by Aaron Haase
The 2023 USAF Heritage Flight Conference took place at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona between the 2nd and 5th of March. This annual formation training clinic which features select civilian pilots in their warbirds and designated U.S. Air Force display pilots in their modern warplanes is always an interesting prelude to the air show season in North America. Some 32 sorties took place at this year’s conference, including full tactical demonstrations from the Air Combat Command (ACC) demonstrations teams, partial demonstrations, and multiple variations of the Air Force Heritage Flight.
The warbirds at this year’s conference included seven Mustangs (six P-51Ds and one TF-51), an F-86 Sabre (which did not fly during the conference), and two Northrop F-5E Tigers. The Tiger is a new addition in the Air Force Heritage Flight’s program, although the type has been featured in their manual since 2020.
The four ACC components included the F-22A Raptor Demonstration Team, the F-35A Lighting II Demonstration Team, the F-16C Viper Demonstration Team, and the A-10C Thunderbolt II Demonstration Team. 2023 marks the performance debuts for Capt Samuel “RaZZ” Larson of the F-22A Raptor Demonstration Team and Capt Lindsay “Mad” Johnson of the A-10C Thunderbolt II Demonstration Team. Demo team veterans Maj Kristin “Beo” Wolfe of the F-35A Lighting II Demonstration Team and Capt Aimee “Rebel” Fiedler of the F-16C Viper Demonstration Team continued their roles with their respective demo teams. Former A-10C demonstration pilot, Maj Haden “Gator” Fullam, flew several sorties as well in their Warthog. The eight civilian pilots included: Ret. Lt Col Tommy “Limiter” Williams, Ret. Lt Col Charlie “Tuna” Hainline, Ret. Lt Col Greg “BA” Anders, Steve Hinton Jr., Jim Beasley, Dan Friedkin, Dr. Bruce Winter, and Stuart Milson.
I arrived around 12:00 PM local time on Thursday, March 2nd to witness one of the F-5E Tigers flying with the F-35A Lightning II demonstration team. This was the last flight of the morning series, which I missed due to my late arrival. Other flights that morning included the A-10C flying with the F-22A. A rare snowfall that morning limited some of the flying, but it did present a beautiful backdrop on the mountains behind Davis-Monthan AFB. The afternoon flying started off with the A-10C Demo Team flying alongside Steve Hinton Jr. in P-51D Mustang Wee Willy II. Next up, the F-22 Demo Team flew its full tactical show, which “Tuna” Hainline then joined in TF-51D Bum Steer. After these aircraft recovered, the F-16 team made its full tactical demonstration, but had to abort the Heritage Flight component; even so, “BA” Anders practiced his planned routine in P-51D Double Trouble Two. The last heritage flight of the day included the F-35A Demo Team flying a partial routine followed by a heritage flight with Dan Friedkin in an F-5E Tiger. The A-10C Demo Deam concluded the day’s flying in the late afternoon with an impressive tactical display.
On Friday, March 3rd, I was invited to the base, where I was able to check out each of the aircraft involved. Most of the military teams brought two jets, except for the Viper Demo Team, which brought three F-16s. The warbird component included the following:
P-51D Mustang 44-12473 Moonbeam McSwine – N51VL – Warbird Heritage Foundation
P-51D Mustang 44-84961 Wee Willy II – N7715C -Planes of Fame Air Museum
P-51D Mustang 44-74452 Happy Jacks Go Buggy – N74190 -Dr. Bruce Winter
P-51D Mustang 44-12852 Frenesi – N357FG – (no sorties at the conference) – Comanche Fighters/Dan Friedkin
P-51D Mustang 44-73029 Bald Eagle – N51JB – Jim Beasley
P-51D Mustang 44-73856 Double Trouble Two – N7TF – Comanche Fighters/Dan Friedkin
TF-51D Mustang 67-14866 Bum Steer – N20TF – Commanche Fighters/Dan FriedkinCL-13B Sabre 6 RCAF23671 Hell-Er Bust X – N1FT – Commanche Fighters/Dan Friedkin F-5E Tiger II 76-1529 – N64FK – Commanche Fighters/Dan Friedkin F-5E Tiger II 76-1539 – N65FK – Commanche Fighters/Dan Friedkin
In total, eight warbirds participated in the flying activities. The first flight of the day started off with the F-35A Demo Team performing a partial demonstration and then joining up with Stuart Milson in Moonbeam McSwine. The F-16C Demo Team was up next but had to abort before takeoff. The next operations involved Capt. Lindsay “Mad” Johnson’s ACC Certification Flight to become the A-10C Demonstration Team’s commander, which went very well. “Mad” received the certification from COMACC Gen Mark Kelly. Next up was the F-22 Demo Team, with “RaZZ” flying a full tactical routine. The two F-5Es were due to join him in formation, but one of the Tiger IIs had an issue, so the Heritage Flight aborted before takeoff. The last flight of the morning consisted of the A-10C Demo Team flying a partial display; they were then joined by two Mustangs, Greg Anders in Bum Steer and Jim Beasley in Bald Eagle for the Heritage Flight component. The afternoon flights started off with the Viper Demo Team performing its full tactical display. Subsequently, two Mustangs joined “Rebel” in the skies, Steve Hinton Jr. in Wee Willy II and Charlie Hainline in Double Trouble Two.
