MILLVILLE – The workup to this weekend’s 2017 Millville Wheels & Wings Airshow accelerated on Thursday with the arrivals hours apart of five U.S. Navy Blue Angels F-18 Hornets and their support team at the municipal airport.
U.S. Navy Blue Angels member Lt. Brandon Hempler landed his F-18 Hornet at the Millville Airport Wednesday afternoon. Video produced by Justin Odendhal
The five Hornets joined another jet from the squadron that had arrived Wednesday afternoon with the unit narrator and a crew chief. Adverse weather on Thursday delayed the Blue Angels support team reaching Millville until about 11:30 a.m., instead of a planned 10 a.m., and the F-18s until a little before 4 p.m., instead of at noon.
Pilots go show-to-show in their F-18 Hornets, but supplies and about 60 support personnel are moved around in a Marine Corps C-130 Hercules transport.
It’s a herculean task making that four-engine transport stealthy, but not impossible with the low, thick rain clouds over the airport. Passing overhead before circling to land, the C-130 appeared as a loud but ghostly outline in the sky.
Visibility was a lot better by the time the rest of the Blue Angels set down. Pilots had planned to log some air time midafternoon Thursday to familiarize themselves with landmarks. Their full rehearsal show is scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday.
The Blue Angels are the headline act for Wheels & Wings Airshow. The squadron is shy one Hornet that is grounded for repairs, which has meant canceling much sought-after public relations rides.
The squadron also is missing Fat Albert, the nickname for the C-130 that normally handles its transportation needs. The Marine Corps has provided a substitute C-130 and crew drawn from the “Rangers,” a Reserve squadron at Naval Air Station Fort Worth Reserve Base in Texas.
C-130 Marine pilots John Lawton and Daniel Austin, both majors, were detailed to the Blue Angels support team about three weeks ago and expect to stay with it well into June. It’s an assignment that basically is not too different from other jobs, although there are perks.
“You get a little more VIP treatment, I guess,” Austin laughed.
“Yeah. The hotels are nice,” Lawton said. “It’s definitely nice to travel with them and be part of their crew and see how they do business.”
Not surprisingly for career pilots, Lawton and Austin both are Blue Angels fans.
“You never get tired of seeing them fly,” Lawton said. “Whether you saw them 10 years ago or yesterday, it’s a treat.”
Wheels & Wings is the key fundraiser in any year for its sponsor, the Millville Army Air Field Museum. David Schultz Airshows LLC is coordinating the event for the museum. An appearance by a unit such as the Blue Angels pretty much locks in success for the event, if the weather cooperates.
The air show also comes in a special year, the 75th anniversary of the opening of the airport as an Army Air Corps base. The airfield opened before the United States entered World War II, training about 10,000 airmen during the war.
This Memorial Day weekend air show would be the third Blue Angels appearance in Millville since 2003 and the first since 2007. This air show also is the unit’s only performance in New Jersey in 2017, which is anticipated to boost interest among the region’s aviation fans.
The Blue Angels and the museum are keeping an eye on the weather. Blue Angels performances usually go for 40 minutes.
“We always hope for the best weather possible so we can go full high show,’”pilot and narrator Lt. Brandon Hempler said on Wednesday. “However, we have multiple shows that we can do. All the way down to a 1,000-foot ceiling, we can do a show. May not be the high, quick climbs and stuff, but it’ll be definitely some close formation flying still, even though we’ll stay lower.”
While the Blue Angels are the main aerial attraction, the ground components to the event are strong.
The South Jersey Cruisers Association is expecting as many as 300 classic antique cars and trucks as well as modern muscle cars, according to association director Ben Notaro.
The classic car show is open to all classic car clubs and individuals with show car or trucks. Registration is from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. There will be trophies for the top 20 cars and a best-of-show car presented at 3 p.m. on both days.
For more information about the air show, visit MillvilleAirshow.com or call the museum at (856) 327-2347. Emails can also be sent to airshow Director Lisa Jester at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the car show, contact John Wolfe at (856) 825-3047.
The program for Saturday and Sunday is as follows:
9 a.m. – Gates open
11:30 a.m.- Temporary Flight Restrictions in effect for airshow
11:45 a.m.- Opening ceremony
Noon – National anthem with Skydive Cross Keys Flag jump
12:06 p.m. – Skydive Cross Keys Mass Exit Parachute Demonstration
12:16 p.m. – L Bird and PT Flight
12:31 p.m. – Greg Shelton PT-17 Stearman Solo
12:46 p.m. – SNJ Flight
12:56 p.m. – Kevin Russo SNJ-6 Demonstration
1:11 p.m. – USCG MH-65D Dauphin Search and Rescue Demonstration
1:21 p.m. – Greg Shelton FM2 Wildcat Demonstration
1:36 p.m. – Paul Dougherty Christian Eagle Aerobatics
1:46 p.m. – N.J. ArNG/ANG UH-60 SPIES Demonstration
1:56 p.m. – B-25 Panchito demonstration (non-aerobatic)
2:11 p.m. – Jacquie B Airshow Extra 300
2:26 p.m. – Greg Shelton with Ashley Shelton Wingwalking
2:39 p.m. – Scott Francis MX2 Aerobatics
2:54 p.m. – USMC Blue Angels C-130T Hercules Demonstration
3:04 p.m. – USN Blue Angels Demonstration
5 p.m. – Gates Close. Airshow Ends. Temporary Flight Restrictions End.