In Case You Missed it: Photos from the Great Tennessee Air Show

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great tennessee air show
Photo by Lee Rennick

The Great Tennessee Air Show presented by Nissan took place June 10 – 11 in Smyrna. Despite thundershowers that hit Nashville and surrounding areas last weekend, the headlining U.S Navy Blue Angels were able to complete their fast-paced exhibition and visitors never saw a single drop of rain in spite of the occasional threat of dark clouds.

Both days of the air show were hot. Many found shelter under the wings of planes on display, while others brought umbrellas to provide shade. Clouds and a strong wind kept the air a bit cooler on Sunday, and some even chose to do a bit of sunbathing between acts.

Once the U.S. Special Operations Command Para Commandos (SOCOM) jumped from ‘Fat Albert’ at noon, the Blue Angels’ official cargo carrier and kick-off to all of their shows, the crowds spent the rest of the day looking skyward and cheering on the many highly-skilled fliers in the show.

The Para-Commandos are SOCOM’s premier aerial parachute demonstration team.  Members of the team are active duty Special Operators, such as Army Special Forces, Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, Air Force Combat Controllers and Marine Raiders. Each performance is tailored to the individual venue. At the Smyrna Air Show, they jumped carrying the American flag as the National Anthem was played. They landed on target in front of the crowd in spite of bucking heavy winds.

According to libertylifemedia.com, the C-130T ‘Fat Albert’ was retired in 2019 after flying over 30,000 hours in support of Blue Angels demonstrations. Unfortunately, due to its age, a replacement C-130T could not be found. It was replaced by a C-130J.

“As luck or fate would have it,” said thelibertylifemedia.com article, “the Royal Air Force announced in 2010 that it would be retiring a portion of its fleet of newer C-130Js…A deal was eventually made and a used Royal Air Force C-130J Hercules, originally built in the U.S., became the new Blue Angels pack horse. Marshall Aerospace in Cambridge, England overhauled ‘Fat Albert’ for the Blue Angels, even applied the custom paint job.”

The Blue Angels flight team also got new planes since their last visit to Smyrna, they now fly Super Hornets. They switched from the F/A-18 Hornet to the F/A-18E Super Hornet in 2021 to mark the team’s 75th anniversary, according to wfaa.com. The Super Hornet is a larger and heavier plane that is able to carry more fuel, increasing mission range during military use.

Another interesting plane that was one of the static displays at the Air Show was a drone. While many see drones on television shows like NCIS as weapons, Luke Piro, a Logistics Readiness Officer with the U.S. Air Force, explained all of the good that they do during “catastrophic environmental events” all over the world. During the California forest fires last year, they were used to assist the fire-fighting teams by looking for hot spots, wind shifts, and fire leaps. This kept the firefighters safe as they bulldozed and built trenches while trying to slow the flames.

Other static displays were just as interesting and entertaining as the flyers. Flagship Detroit, which is housed in Shelbyville and maintained by a foundation, is a DC-3. This plane revolutionized passenger travel in the late 1930s. In a partnership with American Airlines, this plane was able to succeed financially in servicing passengers on long hauls. It even had Pullman beds like trains. This particular plane was built in 1937. During World War II it carried First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. During the show it changed from static display to taking a demonstration flight, glinting in the afternoon sun. The foundation maintains and improves the plane in order to keep it alive as part of “living” aviation history for future generations.

“This is the oldest flying DC-3,” explained Lisa Butler, a member of the Flagship Detroit Foundation. “We do tours with the plane during air show season all over the country. We will be offering rides at the Lebanon Air Show on June 24 to members. Memberships are $100 per year.”

There were two legacy flights during the show, one honoring World War II veterans by the U. S. Navy and another honoring Vietnam veterans by the U.S. Air Force. The Navy flight featured a modern-day F-22 and F-35, as well as a World War II vintage F4U Corsair, explained Steve Harrison, a member of the Smyrna Airport Authority Commission.

“That was the plane that Pappy Boyington flew,” said Harrison. Boyington was a U. S. Marine Corp fighter ace during World War II. He and his team downed 126 enemy aircraft over a continuous nine-month period. Near the end of the nine months, he was shot down and was thought to have been killed, however, he was a prisoner of war, and ended up living to be 75 years old. The 1970s television series Baa Baa Black Sheep was loosely based on his life.

Flying aerobatics was provided by R. J. Gritter, Greg Colyer, Scott Yoak, and Micahel Goulian. They all kept the audience in awe with their loops and stalls and spins. Gritter was born to parents in the air industry and got his pilot license on his 17th birthday, but started stunt flying in competitions at 16. He flies a Decathlon. A Lockheed T33 is the plane of choice for Greg Coyler. Hooked on flying since the age of seven, he became a U.S. Army pilot. He has been on the air show circuit for 15 years. He also runs IronMan Triathlons and cycles competitively. Scott “Scooter” Yoak learned all about planes from his father, Bill, who was one of the flyers on the Baa Baa Black Sheep television show. Small world. He passed his love of P-51s to his son, and that is what Scott flies. Growing up around his parent’s flight school, it is no surprise that Michael Goulian is one of North America’s most decorated aerobatic pilots. He has also competed multiple times in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship, placing third with his team in 2018.

Swooping through the skies at 400 miles per hour, the Blue Angels demonstrations of precision flying ended the day. Tennessee native Lt. Commander Julius Bratton was the lead soloist on the team, often being the one to fly upside down. He joined the Blue Angels in September 2019. He has accumulated more than 2,000 flight hours and has 207 carrier arrested landings, but what he enjoys most about being a Blue Angel is introducing the joy of flying to the next generation.

Introducing the next generation to flying is what the Great Tennessee Air Show is all about, and families filled seats and blankets with children in love with planes and flying. Both boys and girls. One pigtailed girl, looking very much like Cindy Brady, wrestled a toy plane away from her brother and zoomed off with it into the crowd to watch the next performance.

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