Niagara Falls Air Show 2007 - Thunder Over Niagara

photos and comments by Nick & Amanda Twentyfive


The Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station is the last U.S. Air Force installation in the State of New York and the largest federal facility in the region. The station is home to the 914th Airlift Wing and the 107th Air Refueling Wing. The Niagara Falls International Airport also houses the 865th Support Hospital and 277th Quartermasters. Strategically located on the Canadian border between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, the base currently accommodates eight C-130 and nine KC-135 aircraft.

The base was targeted by the federal government in 2005 for closure, but extraordinary community support convinced the government to keep the base open. The 2007 air show was the first since 2004, and featured many cool performers, including the Thunderbirds, the GEICO Skytypers, the Air Force Reserves jet-propelled car, the Air Force Academy parachute jump team, and the US Navy Leapfrogs. Tons of cool planes were featured, including the F-18, F-15, and the Niagara Air Force Base's own C-130 transport plane and KC-135 tanker (aka the "Flying Gas Can").

Military air shows support recruiting by inspiring patriotism and encouraging young men and women to serve in the military. They are said to promote understanding of the role of the military in our community. However, we just thought the air show was cool. We took a lot of pictures and movies - scroll down to see some incredible stunts!

Stills:

KC-135 TANKER
This is one of those mid-air refueling planes. They didn't have many "spares" of these to show, since most of them are on duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Knowing that we have these wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, Nick and I wondered how it was that the Navy's "best pilots" were performing with the Thunderbirds. Shouldn't they be, you know, killing bad guys?
F-18 SUPERHORNET
The United States has some bad-ass fighter jets. The F-18 is one of the very few fighter jet configurations with a "tailhook" on the back so it can be launched from aircraft carriers for use in combat situations. The tailhook makes it possible to use the "arresting cable" to "catch" the plane. Watch Top Gun if you are confused about this launching/landing thing. Keep in mind that in Top Gun they were flying F-14 Tom Cats,  which have been retired for the most part and replaced by the F-18. The hook mechanism has remained fundamentally unchanged between the two models. There are lots of other "F" fighter planes, but most of them, including the F-15 and F-16, are not carrier-enabled. They are launched from bases - some in Europe, Africa, and Saudi Arabia, as well as right in Iraq and Afghanistan, for their missions.
GALAXY C-5 TRANSPORT PLANE EXTRAORDINAIRE
The C-5 is the biggest airplane made in the United States. It's bigger than a 747 and weighs a whopping 840,000 pounds. Some amazing facts - the C-5 can carry twenty OH-6 helicopters, it carries 50 000 gallons of fuel, which (if it were gas) would allow a car to circumnavigate the earth 60 times... just its paint weighs over 2600 lbs. The only thing it can't carry a lot of is tanks. Tanks are heavy.

The C-5 has 28 wheels, it can carry as many people as a 747, and its max cargo load is so heavy that it carry up to 135 tons (tanks average 67 tons, so I suppose it could carry two if the plane didn't require, say, pilots. Pilots would put it over the weight limit. *grin*). Each C-5 costs a couple hundred million dollars to manufacture. Each TF39 engine provides 43,000 lbs of thrust (more than is provided by both engines of an F-18 SuperHornet put together, and using up significantly less fuel too).

This airplane is a monster. If you see one at an airshow, trust us when we say - get close to it so you can appreciate how huge it is, and imagine what it must be like to fly something the size of an office building. This is a BIG plane. As you can see, you can load this plane from the front or the back.

GEICO SKYTYPERS
Ok, so you've all heard of skywriters, correct? Well, these are skyTYPERS - this is not a typo. The planes emit little puffs of smoke to make letters, as evidenced in the next two pictures. They were flying around during the show typing things like "Welcome to the Air Show". Apparently they sent them to downtown Buffalo the week of the air show to advertise it during the lunch hour. Pretty cool.
SKYTYPERS - 2ND PASS
Before you all e-mail us and ask us how on earth these planes skytype, I'll explain. There are 5-6 of them "typing" at any one time. They each have a computer which is coordinated with the computers on the other planes to emit smoke on it's own little flight path so that together, the smoke from the planes comes together to make words. Capice?
SKYTYPERS FLYING IN FORMATION
These next two pictures show the actual formations that the planes fly to make the messages.
ANOTHER SKYTYPER FORMATION
The skytypers also fly in formation while letting off constant currents of smoke, as shown in this picture.
THUNDERBIRDS REVVING UP
When the Thunderbirds' cadre of F-16's started up, it was quite an impressive sight (and sound). There was much smoke and blowing wind. Conveniently, this happened right in front of us, as you can see. Cool. *grin*
F-15 EAGLE WITH THE F-86 HERITAGE
The F-86 is an old fighter plane that was used during the Korean and Vietnam wars, mostly again the much-feared MiG-15 and MiG-17's. Why were the MiGs feared? I'll tell you! Because the MiGs carried much more damaging and higher-caliber guns than the F-86s they flew against. It is quite widely recognized that the reason why American jets were not slaughtered over the skies of Korea was because of superior pilot training, not because the F-86 was a better fighter.

