Media Day was set for the Friday before the one day show, and would include special access to the base by members of the media and press to get interviews and photos of the aircraft without the massive amount of crowds that would be there on Saturday. This day was a perfect chance to snap shots of all the various static displays, which ranged from early 1930s Naval trainers such as Boeing PT-17 Stearmans all the way to active fighter jets such as the Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet and Marine Bell MV-22 Osprey. Missing from the lineup, sadly, was the iconic Grumman F-14 Tomcat, but this was made up for with the addition of one special set of aircraft that had flown into North Island from all around the United States: The Centennial Birds. These aircraft have been part of an ongoing (and just concluded) celebration ‘makeover’ where these active Military aircraft had been repainted in schemes from the World War 2 to Vietnam. One of the best examples was a Sikorsky MH-60R Seahawk helicopter painted in the scheme of Night Air Group 90 from the USS Enterprise in late 1944. The classic two tone blue with white belly scheme harkened the style of Hellcats and Cosairs during late World War 2, but on a modern Military helicopter. These Centennial Birds were a highlight of the show, and even included a large P-3C Orion in early colors of VP-6 from the Korean War. These retro painted aircraft where the most popular for the media and crowds alike on the two days at North Island.
For all the media, the initial day before the airshow was a great time to see everything that would be on display, and catch some of the late arrivals as they taxied in from landing, including several F/A-18 Hornets and other aircraft. The number of media was pretty surprising, but expected with such a big event like this. Getting there as early as possible that morning, it took nearly all day till the Media Day was over at 2pm to shoot all the various aircraft on display. The media were also treated to some special unannounced arrivals of ships including the massive Amphibious Assault Ship the USS Peleliu (LHA-5) with it’s deck loaded with pretty much every example of modern US Marine helicopters from the CH-53E Super Stallion to the new AH-1Z Viper Cobra. Taking a moment to look down the show area, there wasn’t a single person not staring at this massive ship as it sailed by to its docking spot to take on guests for tours of the ship. A short time later, the arrival of the USS Pinckney (DDG-91) Destroyer through the San Diego Harbor stopped many people in their tracks. Tours on the already docked USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) Aircraft Carrier had been taking place since the morning the Media Day began, which was unfortunately impossible for most media to take with the abundance of aircraft to catch on display. By the end of the day, there was a lot of excitement for the day to come where the skies would be filled with the sound of Jets and Helicopters loudly announcing to San Diego this party of all parties.
The morning of the main event, Saturday February 12, 2011, was a pretty cold morning. San Diego was still pretty still at 7am, and traffic was still flowing on the Coronado Bay bridge, which wouldn’t be the case in just a few hours. For all of us in the Media, we were ushered into a small parking lot near the port side of the base, just outside the guard shack for this alternate entry point. Once we finally picked up our media credentials, we were told that the media was going to be allowed into the base an hour earlier than the crowds, which had started to amass outside the main entrance to the base in just a short time. This early entry time was very much appreciated, as there were a lot of late arrivals that had shown up at the base the night before after the Media had long gone from Media Day. After parking and quickly rushing inside the base, the first step was to take shots of all the new static aircraft as quickly as possible before the crowds amassed around the aircraft. Thankfully, I was able to quickly accomplish this as only a handful of aircraft had slipped in overnight. It wasn’t long before the Bay Bridge traffic had completely stopped, and the line to get into the base spanning almost all the way back into San Diego. Once 9am rolled around, the gates opened for the general public and soon the lines to go through the metal detectors were long and slowly moving.
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