Editor’s Note: The Navy Tailhook Legacy Flight Foundation needs your help. Funding is needed to provide for civilian warbird aircraft and their crews the opportunity to train at NAS Lemoore with the TACDEMO crews prior to each show season.

These Tailhook Legacy flights have not been flown since 2012 due to budget constraints. Please visit their website today for more information on how you can help.

Bernie Conaway, President of NTLFF, Inc. and CDR Reggie Hammond take us through the paces of F/A-18 Tactical Demonstration and the Navy’s Tailhook Legacy Flight

Imagine standing on the fence at your local air show, your hair standing on end and your ears ringing with the sound of freedom. An F/A-18 Hornet just finished an amazing TACDEMO complete with blowing the leaves off some trees. The constant radius arc of the flyover encompassed the entire show line. The GE motors were really whipping the ponies. The TACDEMO Hornet had its blowers lit and was creating a cloud of “vapor” around the jet as it sped past – an inspiring site to even the most experienced air show fan.

You and a few thousand of your luckiest friends just witnessed 18 minutes of “holy crap” aerobatics from one of our Navy’s Tactical Demonstration teams.


Then you hear the airshow announcer call out: “Now, Commander, Naval Air Forces is proud to present the Tailhook Legacy Flight…”

You wonder to yourself ‘Where had that SB2C Helldiver gone?’ It had taken off before the Hornet but now you spot it coming into focus along the flight line. You’re seeing something straight out of The Final Countdown as the Hornet slides into position on the wing of the old Navy tailhooker. The two aircraft start turning towards the crowd from the right for a “photo pass”.

The announcer calls out: “From the right, ladies and gentlemen, you are about to witness a real treat. We have what amounts to 70 years of Naval history, the finest technology from an era gone by meets the best our country’s defense industry has to offer in two of the most feared naval aircraft of all time.”

The Hornet is perched up on the Helldiver’s wing and the crowd can see the Gladiator emblem on the tail of the jet. Some even spot the whites of the pilots’ eyes in both aircraft.

VFA-106 F/A-18C with a Curtiss SB2C Helldiver at NAS Oceana – Pilots: LCDR Jared “Stewie” Strout and Ed Vesely (Helldiver)

Both aircraft fly past. The Hornet seems to hang in the air next to the old warbird’s classic profile. You can hear and feel the rumbling, magical sound of the 1900hp radial engine in the Helldiver along with the locomotive noise shift of the Hornet’s turbofans as they scream by.

As the airplanes reverse to the left, your heart nearly stops as you realize they are now pointing directly at you. With a “ShoooThhWUMPPPPP” the two aircraft fly right over the top of you. The sound and sight is amazing to experience first hand.

Everyone scrambles to see what’s happening as the airplanes reposition behind the crowd and return to a dazzling breakup. Both aircraft pitch up and away from each other in a beautiful airborne dichotomy, each possessing strength and beauty in different forms.

F/A-18F at Burke Lakefront, Cleveland. Rhino crew: LT Chris “Grippy” Snyder and LT Dan “Trig” Osbourn with Dan McCue in the Corsair (F4U-5NL)

“Airshow Fans, we hope you have enjoyed today’s Tailhook Legacy Flight demonstration, and have gained a better appreciation for the rich legacy and ever-continuing development of Navy carrier aviation.”

The Tailhook Legacy Flight Demonstration–Early Beginnings

That scene played out at hundreds of air shows during the late 90’s and in the first decade of the 21st century. Instructors from VF-101, VFA-106, VFA-125 and VFA-122 flying the Tomcat, Hornet and Super Hornet demonstrated their aircraft’s capabilities to the American public, then joined in formation on a classic warbird from World War II, Korea, or Vietnam. The flights became a visceral, emotional, patriotic, living representation of our shared naval aviation legacy.

Had it not been for some energetic civilian pilots and one enterprising Fighter Wing Commander, these flights would most likely never have taken place. The genesis of the Tailhook Legacy Program can be linked back to the Kalamazoo Air Zoo’s annual air show. The museum started a “Flight of the Grumman Cats” that featured most of the World War 2 Grumman fighters along with an F-14 Tomcat flown by CAPT Dale “Snort” Snodgrass. Snort’s involvement with the Air Zoo culminated in the “Flight of the Twin Engine Grumman Cats” at select shows in 1996.

