In 2022, Miramar hosted its first airshow post the pandemic. Since the airshow at Miramar is marketed as one of the largest military airshows in the US, large crowds were expected during the three day show on the 23rd, 24th, and 25th September. As a result, MAR opted to gain access to the base on the Thursday before the show, to ensure that the large crowds did not not interfere with photography. In hindsight, this proved to be a wise decision since even on the day before the airshow started, several tents were being erected in front of aircraft, therefore reducing the possibilities for decent photography.

Furthermore, photographers are shooting against the sun for most of the day, and it was therefore pointless to focus on the flying display. Its a pity that they do not allow photographers to cross to the other side of the runway like they used to do in the past, with such a varied flying display. Having said that, MAR’s main interests were mainly the fixed and rotary wing assets of the USMC since many types are being retired in favour of more modern and capable aircraft, and in this regard the show did not disappoint at all.

The three day event attracted plenty of aircraft, both in the air and on the ground. The main highlights of the flying display including the MAGTF demo, the F-22 heritage flight, the return of the Blue Angels, the Lockheed U-2, and a very loud and dynamic US Marine Corps F-35B demonstration. Highlights on the ground included mostly assets from the home squadrons at MCAS Miramar, consisting of various fixed and rotary wing aircraft belonging to the US Marine Corps, as well as the presence of the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, its arrival surely one of the main highlights during MAR’s visit on Thursday.

MCAS Miramar – History

MCAS Miramar is a world famous air base in California owing to its rich history in US naval aviation. In 1846 during the Mexican-American War, a detachment of Marines from the second-class Sloop-of-War Cyane landed here to raise the American flag above the Plaza in what’s now called Old Town.

Although both the Navy and Army had established facilities on North Island in 1912, Miramar’s military roots were not planted until 1917, when the Army purchased the Miramar area and created Camp Kearny, named for Gen. Stephen Kearny, whose Army of the West had captured California during the Mexican-American War. Miramar lay dormant for a few more years until the clouds of war again appeared on the U.S. horizon. In 1947, the Marines moved to El Toro in Orange County, and Miramar was redesignated as a Naval Auxiliary Air Station.

Miramar found new life as a Navy Master Jet Station in the 1950s, but really came into its own during the Vietnam War. The Navy needed a school to train pilots in dog-fighting and in fleet air defense. In 1969 the Top Gun school was established (and immortalized by the 1985 movie of the same name).In October 1972, Miramar welcomed the famed F-14 Tomcat. VF-124’s mission was to train Tomcat crews for aircraft carrier operations. The first two operational Tomcat squadrons, VF-1 and VF-2, trained here before deploying aboard USS Enterprise (CVN-65) in 1974. These squadrons flew “top cover” during the evacuation of Saigon in 1975.

In 1993, the Base Realignment and Closure Committee recommended closing the El Toro and Tustin air stations and moving the Marines to Miramar. Top Gun and the Navy’s F-14 Tomcat and E-3 Hawkeye squadrons were relocated and the base was once again redesignated as Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. Marines began arriving in August 1994, and by 1997 MCAS Miramar was fully operational. In 1999, El Toro and Tustin were closed.

Nowadays, MCAS Miramar serves as home to the 3rd & 4th Marine Aircraft Wing with MAG-11 and MAG-16’s fixed and rotary wing squadrons operating various aircraft types such as the Mcdonnel Douglas F/A-18C hornet, the MV-22B Osprey, the CH-53E Stallion, the Lockheed Martin F-35C, the Lockheed Martin KC-130J, and the UC-12W & UC-35D. The based squadrons are the following:

Squadron BadgeSquadron DesignationAircraft Type/sSquadron Name
VMFA-232McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C HornetRed Devils
VMFA-323McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C HornetDeath Rattlers
VMFAT-101McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C/D HornetSharpshooters
VMFA-314Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning IIBlack Knights
VMGR-352Lockheed Martin KC-130J HerculesRaiders
HMH-361Sikorsky CH-53E Super StallionFlying Tigers
HMH-462Sikorsky CH-53E Super StallionHeavy Haulers
HMH-465Sikorsky CH-53E Super StallionWarhorses
HMH-466Sikorsky CH-53E Super StallionWolfpack
VMM-161Bell-Boeing MV-22B OspreyGreyhawks
VMM-163Bell-Boeing MV-22B OspreyEvil Eyes
VMM-165Bell-Boeing MV-22B OspreyWhite Knights
VMM-362Bell-Boeing MV-22B Osprey
Bell AH-1Z Viper
Bell UH-1Y Venom
Ugly Angels
VMM-764Bell-Boeing MV-22B OspreyMoonlight
VMR-2Hawker Beechcraft UC-12W King Air &
Cessna UC-35D Citation Encore

As expected, upon entering the show grounds, one was greeted by a large number of US Marine Corps aircraft, not only from based units but also from other nearby units such as from MCAS Yuma just up the road from MCAS Miramar.

