By John Wright
Fleet Week San Diego is the nation’s largest tribute to the men and women serving in the United States Armed Forces. Conceived in 1995, a group of civic-minded business leaders modeled the event after the Fleet Week Celebration in San Francisco. Since its inception, Fleet Week San Diego has grown to encompass more than a month’s worth of events dedicated to honoring enlisted men and women.
The traditional flagship Fleet Week events include the Port of San Diego Sea and Air Parade, followed by the Coronado Speed Festival and MCAS Miramar Air Show. The first San Diego appearance of the Red Bull Air Race World Series joined the event this year.
Sea and Air Parade
The Sea and Air Parade showcases U.S. naval air and sea power. Ships participating in the parade included the USS Cape St. George (CG-71), USS Kidd (DDG-100), USNS Henry J. Kaiser (T-AO 187), USS Thach (FFG-43), USS Ashville (SSN-758), USS New Orleans (LPD-18) and USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72.)
The USS Cape St. George is a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser with a crew of 57 officers and 340 enlisted personnel. Its primary mission is to defend the fleet against air and submarine threats. The USS Kidd, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, was named for Rear Adm. Isaac C. Kidd, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Henry J. Kaiser is one of a number of military sealift command vessels manned by civilian mariners in support of U.S. Navy fleet operation.
The USS Thach, named for Adm. Jimmy Thach, a World War II Navy pilot, provides air, surface and submarine defense for the fleet. USS Asheville, the fourth Navy ship to bear the name, is a Los Angeles class, nuclear-powered submarine, performing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions; amphibious warfare is a primary mission of the U.S. Navy.
The USS New Orleans is the second ship of the San Antonio class dock landing ships, designed to accommodate the Marine Corps’ “mobility triad”—advanced amphibious assault vehicles, landing craft air cushion and the Corps’ new tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey. The USS Abraham Lincoln, the fifth of the Nimitz class super carriers, is based in Everett, Wash.
Aircraft showcased during the parade included a large cross-section of naval aircraft, including the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet, E-2C Hawkeye electronic warfare aircraft, C-2 Greyhound carrier onboard delivery aircraft and the SH-60 Seahawk helicopter. Navy explosive ordnance disposal personnel gave a demonstration of low-altitude helicopter cast and recovery, using a special purpose insertion and extraction rig. The Coast Guard demonstrated search and rescue techniques with its HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter.
Coronado Speed Festival
One of the more popular events to take place during Fleet Week is the Coronado Speed Festival, and this year marked its 10th anniversary. A portion of the runways and taxiways at Naval Air Station North Island are set aside to create a course for vintage sports car races. The cars are divided into nine classes, based on historical significance, original racing class and certified authenticity. Some of the cars on the track are valued in the millions of dollars, and unlike most racing events, spectators are invited to tour the pits and talk with the drivers and crews. The Navy Region Southwest hosts the festival and proceeds benefit its Morale, Welfare and Recreation Program.
Miramar Air Show
The highlight of Fleet Week San Diego is the annual air show at Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar. This extremely popular event consistently attracts more than 700,000 spectators over three days. All of the U.S. Armed Forces are represented, and this year, representatives of the Canadian Forces and the British Royal Air Force joined in.
This year’s event marked the first appearance in 35 years of the Air Force Thunderbirds and the first since the Marine Corps took over the base. The show featured demonstrations by the Navy’s F/A-18F Super Hornet, the Marine Corps’ AV-8B Harrier and the Air Force’s F-15E Strike Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-117 Nighthawk. The F-15 and F-16 accompanied a P-51D Mustang in the USAF Heritage Flight. The Navy Legacy Flight included the F/A-18F Super Hornet and three aircraft from the Grumman “Iron Works”: the F4F Wildcat, F6F Hellcat and F8F Bearcat. A demonstration of precision parachuting by the Army’s Golden Knights Parachute Team opened the afternoon show.
The list of civilian performers was extensive. Present were Dan Buchanan in his hang glider, Bill Reesman in the Red Bull MiG-17, Sean Tucker in the “Oracle Challenger” biplane, the Silver Wings Wingwalking Team, Jacquie Warda in her S-1T Pitts Special, John Helton and the “World’s Smallest Aircraft Carrier,” Bret Willat in his Grob G-103 sailplane and John Piggott flying a Sukhoi SU-29. Piggot’s son, Air Force Capt. Russ Piggott, is the commander and demonstration pilot for the Viper West F-16 Demonstration Team that flew at Miramar. The Red Baron Squadron performed with its Stearman A-75 aircraft, originally built in the 1940s as trainers for Army and Navy pilots. The Patriot Jet Team flies the Czechoslovakian Aero Vodochody L-39C trainer and light attack aircraft. Its performances are highlighted by a computerized red, white and blue smoke system and are flown by lead pilot Dean “Wilbur” Wright, right wingman Vlady “Mig” Chetverous, left wingman John “Boards” Posson and slot pilot Paul “Sticky” Strickland.
The Air Force Reserve brought the Smoke-N-Thunder jet car, powered by a Westinghouse J-34 jet engine originally used in a North American T-2A Buckeye aircraft. Designed by Scott Hammack, the car is driven by retired Air Force Reserve flight engineer Bill Baarck. Not to be outdone, Kent Shockley made an appearance with the always-popular “Shockwave” jet truck. The Peterbilt semi tractor is powered by three Pratt and Whitney J-34-48 afterburning jet engines and is capable of speeds of over 300 mph.
The Marine Corps displayed its combined-arms capability with the Marine air-ground task force demonstration. An MAGTF consists of four self-sustaining elements: command, ground combat, aviation combat and combat service support. The demonstration team fast-roped into an area, called in naval gunfire support and then was extracted by helicopter. This was followed with “softening up” by F/A-18 Hornets, AV-8B Harriers and AH-1W Cobra attack helicopters. The assault troops were landed by CH-46 helicopters and supported by LAV-25 light armored vehicles and M1-A1 Abrams tanks.
Among the numerous static displays were aircraft spanning the history of military and civilian aviation from WWII to the present. Included were the Air Force’s latest transport aircraft, the C-17 Globemaster III, the venerable B-52G Stratofortress and a KC-135 Stratotanker.
For more information on Fleet Week San Diego, visit [http://www.fleetweeksandiego.org].