Air Force scaling back air show demos

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 12:41 PM

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — The Air Force announced that it’s scaling back its participation in dozens of air shows in 2012, in an effort to cut costs and put money into combat operations. But officials at Hill Air Force Base said the upcoming show won’t look much different than it has in years past.

Officials at Air Combat Command eliminated the solo performances of five of its crews based in Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Utah.

Eliminating solo performances by the A-10, the F-16 and F-15E, is expected to save the Air Force $15.5 million and allow about 970 training flights that otherwise would have been canceled.

The cost savings include fuel and travel costs for the pilots and their maintenance crews, among other things. It’s unclear if the teams will perform again next year.

"The goal of the commander of Air Combat Command is to maintain mission ready pilots, and in order to do that we had to cut some money. And being able to save 900 some odd sorties — that’s quite a few pilots that we can maintain," said Lt. Col. Mike Brazelton, branch chief of Air Combat Command’s aerial events staff.

The ACC’s demonstration team stationed at Hill Air Force Base is called Viper West.

The F-16 aerial demonstration team performs fly overs at special events and participates in several Air Shows across the country every year.

Although Viper West’s solo performances have been put on hold, Hill officials say the cutback won’t have much impact on their 2012 air show, dubbed Warriors Over the Wasatch.

"This has very little impact on our air show," said Rich Essary, chief of media relations at Hill.

Although Viper West’s F-16s won’t be seen at the show, the Air Force’s premiere F-16 demonstration team, the Thunderbirds will be performing.

The base’s own F-16 and A-10 pilots will also participate in the show, which has been scheduled for May 26 and 27.

Lt. Col. Juris Jansons, 75th Operations Squadron commander and this year’s air show coordinator, said the 2012 show will be Hill’s biggest ever, in large part due to the helping hand of the private sector.

Kevin Ireland, director of the Top of Utah Military Affairs Committee, said his organization has budgeted approximately $200,000 to put toward the show.

Ireland said donations have been made by several corporations, contractors affiliated with the base and several Top of Utah cities.

"This is going to be the biggest, baddest air show we’ve ever had," Ireland said.

The only combat plane that will conduct solo performances this year is the F-22 Raptor, which is based at Air Combat Command’s headquarters at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va.

Brazelton said the F-22 was chosen as the remaining demonstration plane because, as the world’s only fifth generation fighter plane, it is capable of maneuvers that other planes are not and it is the plane most frequently requested for performances.

The Air Force uses its demonstration teams to showcase the precision maneuvers its planes are capable of during combat, to help with recruiting and to help build goodwill in the U.S. and abroad. The air show season typically starts in the spring and lasts through the fall.

The past two years, jets assigned to Air Combat Command Aerial Events performed at 131 air shows each year.

In a statement, Air Combat Command officials said eliminating the solo demonstrations would result in an increase of more than 25 combat-ready fighter pilots.

The other canceled demonstration teams are the F-15E Demonstration Team at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C.; the F-16 Demonstration Team East at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.; A-10 Demonstration Team East at Moody Air Force Base, Ga.; and the A-10 Demonstration Team West at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz.

— The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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