The jet powered truck Shockwave tries out its propulsion system on the runway.

A lot of students believe that history is boring and simply deals with stuff in the past. Well, that may be true if you have the wrong teacher. Here in the Stevenson Public History Program we believe that history is vibrant, active, and fun. We believe in “doing” history as opposed to simply reading about it. This past weekend we went to an event at Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana near Virginia Beach, Virginia. The idea was to participate in an event as old as the development of the airplane: the airshow.

In the 1920s and 1930s, “barnstormers” crisscrossed the United States as they brought their death defying performances to local pastures and airfields. Local crowds gathered to watch stunt performers engage in aerial acrobatics (aerobatics) and to watch as daredevils walked on the wings of airplanes in flight. The planes flew low, engaged in lops and rolls, climbed into the heavens— and then plummeted toward earth as if they were going to crash. Only at the last moment would the pilot pull back on the “stick” and save himself from certain death. How can we capture the feel of those events in history in our contemporary world? Go to an airshow!!!!

Greg Shelton and “Sam” the Wingwalker taxi down the runway having just returned from their performance.

Greg Shelton and his “Super Stearman” airplane were the perfect platform by which wingwalker “Sam” performed her amazing routine far above the crowd. Whether the Stearman was looping, rolling, climbing, or plummeting, “Sam” was incredible in her ability to recapture the golden days of wingwalking. The Stearman has a unique engine sound as well as look that brings us back to the 1930s– its two wings and 450 hp engine make it extremely maneuverable. Back in 1943 it was part of my dad’s training as a Navy pilot in Corpus Christi, Texas.

A few AT-6 “Texans” fly by in formation. Known to the US Navy as the SNJ.

A number of AT-6 “Texans” provided a demonstration of WWII aerial tactics to the crowd at Oceana as part of the airshow. Used as a primary flight trainer by the armed services during WWII, the AT-6 was usually a step or two before a pilot was given control of his fighter or multi-engine aircraft. With the unique sound of piston engines exhibited by all aircraft at the time, it’s amazing to hear them roar over you and to realize that what you’re hearing would have been present at Pearl Harbor– twenty times the number and with explosions and gunfire increasing the volume.

Of course, as good as the piston driven aircraft were, it was the Blue Angels for whom the crowds had gathered. The US Navy’s precision aerial team, the Blue Angels have been in existence since 1946. Above they demonstrate their formation flying capability.

With their landing gear extended and tailhooks deployed, these Angels show how to get ready for a carrier landing…. or maybe not!

Once again–the finest precision military aerial team in the world!

While the Blue Angels are a wonderful precision team and are as showy as you can get, it seemed that the hometown crowd’s hearts were stolen by the local Navy pilots stationed at Oceana NAS. Below you will see an F-18 Hornet taxiing in from its performance that showed the crowd what it means to be a Navy pilot.

Displaying the skills required to operate in today’s combat zones, this crew showed everyone what the Fleet Air Arm is all about. These are the aircrews protecting us on a daily basis and it was wonderful to see them doing their job.

The airshow was dedicated to the Navy Wounded Warrior/ Safe Harbor Program. As a way of displaying how that program helps former Navy and Coast Guard personnel with disabilities find a new meaning in life the crowd was honored to observe three Wounded Warrior heroes skydive to a precision landing.

Oh, and that truck on top is really neat. Shockwave is powered by three jet engines and has been performing for 30 years. It is a staple at airshows around the US and races a jet at every airshow. To see a jet cross the threshold of a runway and Shockwave begin to race it down the runway is truly amazing. It may not prove much, and it may not be very educational, but it makes a great picture!