By Mike Mangano
Review: Kaneohe Bay Air Show
Echoing off the Jurassic mountains of Hawaii’s Kaneohe Bay, the sound of jet engines filled the skies at last month’s ‘Blues on the Bay’ air show. Dormant since the pandemic, the Kaneohe Bay Air Show erupted back to life, offering aviation lovers of all backgrounds a chance to get up close and personal to a variety of private, commercial, and military aircraft. Extended hospitality from the Marine Corp Base Hawaii, AirlineGeeks was given the opportunity to witness the precision displays of the Blue Angels, incredible capabilities of the F22 Raptor, as well as some hidden gems from Hawaiian Airlines.
The event, held on the weekend of August 13 and 14, was a true eye-opener for this writer. While any air show will capture the eyes of those in attendance, the ‘Kay Bay’ air show – as many a local will call it – offered experiences that are unmatched in Australia (the home of this intrepid Airline Geek), attracting even an IMAX team. While most events down under will be highlighted by a single Hornet or Lightning, Kay Bay’s program was truly a non-stop exhibition of the most incredible and, more importantly, loud jet performances yet seen by this writer.
Being the first time the Blue Angels have appeared at Kaneohe since 2015, anticipation was high among all in attendance, and the traffic certainly reflected this excitement. Having left the North Shore early, AirlineGeeks expected about a one-hour drive and a straightforward entry. As it turned out, it wasn’t quite that simple. It seemed that despite efforts to meet at the media tent at 8:30 a.m., we only managed to get a car park at 9:40 a.m.
As it was expected, large crowds had made the roads outside and inside the Marine Corps Base Hawaii a parking lot, moving slowly through the gates and to the car parking areas provided. In a style true of an international tourist, reliance on Google Maps led this writer straight in, and then straight out – was it really a right turn instead of a left? Evidently, no – it was a left indeed.
Eventually, and with the assistance of some friendly locals, the parking lot was eventually located. Before long, we were in line for entry. While we were unable to enter immediately, the very sight of the Blue Angels from the line was a thrill; this was a bucket list item that was about to get a huge tick. But from that point on, the day continued to improve.
While waiting for entry to such an event can be tiresome, it seemed the excitement ahead meant that patience of many was missing in the ‘lost and yet to be found’ pile. Yet, it was the professionality of the Marines that captured this writer’s attention; a friendly demeanor somehow accompanied those who dared tame the more snappy of the crowd. With firm humor, the men and women guiding this mass contained their swells, focused on the single goal of delivering a safe and spectacular event.
We, for our part, were delighted to see aid approach in the form of a white light, edging closer and parting the sea of attendees waiting to gain entry. The light neared, and slowly defined itself: a white golf cart, dispatched for us by officer and gentleman First Lieutenant Mark McDonough. Having played an incredible part in organizing the air show, he and the COMMSTRAT team showed themselves cool and calm and collected this media team with true hospitality and personal care.
As we entered the gates, the crowds soon followed behind, but in the brief silence in between, we were tantalized by the closeup views of the many aircraft. The static displays were impressive: an entry garnished by Osprey, a Raptor and Falcon, a near-replica Magnum PI helicopter (not quite an MD500D, but looks pretty close), with a look ahead displaying an Atlas Air 747. We were warmly received at the media tent, greeted with professionalism and hospitality from the COMMSTRAT team – truly some of the most pleasant and polite people one could meet.
Kaneohe Bay Air Show was well organized, and although there were some changes made to the program, the planning was so well executed that it would have been impossible to realize those changes unless one was privy to the details. Until the action in the air began around 11 am, AirlineGeeks – and all in attendance – could view and walk through some incredible machines.
This writer’s first time up close with most of the static displays, the sheer scale and size of the transport aircraft was hard to fathom. A walkthrough of a C-17 Globemaster reveals a true definition of logistical capability. Standing on the inside, it’s difficult to comprehend how an aircraft of its size and volume can deliver the performance it later demonstrated in its high angle of attack take-offs.
