Airpower Over Hampton Roads 2023

Story and photos by Shawn Byers

Joint Base Langley-Eustis (JBLE), a name I only use in an official capacity, held their first Airshow in 5 years on May 6 and 7, 2023.  The reason I do not address this hallowed base as JBLE is due to the geographical separation of Fort Eustis and Langley by 20 miles of driving.  The joint base concept is lost on me in this instance.  It will always be Langley Air Force Base to me.  This is one of my happy places.  I have attended Airshows here since 2000.  I even have family history here.  My Grandfather, Technical Sergeant, John Byers was stationed here in 1947 with my Grandmother and young father, Richard, residing at 238A Ryan Street.

I was determined to enjoy this show even though I experienced my first media credential denial, ever.  Even though I have been attending Airshows my whole life, this was a shock to the system.   I had to make changes to my routine such as purchasing a clear backpack and having a backup camera plan.  Because my 200-600 zoom lens is scrutinized occasionally, I could not afford to be turned away at the gate.  I had two different camera makers and the corresponding lenses in case I had to enact a backup plan.  It turned out to be a non-issue.  I again felt the long forgotten stress of getting in, getting parked and getting a good spot at the line.  After parking, I walked about 2 miles before arriving at the security checkpoint.

I still traveled Thursday and viewed practice sessions from Armistead Avenue.  The weather was a mix of sun, clouds and a little overnight rain with temperatures in the comfortable range.

Langley is an old airfield, the oldest continuously active field in the world and named for Aviation Pioneer, Samuel Pierpont Langley.  Opened in the summer of 1917, it was a joint base for the National Advisory Council for Aeronautics (NACA), the Army and the Navy to test aircraft.  General Billy Mitchell based his bombing tests out of Langley in the 1920s.  In 1946, Tactical Air Command was Headquartered here and remains in place as Air Combat Command.  The base was always at the forefront of operations but in the modern era, it was the first base to be equipped with the F-15 Eagle and then the F-22 Raptor.  The First Fighter Wing is based at Langley which hosts two of the oldest American fighter squadrons, the 27th “Fightin’ Eagles” and the 94th “Spads” (Hat in the Ring).  Two additional squadrons with history dating back to World War II are the 71st “Ironmen”, newly named the F-22 Formal Training Unit and the 7th “Screamin’ Demons”, the aggressor unit flying black T-38 Talons.  All of these aircraft operate on Langley’s single 10,000 foot, Runway 08/26.

The show was held on the west ramp, which is usually used for parking, due to construction on the east ramp.  The Runway is north of the ramps offering good lighting through most of the day.

Aircraft started taking off at 1045 for the 1100 opening ceremonies.  A CH-47 took off with the US Air Force Academy, Wings of Blue jump team.  Rob Holland launched almost clandestinely, using only a section of the runway away from the crowd, and two TP-51s took off.

The Wings of Blue jumped with small sized flags of all the Armed Forces and some red, white and blue streamers.  Rob Holland circled the jumpers.  I heard that they were not permitted to jump with the National Flag.  An enlisted female sang a very nice National Anthem.  Rob Holland then landed without a typical teaser. 

The very next performance was High Flight Mustangs.  Lou Horschel and Ariel Luedi flew “Mad Max” and “Little Witch” in a formation routine.

Just as this routine was finishing up, another Warbird took off to a hold point.  The FG-1 Corsair would join the F/A-18F Super Hornet in a Navy Legacy Flight.  The Super Hornet then launched, loudly for the single ship routine.  It was good to see them and in a modest, but colored bird.  The rumor was that no one had seen any practice sessions out of NAS Oceana and were unsure of a 2023 schedule.

Civilian performers occupied the next block of performers.

Chris Thomas and Mike Eberhardt performed a formation routine in their former Geico Skytypers, T-6 Texans.

Kyle and Liz Franklin performed their humorous “Ben Whabnoski” airplane ride in the Piper Super Cub.

The Full Throttle Formation Team performed their large formation routine in their homebuilt, Vans RV-7 and -8 aircraft.

Matt Younkin performed in his Beech 18.  The wind was blowing in so it was quite smoky for most photographs.

Steven Hinton launched in the P-51, “Bald Eagle” for the Heritage Flight.

The F-35A Demonstration Team then launched for the individual display.  At some point during the demo, the F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team rolls down the runway, recovers the gear and pitches up in a 70 degree angle of attack in front of the crowd, then peels off to intercept the Mustang. 

Once all three aircraft are together, the Heritage Flight makes multiple passes.  The F-35 and Mustang recover and the home based F-22 Demo Team performs a solo routine.

Rob Holland performed his high energy routine in the slot just before the finale.

The United States Air Force Thunderbirds closed the show each day, taking off at about 2:20pm.  Even though there were plenty of acts, it seemed like a short show with this early final act time slot.  Nonetheless, it was just as great a show as I anticipated.

There were a number of notable statics on the ramp.  There were a total of 9 T-38s distributed around, 2 F-16s from the 79th FS at Shaw, A B-52 from Minot, A T-6 Texan II from Columbus AFB, an F-22, an F-15E from Seymour Johnson, an F-15C from the Massachusetts ANG, an E-2 from Norfolk, a colorful green DC-3 in Air North livery, the Wavy 10 helicopter, the Tuskegee P-51C and some smaller O-2 types.  After the show a weapons loading demonstration was executed on the F-22 side rails.

This is usually the time I would thank the Public Affairs personnel or the host for their assistance.  That is not necessary for this report but I would like to thank two other groups.  First, thank you to all the squadron personnel who maintain station near their aircraft answering everyone’s questions and selling their merchandise.  As an enthusiastic purchaser of shirts and patches, I got the items I can only find at a show.  Special shout out to the 27th Fighter Squadron who had the most merchandise and most crew on hand.  The second group is who I call, “The Usual Suspects”.  Friends and photographers on the East Coast that I see at every major airshow that make it fun and familiar.  Cheers to another great show in the books for 2023.