Tomcat and F7F

This demonstration featured an F7F Tigercat flying aerobatics with an F-14 in close formation. Between 1996 and 1999, the newly coined “Tailhook Legacy Flight” was flown at the NAS Oceana air show.

These dissimilar flights were very well received by air show audiences. So much so that in late 1999, Commander Naval Air Forces Pacific (“AIRPAC”) initiated an official training program with the assistance of Mr. Steve Barber, the lead pilot of the Commemorative Air Forces’ SoCal Wing.

Originally an AIRPAC only program, it soon expanded to the east coast as well. For the next ten years the Tailhook Legacy program cruised along on its own momentum. At times the civilian warbird pilots paid their own way, but the Navy was able to allocate funding to pay for training once a year at NAS Lemoore. Additionally, the Navy also managed to pay for some of the fuel needed for the warbird aircraft to transit to and from air shows.

Budget Woes Cancel Tailhook Legacy Program

America knows the military’s relationship with airshows, along with all of its numerous recruiting programs. The Blue Angels, the Air Force’s Thunderbirds and all military tactical demonstration teams had their seasons canceled in 2013 due to the budget shortfalls of sequestration. The airshow industry reeled from the cancellations as most major attractions were grounded. Many airshows were canceled while others soldiered on with decreased crowds and fewer displays in the sky.

It was not until late 2014 that the F/A-18 TACDEMO program finally took to the air again during the NAS Oceana show in September. Unfortunately, both VFA-106 at NAS Oceana, VA, and VFA-122 at NAS Lemoore, CA, were able to only fly shortened demo schedules in 2015.

Unfortunately, the warbirds were not part of the equation for those two years.

F-18F and Corsair (F4U-5NL) ready for takeoff

The plan for 2016 was to add more shows to the schedule and also bring back the Tailhook Legacy program. However, both TACDEMO squadrons had to cancel their first quarter performances because of flight hour shortfalls. This also resulted in the cancellation of the Tailhook Legacy training that was scheduled for February 2016 at NAS Lemoore.

Sadly, no Legacy flights again for the 2016 season.

Working to Preserve the Tailhook Legacy Flight

Enter the Navy Tailhook Legacy Flight Foundation.

In November 2015, the Navy Tailhook Legacy Flight Foundation was incorporated as a non-profit organization to contribute to a more stable environment for this inspiring and exciting program. The Foundation’s mission is, “Maintaining the proud legacy of Navy Tailhook Aviation by keeping it alive and sustainable.”

The goal is to provide private funding for civilian warbird aircraft and their crews to train at NAS Lemoore. Both warbird aircraft and TACDEMO crews need to become familiar with each other and practice formation flying prior to the airshow season. This required training is for both safety and precision.

The funding also pays the costs associated with flying warbird aircraft to and from shows on the Navy’s schedule. Warbird aircraft are primarily operated by museums, foundations, or individuals. Most costs for maintenance and operations are not covered by the hosting air shows. Thus, there is a need for funding to get aircraft to show sites.

F-18C with a Curtiss SB2C Helldiver at NAS Oceana

In an effort to bring back the Legacy program, NLTFF needs your support. The NLTFF is asking for private donations in an effort to bring back the Tailhook Legacy Flight program as early as next year. The NLTFF wants to create a self sustaining program for the future.

Participation of operational Navy aircraft in such flyovers serves to salute historic Naval aircraft and the people who flew and maintained them. It also encourages  younger generations to “Fly Navy”. Most importantly, it provides a lasting legacy to our country’s great aviation heritage.

The near term goal is to get TACDEMO teams and warbird aircraft flying again for the 2017 airshow season. Future goals include supporting a Tailhook Legacy Flight program with VFA-125 when that squadron starts flying the F-35C Lightning II in 2018. Now is the time to put a plan in place for next year, so airshow crowds can see and feel the sights and rumbles of Legacy Flights again.

Thankfully, the effort is gaining some traction. Please visit www.ntlff.org today and be a part of something special!

Top Photo: F/A-18F at Burke Lakefront, Aircrew: Cleveland LT Chris “Grippy” Snyder and LT Dan “Trig” Osbourn with Dan McCue in the Corsair (F4U-5NL)