The next stop, of all the displays, was to a favorite of many an Airline Geek – the Hawaiian Airlines aircraft. Although it’s the immediate A330 that captures attention, there was a small, red gen hiding in its shadow: a 1929 Bellanca – Hawaiian’s first aircraft. A trusted source and Hawaiian Airlines pilot, Charlie Morris – who also flew an F-22 Raptor at the event – told AirlineGeeks the tale of its resurrection. The aircraft, once thought lost for all time, was miraculously found in someone’s front yard in the middle of nowhere. Now, with restored trims and polished timber on the inside, she sat parked next to the newest of Hawaiian’s fleet. It was an incredible opportunity – a trip through time – that few airlines could exhibit.
As the crowd’s heads pitched upward to the wings above, we were awarded an incredible display of technological wonder and precision piloting. The maneuverability of the Falcon is an impressive sight – evidence of a highly advanced design that hasn’t aged. But of greater awe by far was the Raptor, flown (for the single-ship demonstration) by Cabo Gunderson, the official F22 Demonstration Team pilot.
Most importantly for the viewer, it’s loud. Very loud. Its performance capabilities are even more incredible. While the Blue Angels in their Hornets are a sight to behold, the agility of a Raptor is second to none. With its thrust vectoring capability, one stands in awe as it defies the laws most airplanes are governed by. The Raptor demonstrated its ability to pitch at angles and rates that would leave the Wright brothers lost for words. Rotating in the air while apparently still, its mighty engines were close to shattering ear drums, with the acoustics reflecting off the nearby mountains to amplify the sound. Don’t be misled – the Raptor is a serious aircraft with serious performance, capable of reaching Mach 2.0 without afterburners being engaged. The highlight of this show was, for this writer, the head-spinning wonder of the Raptor.
Having previously mentioned the C-17 Demonstration Team, which proved that there is far more to an exciting air show than speed alone, the Ospreys helped define versatility as they flew into view like a plane, and then landed like a helicopter.
About 2 p.m., a shift in uniform color became visible on the apron as the Blue Angels made their much-anticipated appearance. For this writer, having never yet witnessed the US Navy’s display team, the iconic diamond flight lives up to all the expectations. The incredible teamwork, professionalism, and precision are not lost on the spectator; each pilot maintains extremely tight formation despite high-speed and high-G turns without any sort of G-suit.
Although it would be a lie to say the near hour-long display did not impress, one is left with an appreciation of what teamwork and personal commitment can result in, and that really is the purpose. The aviator is only the arrowhead, the most visible part of a team committed to nothing short of perfection, unafraid to learn from mistakes and support each other. The crew on the ground are uniform in both action and thought, and to witness their work is to have seen the definition of synchronize. It truly is inspiring, and leave little wonder as to why an IMAX attended the air show themselves (did we mention they are producing an IMAX Blue Angels film?).
The saddest time was, of course, the closure of the gates. In a bid to avoid the heavy traffic, we decided to linger around, taking advantage of the opportunity to grab a hotdog and chat with those who decided to do the same. It was during this time we met some incredible aviators, such as the aforementioned Charlie Morris, and networked with an international community of AvGeeks. As Test Pilot Mark Jones Jr. once told me, “AvGeek is a language we all speak.” This writer (and surely the reader) knows this to be true.
Waiting in the traffic afforded another unexpected surprise – the chance to chat with the Marines based in Hawaii. As the conversations ensued, this writer clearly felt the deep sense of commitment of these men and women, as well as the volunteers assisting the crowds, and it’s only at this point that one comprehends the magnitude of what makes the Kay Bay Air Show so successful.
The August Air Show at Kaneohe Bay was an event unique. With a backdrop of magnificent mountains, the smell of avgas, and a touch of Hawaiian sun, Kaneohe Bay Air Show is more than an air show – it is a demonstration of commitment, of impeccably engineered flying machines, an industrious spirit of a committed team, and the integration of so many aviation and defense sectors that delivered seamlessly. Kay Bay is nothing less than the essence of high performance.