Starting with the based hornet squadrons, upon arrival one could note the boss bird of VMFA-232 Red Devils along with no less than 3 F/A-18 Hornets belonging to VMFAT-101 Sharpshooters. Of these three hornets, one was in full desert camouflage (164050) whereas the other two consisted of a standard grey single seater (164734) and a standard grey two seater (165530). At the far end of the showground, one could also note several flight lines of based F/A-18 squadrons from the Red Devils and the Sharpshooters. Sadly, there were no hornets representing the Death Rattlers in the static display despite spotting some ‘DR’ tails in between the hornet flight lines.

To make up for the lack of VMFA-323 Death Rattlers in the static park, a visiting USMC F/A-18C (165201) from the Silver Eagles squadron based at MCAS Beaufort in South Carolina was a very welcome surprise. To make it even better, the aircraft that participated in the show was the boss bird of the VMFA-115 squadron!

In addition to the legacy F-18 hornets, one could also note a large number of MV-22B Ospreys scattered across the static display and the show ground itself. Perhaps this was to be expected owing to the fact that MCAS Miramar hosts no less than 5 MV-22B squadrons. In the static park, there was one MV-22B in special livery belonging to VMM-362 ‘Ugly Angels’, followed by 2 MV-22B Ospreys belonging to VMM-764 ‘Moonlight’, and another two MV-22B Ospreys belonging to VMM-161 ‘Greyhawks’. An additional 2 Ospreys belonging to VMM-165 ‘White Knights’ participated in the flying display as part of the MAGTF demonstration.

The USMC is currently going through a regeneration process, as it transitions to more modern and more capable aircraft. One aircraft which is taking over the role currently occupied by the ageing F/A-18 hornets is the Lockheed Martin F-35, which was present in force both in the air and on the ground. There were three examples of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning IIs, with an F-35C flanked by two F-35Bs. The first example was the first ever F-35B (ZM135) to be delivered to the RAF, and is based at Edwards AFB, California for operational testing and evaluation with the 461st FLTS.

The F-35C (169634) placed in the middle of the trio belonged to USMC VMFA-314 ‘Black Knights’, is based at MCAS Miramar and deploys with carrier air wing 9 on USS Abraham Lincoln. The F-35B on the far left (169925) performed its first flight in April of this year and has been assigned to US Marine Corps VMFA-225 ‘Vikings’ based at MCAS Yuma. In addition, the USMC F-35B also participated in the flying display with a solo demonstration of its capabilities as well as with a two ship of F-35Bs as part of the MAGTF demo.

Since MCAS Miramar also hosts no less than 4 CH-53E Stallion squadrons, in the static display one could also not miss two CH-53Es with their imposing stature, one belonging to HMH-466 ‘Wolfpack’ (serial ‘162011’) and one belonging to VMGR-362 (serial ‘162500’). Additional CH-53Es could be noted scattered across the showground and in the maintenance hangars.

The CH-53E Super Stallion is the Marine Corps’ primary heavy lift helicopter and has been in service for over 30 years. Currently, 152 CH-53E helicopters are in service with the Marines and another 28 MH-53Es are in service with the U.S Navy. The CH-53E requires 44 maintenance hours per flight hour, which in itself costs about $20,000.

As the Marine Corps’ heavy lift helicopter designed for the transportation of material and supplies, the CH-53E is compatible with most amphibious class ships and is carried routinely aboard LHA (Landing, Helicopter, Assault: an amphibious assault ship), LPH (Landing Platform, Helicopter: an amphibious assault ship) and now LHD (Landing, Helicopter, Dock: an amphibious assault ship) type ships. The helicopter is capable of lifting 16 tons (14.5 metric tons) at sea level, transporting the load 50 nautical miles (57.5 miles) and returning. A typical load would be a 16,000 pound (7264 kilogram) M198 howitzer or a 26,000 pound (11,804 kilogram) Light Armored Vehicle. The aircraft also can retrieve downed aircraft including another CH-53E. The 53E is equipped with a refueling probe and can be refueled in flight giving the helicopter indefinite range. 