In any case, the F-15 Eagle and the F-86 Heritage were flown together in this show to demonstrate how much faster the F-15 is, how it can make tighter turns, etc. However, don't feel too sorry for the F-86. It did its job in its time quite capably.

THE MEMPHIS BELLE
The Memphis Belle is a B-17 bomber made famous in World War II. It flew 25 bombing missions. Apparently it was quite a treat to have the Memphis Belle present at this air show, as it has been permanently (except when being shown off at air shows) relocated to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Ohio. You need to request a special "behind the scenes tour" just to see it.

In this picture, taken from the side of the plane, you can see the red and yellow stars, which were painted above the bombs for each mission flown. Yellow stars represented the missions where the "Belle" lead her bomb group. Red stars indicate when she lead the whole bomb wing.

FRONT VIEW OF THE "MEMPHIS BELLE"
This nose paint job and configuration were exclusively used on the Memphis Belle, making it one of the Air Force's most distinctive planes.
F-16 FALCON
F-16s are also bad-ass, fast, deadly planes. They were first engineered to replace the large, hard-to-maneuver fighter planes used in Korea and Vietnam. The F-16 was the first jet to use computers and electric signals in its flight controls instead of hydraulics, and is actually so unstable it cannot be flown without computers.

It is the only airplane in the Air Force squadron that can be used both as a bomber or as a fighter. It is a tremendous success in international sales: the very first batch to come off the assembly line was shared between the US, Belgium, and the Netherlands, and F-16s are now flown everywhere from Japan to Israel to Latin America. Just about the most aerobatic plane in the US Air Force inventory, it is the chosen demonstration plane of the elite Air Force team, the Thunderbirds.

 

Movies: TURN UP YOUR SOUND!!!!

F-18 SLOW PASS
F-18s, being designed for carrier use, can fly pretty slowly.  In fact, its ability to slowly continue forward motion while nose-up at such a steep angle - while flying at less than 100 miles per hour - is pretty unique.
DIABETES?  HA!
Michael Hunter was a man who dreamed of doing aerobatic flying - but was told by doctors he never would because of his strong insulin dependency.  Well, by using advanced real-time blood sugar monitors and insulin management devices, he started flying seven years ago.  He's now an incredible aerobatic pilot.
THUNDERBIRDS: DOUBLE KNIFE-EDGE PASS
Flying sideways (with your wings perpendicular to the ground, usually with the nose pointed up a bit) is called a knife-edge.  Passing the crowd makes it, naturally, a knife-edge pass.  Passing another plane making a knife-edge pass in the other direction by a few feet is called, naturally, crazy.
THUNDERBIRDS: KEEPING FORMATION
The Thunderbird pilots love to demonstrate precision flying by making really tightly grouped passes in formation.
THUNDERBIRDS: UM, DO YOU REMEMBER WHICH SIDE GOES UP?
One of the Thunderbirds female pilots makes an upside-down pass of the crowd.
THUNDERBIRDS: BARREL ROLL
My lunch would be so lost.  Just gone.  Not funny.
THUNDERBIRDS: SCISSORS
"Hey, let's freak out the crowd by nearly crashing into each other!"
THUNDERBIRDS: YOU GUYS ARE SLOW
The solo plane blows by the other ones.
THUNDERBIRDS: JUST SICK.
I find it amazing that humans are capable of such finely tuned movements and subtle reactions to be able to pull off this rolling six-plane formation when your average person on the highway is all over the place.
THUNDERBIRDS: BOMB BURST
Their signature move: fly upwards and split up.