Up next, the A-10C Demo Team flew a partial display. Stuart Milson and Bruce Winter soon joined them in the skies, piloting P-51D’s Moonbeam McSwine and Happy Jacks Go Buggy, respectively. Once they recovered, the F-22 took center stage with a partial demo. The two F-5E Tiger IIs then joined them, piloted by Tommy Williams and Dan Friedkin. Taking off next, the A-10 Demo Team flew a partial demonstration, then picked up two Mustangs; Greg Anders in Double Trouble Two and Charlie Hainline in Bald Eagle. The last sorties of the day involved the F-35A Demo Team flying a partial routine, with two Mustangs joining in the fun afterward, Jim Beasley in Bum Steer and Steve Hinton Jr. in Wee Willy II.
Saturday, March 4th began with another trip to the base. The morning sorties started off with partial demonstrations involving both A-10 pilots, “Mad” and “Gator”. Stuart Milson subsequently joined them for the Heritage Flight component in P-51D Moonbeam McSwine. The first four ships of the weekend followed. These included the F-22 and F-16 Demo Teams flying partial routines before being joined by a brace of Mustangs, Greg Anders in Bum Steer” and Steve Hinton Jr. in Wee Willy II.
Beo then took up an F-35A to work through a Heritage Flight routine paired with Charlie Hainline in Double Trouble Two and Bruce Winter in Happy Jacks Go Buggy. The next trio involved the Tiger IIs, flown by Tommy Williams and Dan Friedkin, and Jim Beasley in P-51D Bald Eagle. This flight rounded out the morning’s activities. I then headed off base for the afternoon session, which began with the two A-10s flying with two Mustangs, Bum Steer (Anders) and Moonbeam McSwine (Milson). Taking to the skies next, “Beo” took the F-35A through a truncated routine. Three P-51D Mustangs then joined the Lightning II in the skies, Happy Jacks Go Buggy (Winter), Wee Willy II (Hinton), and Double Trouble Two (Hainline). The final flight of the day involved the F-16 going through a partial demonstration, with two Mustangs then joining the Viper in flight, Bum Steer (Williams) and Bald Eagle (Beasley).
Sunday, March 5th started off with perhaps the best flights of the entire weekend. I worked off-base and found some wonderful places to shoot from. The F-22 and F-35 started by flying partial routines. The two F-5E Tiger IIs, with Friedkin and Williams at the controls, then joined them. This was the first four-ship of Heritage Flight jets I have seen in a long time, and perhaps unique considering the types involved.
Next up, an A-10 and F-16 took to the skies, joined for a four-ship with Bruce Winter in Happy Jacks Go Buggy and Steve Hinton Jr. in Wee Willy II. The last flight that morning involved the A-10 Demo Team flying a partial routine. Charlie Hainline and Greg Anders then joined them, flying Mustangs Bum Steer and Double Trouble Two respectively.
The afternoon session started off with the F-22 flying a partial demo. The Raptor then joined up for a four-ship with Moonbeam McSwine (Milson) and the two Tiger IIs (Friedkin and Williams). Next, up, three P-51D Mustangs performed the Heritage Flight profile Double Trouble Two (Hainline), Happy Jacks Go Buggy (Winter), and Wee Willy II (Hinton). After the Mustangs recovered, the three female ACC Certified demonstration pilots took to the skies, Capt Lindsay “Mad” Johnson (A-10C), Capt Aimee “Rebel” Fiedler (F-16C), and Maj Kristin “Beo” Wolfe (F-35A). Ret. Lt. Col Greg Anders then formed up with them in Bum Steer for a beautiful, late afternoon Heritage Flight. This was a wonderful moment in aviation history, and I was thrilled to witness it in person. The last flight for the Air Force Heritage Flight Conference included a full tactical demonstration from the F-22, with “RaZZ” doing the honors. The Raptor then joined up with Wee Willy II for the conference’s final heritage flight.
The Air Force Heritage Flight Conference is an important part of the US air show season. It provides valuable training to the teams to successfully (and safely) complete their performances in front of the public. The continued care of the United States Air Force’s legacy is always a staple at aviation events across the country, and in other parts of the world. It is vital to remember where we have come from in order to better navigate our future. The warbird component of the Air Force Heritage Flight is privately run and involves significant resources to continue – anyone wishing to contribute, should click HERE to find out how they can help.