Armed with window-mounted .50-caliber machine guns, chaff and flare dispensers for anti-air defense, an in-flight refueling probe for limitless range and a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) imager for night and all-weather navigation, the Marine CH-53E is commonly called on for assault transport of Marine ground forces. Though long-range insertion missions are standard protocol for this Marine workhorse, it is the rapid resupply of Marines at the forefront that makes the Super Stallion one of the most used aircraft in Marine Aviation. Furthermore, the Super Stallion incorporates GPS, doppler radar, FLIR, and ANVIS-HUD sensors, and carries 7.62mm and 50 caliber guns. Communications include UHF/VHF/HF radios, secure comm. capability, and IFF.

Additional USMC assets in the static display included a Beech T-34C Turbo Mentor, a Bell UH-1Y Venom, a Bell AH-1Z Viper, a Lockheed Martin KC-130J and an MQ-9A Reaper, another sign of the modernisation currently taking place within the USMC.

The T-34C has been in use with the US Navy and the US Marines Corps since the 70’s as a training aircraft. It is designed in a way that it trains pilots to be better aviators since pilots have to pay more attention to the aircraft and its surroundings. At MCAS Miramar, the aircraft is primarily used by experienced F/A-18 Instructor Pilots and FAC(A) qualified aviators. Their purpose is to assist student pilots with entering an area of responsibility and either engaging an enemy or dropping dummy bombs. While these hornets fly, the instructor also acts as the grader, letting students know how he did on said course of fire.

In the static display, one could also note a Bell AH-1Z Viper and a Bell UH-1Y Venom both from Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 362 (VMM-362) based at MCAS Miramar.

The UH-1Y variant is a modernised version of the UH-1N. The Y-model boasts a glass cockpit, which includes further safety modifications, and provides the UH-1 with a modern forward-looking infrared system. Its most noticeable upgrade over previous variants is more engine power and a four-blade, all-composite rotor system designed to withstand up to 23 mm rounds. By replacing the engines and the two-bladed rotor system with four composite blades, the Y-model returns the Huey to the utility role for which it was designed. A 21-inch (530 mm) fuselage extension just forward of the main door was added for more capacity. The UH-1Y features upgraded transmissions and a digital cockpit with flat-panel multi functional displays. Compared to the UH-1N, the Y-model has an increased payload, almost 50% greater range, a reduction in vibration, and higher cruising speed.

On the other hand, the Bell AH-1Z Viper is a twin-engine attack helicopter, based on the AH-1W Super Cobra. The AH-1Z incorporates various improvements and advances over the AH-1W, including new rotor technology, upgraded military avionics, updated weapons systems, and electro-optical sensors in an integrated weapons platform. Amongst other advantages provided by these changes, it has improved survivability and can locate targets at longer ranges and also attack them using precision weapons. The airframe was extensively redesigned to maximise crashworthiness; measures include energy-absorbing landing gear, fuel vapor inerting systems, self-sealing fuel tanks, energy-attenuating crashworthy seating, and a mass retention design approach applied to many major components. Active systems include countermeasure dispensers, radar warning, incoming/on-way missile warning, on-fuselage laser spot warning systems, and the Hover Infrared Suppression System (HIRSS) to protect the engine exhausts.

The largest aircraft operated by the USMC is the Lockheed Martin KC-130J Hercules. MCAS Miramar is host to Marine Aerial Refueller Transport Squadron 352 (VMGR-352) known as the ‘Raiders’. VMGR-352 forms part of Marine Aircraft Group 11 (MAG-11), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (3rd MAW) and provide both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aerial refueling capabilities to support Fleet Marine Force (FMF) air operations in addition to assault air transport of personnel, equipment, and supplies. Two KC-130J’s were noted during our visit at Miramar, one in the static display (167984) and one participating in the MAGTF demo (166382).

A mentioned earlier, among the USMC aircraft in the static display, one could note an MQ-9A Reaper belonging to Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1 (VMU-1) from nearby MCAS Yuma. The MQ-9A Reaper is used to provide reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition for the I Marine Expeditionary Force. They fall under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 13 and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. In the fall of 2021, VMU-1 accepted its first two MQ-9A aircraft becoming the first operationally ready MQ-9A squadron in the United States Marine Corps.

