2011 Centennial of Naval Aviation Airshow - Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego, California
Boeing AV-8B Harrier - 2011 Centennial of Naval Aviation
Lockheed S-3B Viking - 2011 Centennial of Naval Aviation
Grumman HU-16C Albatross - 2011 Centennial of Naval Aviation
Rockwell OV-10B Bronco - 2011 Centennial of Naval Aviation
Article and Photography by Britt Dietz | February 23, 2011
[CONTINUED] In case you hadn’t seen enough AV-8B Harriers, four of them from VMA-311 based in MCAS Yuma, Arizona rocketed past in a tight four ship formation. After their departure, the sound of a Sea Knight filled the air once again, this time low to the water as that long Sea Knight hovered just a few feet above the San Diego bay dropping a diver into the water with a big splash. The Sea Knight then lifted up and left the show area, leaving the diver in the water. Four AV-8B Harriers pass in formation above North Island from VMA-311 - Photo by Britt DietzFour AV-8B Harriers pass in formation above North Island from VMA-311. -Photo by Britt DietzFinishing out this section of US Marine modern aircraft were two F/A-18C Hornets from MCAS Miramar VMFA-232 ‘Red Devils’ in tight formation. Now it was time for another naval branch to take the show: the US Coast Guard. An HH-60J Jayhawk arrived into the bar, hovering low over the water. Reaching the spot where the downed diver was located by means of red smoke popped by the diver, the Jawhawk slowed to a perfect hover over the water, dropping a rescue diver and eventually hoisting up both the two divers that were in the water by means of the onboard lift system. To finish out the Coast Guard section of the parade, a C-144 Ocean Centry followed by a Coast Guard C-130 Hercules passed in review leading the show back to the Navy. This began with a parade of various types of Pave Hawk and Seahawk helicopters in three different formations, with the T-34 Turbo Mentor and T-6 Texan II modern trainers making a quick fly-by. Moving right along to a T-39 Sabreliner and two fast T-45 Goshawks, it was time for the Navy Aircraft Carrier based aircraft to appear.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a S-3 Viking leading the parade of Carrier aircraft, with very nice black and gold tail colors. The Viking was followed by the very recognizable E-2 Hawkeye with its large radar dish and right behind it with two C-2 Greyhounds with tail hooks lowered. Now it was time for the aircraft to grow in size, as the first large sized aircraft, Navy C-20 Gulfstream III fly past leading an even larger P-3 Orion. The largest aircraft to appear at the event, a Boeing E-6 Mercury, passes overhead - Photo by Britt DietzThe largest aircraft to appear at the event, a Boeing E-6 Mercury, passes overhead. -Photo by Britt DietzA Boeing C-9 Skytrain II (Navy converted DC-9) roared past, and was followed by the largest aircraft in the Parade of Flight, a Navy Boeing E-6 Mercury. One of the biggest naval aircraft, this Mercury is an airborne command most and communications relay on the battlefield. This was the only single aircraft in the entire Parade of Flight that I believe everyone had to ‘zoom out’ to get the entire plane into the shot. Reaching the last section of the Parade of Flight, it was time to bring in the parade of jet aircraft. Starting off this section was three more F/A-18C Hornets from the famous VMFA-314 ‘Black Knights’ squadron based at MCAS Miramar and followed directly behind them were four more F/A-18C Hornets in a perfect stacked formation from various squadrons at MCAS Miramar as well. Next up were two surprise and unusual surprise appearances by two dark camo painted US Navy aggressor F-16 Vipers. This was a delight for any aviation enthusiast to see these two rare Navy Vipers in close formation and in unusual black and grey aggressor colors. Switching back to the Marines once again, two EA-6B Prowlers, one with tail hook extended, passed in review giving the show back over to the US Navy.

Electronic Warfare has been around for some time now, in the form the EA-6B Prowler, but a new fighter has been converted into an electronic warfare fighter that will replace the Prowler in time, and that is the EA-18 Growler. Two EA-18G Growlers and an EA-6B Prowler pass in tight formation - Photo by Britt DietzTwo EA-18G Growlers and an EA-6B Prowler pass in tight formation. -Photo by Britt DietzEssentially a F/A-18F Super Hornet that has been converted, the next part of the Parade of Flight consisted of a Navy EA-6B Prowler and two EA-18G Growlers in formation demonstrating the old and new of electronic war. Following that impressive formation were two sets of F-5 Tiger IIs from the Navy and Marines ending the last set of Marine aircraft, and nearing the end of the Parade of Flight. The last two flybys of aircraft consisted of two sets of four-ship formation F/A-18E and F Super Hornets. The first set of Super Hornets consisted of two squadrons from NAWS China Lake, and the second set from VFA-122 from NAS Lemoore in a very tight formation. And in what seemed like just a half hour, but in reality was two hours of flying, the Parade of Flight had concluded. But, the flying wasn’t over yet… in fact, the highlight finale of the Centennial Celebration was on it’s way at that very moment.

When we first had heard about the chance of an entire Air Wing flyover at the end of the show, everyone was beyond excited. It’s not everyday you get to see a modern 35-45 aircraft in a massive formation that stretches a mile or more. It was the climatic event that everyone was waiting for, and all eyes turned skyward searching for the massive group of aircraft right after the last formation of Super Hornets disappeared from the skies during the end of the Parade of Flight. After what seemed like such a short time for the Parade of Flight which was actually a long time, now the pace slowed down and every second seemed to drag as people scanned the skies waiting. Unfortunately, the direction in which the Air Wing was arriving looked right into the sun; their flight path would take them over the island and into San Diego, which required the temporary pausing of incoming flights to San Diego airport as a precaution. Scanning the skies feverously, everyone waited cameras in hand for the big moment. One other handicap for all of us out by the shoreline was two large hangars directly behind us standing very high up into the air, which would mean we’d suddenly see the Air Wing appear out of nowhere from the top of the hangars. And that’s exactly what happened, to the sudden surprise of everyone. A silent hush fell over the entire area in the few seconds before the first dot appeared, and that dot multiplied… and multiplied… and multiplied. In fact, it kept multiplying until this incredible sight unfolded.

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Author and photographer BRITT DIETZ has been attending airshows for as long as he can remember.  Growing up with the former Marine Corps Air Stations El Toro and Tustin in his backyard, he's been exposed to every type of modern military aircraft.  Britt began shooting photography at Airshows during the last El Toro airshow in 1997, shortly before the base closed. He soon found an intense passion for the aviation photography trade, and continued to harness this love traveling to airshows all over the West Coast. In 2003, Britt launched his first Aviation Photography website and company called Warbird Photos Aviation Photography, and has been shooting professional aviation photography ever since having been published in various magazines, newspapers, books, and calendars.