonstration.  I can’t say enough about Sean D. Tucker and his ability to wow the crowds.  I would highly recommend seeing Sean and the Oracle Challenger if you have not already seen his show.

F-18 Hornet – Miramar Air Show

The F-18 Hornet is a staple in the armed forces, being the primary fighter for both the Navy and the Marines today.  Despite that, it has not always been a favorite of mine.  Growing up in the 1980s, I was a huge fan of Top Gun and this is what ultimately pushed me to become a pilot and work in the aerospace industry.  Along with that, I was a huge fan of the F-14 Tomcat.  As that aircraft was retired in the late 1990s, I was upset and not a fan of its replacement, the F-18.  As time went on, it grew on me and today it is one of my favorite aircraft.  At the Miramar Air Show, they use the Hornet in the MAGTF demonstration, showing how close air support can help ground troops.  They also used to have a demonstration during their twilight show that amazed the crowd with a high-speed afterburner pass at sunset.  The flame out the back really glowed.  However, they have since done away with the twilight show.  The F-18 does still put on a capability demonstration, similar to the other military aircraft.  The final act of the day also stars the F-18, six of them in fact – the Blue Angels.

Fat Albert Blue Angels – Miramar Air Show

Fat Albert is the affectionately-named C-130 that the Blue Angels use for crew and part transport.  It is unmistakable in its Blue Angel paint scheme and always a crowd-pleaser.  As I mentioned before, the first spotting of Fat Albert this year was during the Opening Ceremonies.  The Blue Angels used to conduct a JATO (Jet-Assisted Take-Off) demonstration before the main act where there were rockets attached to the sides of the aircraft which allowed for an incredibly short take-off.  This would be used during missions from short, possibly unimproved runways.  However, due to the shortage of JATO bottles, they don’t do these anymore.

The Blue Angels do a couple low passes to show off the beautiful aircraft before bringing it back to earth in dramatic fashion by showing off how short of a landing strip they can utilize.  They even demonstrate how Fat Albert can reverse the thrust of its four engines to back the plane up.  It is truly a remarkable aircraft and a great introduction to the Blue Angels team.

U.S. Navy Blue Angels – Miramar Air Show

The Blue Angels are the gold standard for air show performers.  They are the incredibly precise and fly a high-energy show that keeps the crowd on their feet the entire time.  The show starts before the jets even leave the ground as the team demonstrates their precision and uniformity from the time they pre-flight the aircraft.  They even taxi out and takeoff as a group.  For most of the show, four of the jets operate as a formation with the remaining two jets performing opposing solo acts.

The diamond formation performs precise maneuvers with separation of 18 inches, wingtip to canopy.  Meanwhile, the solo performers wow the crowd by approaching show center from both directions, passing each other with minimal separation at closure rates of over 800 mph.  Millions of people come out to watch the air show favorites each year.  If you haven’t had the chance to watch them, make sure that you make a point to as soon as possible.  In the meantime, enjoy the photos of their performances from Miramar down below.