The United States Air Force also supported the event in large numbers. Perhaps the most significant presence at the show was contributed by the presence of several heavies, including both cargo aircraft and bombers such as a C-5 Galaxy from Dover AFB (86-0024), a KC-135R from March AFB (58-0085), and a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress from Barksdale AFB (61-0031/BD). Despite witnessing the arrival of the KC-135R and the C-5 Galaxy, photography was very challenging as they taxied against the sun. On the other hand, the B-52 was a personal highlight as it taxied past us on its way to its parking spot on the apron, with its screaming engines informing all of San Diego of its arrival at Miramar.

Besides heavies, the United States Air Forces also sent over no less than 3 T-38A Talons for the static park, with two coming from Sheppard AFB (67-14849 & 69-7073) and one from Beale AFB (65-10429/BB). In addition, the USAF sent over a specially painted T-1 Jayhawk (92-0338/RA) from Randolph AFB, a C-21A Learjet (84-0079), and five F-15Cs (86-0144 & 84-0017), 2 from the 144 Fighter Wing and three from Louisiana ANG (81-0036, 81-0041, & 84-0022).

Among the unique aircraft on static display was also a UH-60A Blackhawk (79-23297) operated by the US Customs. The UH-60A Black Hawk variant helicopters are medium lift tactical helicopters used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations (AMO) to protect the American public from terrorism and drug smuggling, and to enforce airspace security over critical venues. A minimum crew consisting of a Pilot and Co-Pilot, operate the aircraft. However, a third crew member often provides support for operational missions.

The UH-60 variant helicopters are powerful enough to carry necessary personnel and equipment without sacrificing speed and range to perform missions such as: maritime, aviation, and land interdiction; insertion of agents in remote areas; and joint operations during contingency operations and national taskings.

UH-60 variants are used to conduct search and rescue operations over land because of its hoist and spacious interior, which allows aircrew to recover, assess and stabilize injured persons. These helicopters are also used for external load and fast rope operations to move equipment and personnel to remote locations.

A very welcome addition to the static display was the presence of Doc, one of 1,644 B-29 Superfortress aircraft manufactured in Wichita during World War II. Originally, the aircraft was delivered to the US Army in March 1945 with serial 44-69972. In July of 1951, Doc was assigned to radar calibration duty, along with a few other B-29s. The squadron was known as the Seven Dwarfs. In May of 1955, Doc was assigned to target-towing duty and in March a year later, Doc and the rest of its squadron became targets for bomb training at China Lake, California.

The aircraft was discovered rotting away in the Mojave Desert in 1987 by Tony Mazzolini who started working to restore the historic warbird to flying status to serve as a flying museum. It would take another 12 years before Mazzolini and his team would be able to take possession of the airplane from the U.S. government. After arranging for an inspection by an expert on aging Boeing aircraft, Mazzolini realized it would take extensive resources and specific expertise to return the Doc to flying condition. So the B-29 returned to Wichita in sections on flatbed trailers in May of 2000. Volunteers began the process of reassembling the B-29 and drew up plans to restore the historic warbird which was now sitting a few hundred feet from where it first rolled off the Boeing-Wichita assembly line some 50+ years before.

In February of 2013, a group of Wichita aviation enthusiasts & business leaders led by retired Spirit AeroSystems CEO Jeff Turner formed Doc’s Friends, a non-profit board to manage the restoration project and help see it through to completion. After a mammoth 15 year restoration, including work by over 150 volunteers, she flew again on 17th July 2016, and is nowadays flying as an aircraft museum at various airshows across the US.

Additional static aircraft of interest not seen during our media visit included the presence of a US Navy F/A-18F (166635) from VX-31, a US Coast Guard MH-60T, and an OV-10A and S-2F3AT Turbo Tracker belonging to the California Department of Forestry. The flying display of the show itself was very impressive with many highlights, such as the MAGTF demo featuring two F/A-18Cs, two F-35Bs, one KC-130J, one AH-1Z, one UH-IY, one CH-53E and two MV-22Bs. Additional highlights included the F-22 raptor demo, the US Navy Blue Angels and FAT Albert, a rare display by the U-2, and the C-17 Demo (08-8200).

All in all, it was a very enjoyable day out that enabled MAR to view up close and personal most assets belonging to the Marine Corps, especially the legacy F/A-18C/D Hornets and rotary aircraft such as the CH-53E, UH-1Y Venom and AH-1Z Viper. The only criticism we have is mainly related to the setting up of chairs and tents too close to the aircraft which makes photography challenging for aviation photojournalists. Maybe this report may help address this issue for future editions of this show.

A special thanks goes to the Public Affairs Office of MCAS Miramar who made sure that we had everything we needed on the day and gave us access to pretty much all areas of the showground.