Westover ARB Air Show

Our friend Heather Panic who is a rated but not current pilot and PhD student at Brandeis emailed us to ask if we wanted to go to the air show at Westover Air Base with her and her husband Sacha. Unfortunately Abby is in Florida this weekend at a conference but I was available Sunday. Looking at the website for the air show I discovered you can fly in and called the phone number. You can park on the south ramp and then there is a shuttle. No charge for parking, and he suggested that if possible
I “fuel through”. I hadn’t heard this term before but I gathered that it meant they would be busy refueling air show aircraft and they’d rather not have to sell me fuel (although the price was reasonable).

On my early morning drive to the airport it was quite foggy in spots. I filed an IFR flight plan when I arrived although the sky was actually starting to clear especially towards the west which is the direction we would be headed. The IFR clearance was quite simple “Cleared to Westover via Radar Vectors Gardner, then Direct, climb and maintain 3000 expected 6000 5 minutes after departure”. Runway 14 was in use at Nashua. Although when we departed it was clear above the airport we were climbing towards and then above a receding stratus deck off the ocean. We were in VMC the whole way.

Our IFR trip from Nashua to Westover in the morning.

Our IFR trip from Nashua to Westover in the morning.

Not long after passing Gardner we descended and then slowed for some other traffic ahead. The controller instructed us to intercept the localizer and I showed Heather how to pull up the plate on Foreflight and enter the localizer frequency. Following traffic ahead I landed on runway 23. I should have landed long since the south pad taxiway is alll the way at the end! But, you get to roll past the whole airshow on your way down the runway.

Approaching Westover/CEF, photo by Sacha Panic.

Approaching Westover/CEF, photo by Sacha Panic.

Once parked I put out some chocks and set the control lock. There were a bunch of airplanes parked out on the south ramp already and more arriving in trail. It was just a few minutes before the air show TFR started at 8:45 (although I noticed on Flightaware a few aircraft arrived IFR just after 8:45, aircraft under control of ATC are excepted). Now we were on the ground until the Blue Angels finished at around 5PM!

We rode the shuttle bus to a metal detector/bag search area and then a quick walk past a number of HUGE hangars to the main apron and the airshow. Westover is home to the 337th Airlift Squadron flying the massive C-5 Galaxy. There were a few C-5s out on the ramp along with fighters, bombers and cargo planes. Two of the huge C-5s and the C-17 were open so you could walk through inside and see where cargo sits.

C17 Globemaster.

C17 Globemaster.

Walking further down the ramp there was an area of older historic aircraft mostly from the WWII era. It’s pretty incredible to look up close at a flying B-17 that flew during WWII. While we were checking out this area there were a few warbirds flying in formation that eventually taxied in with a deep rumble.

We walked back to find lunch and a spot of out of the sun under the wing of a C5 to watch various aerial displayed by Nashua’s own Rob Holland, Sean Tucker, the Canadian Snowbirds, the F-22 Raptor which flew in formation with a P-51 mustang, and finally the Blue Angels. It was a great show!

I made it on the second bus back to the south pad and Heather and Sacha on the next one so I could get a head start on the preflight. Similar but much smaller to the queue of cars leaving there were now planes lining up on the taxiway leading to runway 5. With 11,500 feet of runway available and a light crosswind under 10 knots this was now conveniently the runway in use. The queue was a bit smaller by the time my companions arrived and we started up and did a quick run up as we got into the short line. To keep things simple, everyone is departing VFR.

After takeoff I leveled off at 3000 feet and handed the airplane over the Heather for the trip back. It’s bit a while since she has flown but despite the now bumpy afternoon air she had no problems taking us to Nashua. She handed it back over to me for the descent. Runway 14 was still in use and after calling tower I was set up for a right base to 14. ATIS declared winds to be gusting to 19 knots but I didn’t feel that was accurate at the time of my landing.

After taxiing to my parking spot and getting out to push the plane back we spotted Rob Holland’s custom MXS airplane in front of his hangar which is not far away. I guess he managed to take off a bit before us when departing the air show! He might’ve been a bit faster, too…