"West Virginia's Greatest Airshow"

Celebrating 100 Years of Shepherd Field

Chaz JT

8/30/20234 min read

When I was a young kid, around 7 years old, my parents took me to Shepherd Field in Martinsburg, West Virginia, to witness the USAF Thunderbirds' performance at an airshow. While I don't recall many details from that specific event, the memory stayed with me. Nearly three decades later, my excitement peaked when it was announced that Shultz Airshows would organize "West Virginia's Greatest Airshow," commemorating the 100th anniversary of Shepherd Field.

Although the announcement came during the winter, and I understood it was too short notice for the Thunderbirds or Blue Angels to participate, the showcased acts didn't disappoint. The event, spanning two days, was headlined by the F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team and featured approximately four hours of aerial displays each day.

This show also happened to be the first time I attended an airshow on multiple days. Given its proximity to my home, I had made up my mind to attend both days as soon as the announcement was made. Marking the first significant airshow in Martinsburg in nearly two decades, the event boasted an impressive static display, featuring the A-10 Thunderbolt II, C-17 Globemaster III, C-130 Hercules, T-6 Texan II, V-22 Osprey, Blackhawk, Sea Stallion helicopters, and more.

Both days commenced with a captivating performance by the US Army Golden Knights paratrooper team, wowing the audience with their introductory routine, which included displaying the US flag and the West Virginia state flag as they descended. Saturday saw the presence of West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, who addressed the crowd for approximately five minutes as part of the opening ceremonies.

The flight demonstrations for both days started with a C-5M Super Galaxy from Dover AFB, followed by the 167th Airlift Wing based at Shepherd Field, showcasing their own C-17 Globemaster III. The 167th Airlift Wing, formerly operating the C-5 Galaxy before transitioning to the C-17 Globemaster III, holds its base at Shepherd Field, making it especially meaningful to witness a C-5 sent down from Dover AFB.

The acrobatic displays by Skip Stewart, Jerry Wells, and Warbird Thunder were truly exceptional! Skip Stewart consistently steals the show wherever he performs, and this weekend was no different. The impeccable flying weather on both days enhanced the impact of the acrobatic performances, with the trailing smoke creating a striking contrast against the vivid blue skies.

The B-25 Mitchell bomber "Panchito" graced the event, taking to the skies for approximately 10 to 15 minutes each day. Similar to the acrobatic acts, the sunlight danced off the aircraft's sheet metal exterior, creating a mesmerizing spectacle.

The US Army Golden Knights took the stage for a second performance each day, astonishing the audience with their tandem parachute routine and a demonstration of what unfolds when a skydiver needs to deploy their reserve parachute. A collective gasp swept through the crowd as the skydiver deliberately released his primary chute, followed by the deployment of the reserve parachute.

Jerry Conley and his de Havilland Vampire fighter jet delivered an impressive demonstration of the Royal Air Force's second jet-powered aircraft. Despite entering service in 1946, this aircraft can really move! Its raw speed took me by surprise.

The highlight of the event was the F-22 Raptor demonstration from Langley AFB. The immediate cobra maneuver during takeoff had the crowd captivated throughout the entire performance. On Saturday, as the primary F-22 developed a mechanical issue halfway through the flight, the pilot skillfully landed the aircraft and swiftly transitioned into the backup aircraft to conclude the demonstration. Sunday's performance proceeded flawlessly, drawing exclamations of awe from the audience as the fighter jet put on an extraordinary display!

Throughout the weekend, the crowds were fantastic, fueling hopes for the establishment of an annual event. Considering that West Virginia hosts only a limited number of major airshows, the enthusiastic response from the state's population, evident in the substantial turnout, underscores a strong appetite for more such events.