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Andrews AFB Joint Service Open House: A Look Back

For over 35 consecutive years the Andrews Air Force Base Joint Service Open House had been a major happening in the Washington DC area each May. In 2013 the USAF 11th Wing announced the cancellation of the Joint Service Open House. The open house was to be a bi-annual event. In 2014 the USAF 11th Wing announced the open houses would were canceled indefinitely. On December 30, 2014 the 11th Wing Public Affairs Office announced Joint Base Andrews will again hold open houses. The open houses will be in September and will be held every other year. The first of these biennial open houses occurred on September 19, 2015.

Joint Base Andrews hosted an Air & Space Expo on the weekend of May 11, 2019. The Blue Angels, the Thunderbirds, and the Golden Knights were among the performances.

Andrews Open Houses 1976-2012

Andrews Air Force Base began hosting the Joint Service Open House in 1976. They were held in May to correspond with Armed Forces Day. The country was in the middle of its bicentennial year. One of the big attractions at that open house was the SR-71 Blackbird. The SR-71 operations were shrouded in secrecy. The USAF Thunderbirds and their new F-16 Fighting Falcons were the main event at the 1983 open house. They were upstaged by the Royal Air Force (RAF) Red Arrows. An RAF Tornado also gave a flight demonstration that year. The 1985 Open House had a controversy over the Northrop F-20 Tigershark. The F-20 was not permitted to perform at the Open House. It was put on static display. The reason given was the purpose of the Open House was to showcase current capabilities rather than prototype aircraft. Later that month that F-20 crashed at Goose Bay, Labrador its pilot Dave Barnes died in the crash.

Either the US Navy Blue Angels or the USAF Thunderbirds would perform as the main event about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. They would alternate years. This meant the crowds at the open house would build up throughout the day and reach its peak for the performance by one of these teams. An exception to this crowd pattern was 1986. That year one of the opening performances was the Smithsonian’s mechanical flying pterodactyl. There was great interest in this radio controlled model of a prehistoric flying reptile. Rather than soaring like an eagle it fell like a rock.

At the 1991 Open House many aircraft had kill and mission markers from the Gulf War painted on them. In 1999 there was a change. Security was much more visible. The 89th Air Wing Commander banned food/beverage coolers from the show area. The B-52 and B-1 were in a roped off area. That Open House also had problems with the performances. The USAF Thunderbirds couldn’t perform because they were grounded. Major General Glen Moorhead, commander of the Air Warfare Center, decided to ground the team because of a mishap at Patrick AFB on April 25. The Army Golden Knights couldn’t perform on the Saturday Open House because of high winds. The winds also prevented the 82nd Airborne Division mass jump. On Sunday the Golden Knights performed an abbreviated show because of the cloud ceiling.

The bad luck followed the Open House into the year 2000. The Open House was to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Armed Forces Day. All three U.S. military demonstration teams were to perform. The weather made visibility below minimums so these teams, and many other aircraft, couldn’t perform on Saturday. Some helicopters and the Harrier did put on aerial demonstrations. When the USAF Thunderbirds were departing Andrews AFB on May 22 Thunderbird Number 5 couldn’t find Number 4 on radar. Thunderbird Number 6 followed Thunderbird Number 5. They may have flown over the restricted airspace over the Vice-President’s house. Thunderbirds Numbers 5 and 6 flew within 700 feet vertically and 4,800 feet horizontally of an American Airlines MD-80. These two Thunderbirds also flew within 100 feet vertically and 1.83 miles horizontally of a private single-engine plane. Thunderbirds 7 and 8 were also off course. Fortunately there was no damage or injuries because of these errors.

The 2003 Open House was also marred by bad weather, which delayed the show’s start. Attendance was very light and there seemed to be fewer static displays than usual.

The weather was clear for the 2004 Open House. Attendance was light when the gates opened but picked up as the day wore on. There were about a dozen anti-war protestors near the Andrews AFB main gate. Security had become noticeably tighter.

In 2006 the base restricted parking. The aerial demonstrations moved along at a fast pace. There was almost no time between the end of one show and the beginning of another. The Canadian Forces Snowbirds performed that year. One of the Snowbirds dedications was to Captain Nichola Kathleen Sarah Goddard, who was killed while fighting in Afghanistan on May 17, 2006.

The 2012 Open House theme was to commemorate 100 years of U.S. Marine Corps aviation. A large percentage of the displays and demonstrations were of vintage aircraft, primarily World War II aircraft. The Open House seemed to place more emphasis on celebrating the past rather than demonstrating present capabilities. It wasn’t known then but it would be the last Andrews Open House.

The images and memories of the 36 years of Andrews AFB open houses, from 1976-2012, tell the story of military history during this era.

Military Open Houses

2019 Joint Base Andrews Air & Space Expo

For this Expo all three service demonstration teams, The U.S. Army Golden Knights, U.S. Navy Blue Angels, and the USAF Thunderbirds performed. This was the first time in 12 years The U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the USAF Thunderbirds performed in the same airshow.

A KC-135 Stratotanker did a flyby as did four UH-1N Iroquois of the Presidential Fleet. There were also heritage flights. Some civilian demonstration pilots and teams, including Patty Wagstaff, performed amazing aerial acrobatics. Federal Aviation Administration regulations limited Patty Wagstaff’s performance, not her ability or her aircraft’s capabilities. Commemorative flights included a pair of P-51 Mustangs. One Mustang, named “Tuskegee Airmen”, was painted in the colors of the 332nd Fighter Group in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen. Tuskegee Airman, Colonel Charles E. McGee, flew in the same type of trainer he trained on at the Tuskegee Institute. He flew over 400 combat missions in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. The B-25 “Panchito” flew a reenactment of the “Doolittle Raider” mission, complete with ground explosions. These were among the Commemorative Air Force aircraft that performed at the Expo.

Three were also static displays of current aircraft and vintage aircraft. The static display included a U.S. Department of Homeland Security P-3 Orion Airborne Early Warning aircraft.

There were more than enough, aerial demonstrations, static displays, and exhibits to entertain and inform aviation and military enthusiasts. The crowd’s size and enthusiasm gave testimony to that. Regrettably the military aircraft were legacy aircraft. In years past the displays and performances included the most advanced aircraft in America’s arsenal. There were also far fewer static displays than in years past.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Robert Sacchi


Robert Sacchi (author) on May 31, 2020:

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That is why I posed the question. The Blue Angles and Thunderbirds flew a series of fly-bys over cities in tribute to the medical people.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 30, 2020:

I am glad that you enjoyed seeing all of those aircraft at the open houses. I am still on the fence as to the safety and expense of having them. In our current pandemic-affected economy, I would think that funding could be put to better use to help the millions of people who have lost jobs, need food assistance, etc. We will see what happens in the years to come.

Robert Sacchi (author) on August 10, 2018:

The U.S. does have a long history of not doing well in the "first battle". Then again I don't think too many countries have a good records of thwarting surprise attacks at the beginning of a conflict.

Brad on August 10, 2018:


How then is Washington DC protected? No US armed US aircraft even saw the terrorist planes. And the ones close to Washington were no where near them.

Where is the SNAFU?

just curious

Robert Sacchi (author) on August 10, 2018:

Thank you for reading and commenting. Except for some transports, most of the aircraft at the Open Houses came from somewhere else. Flying VIPs in and out of the DC area is its job. The F-16s that flew CAP missions over DC Flew out of Langley AFB, VA. There were also fighter that flew CAP missions over NYC soon after the second plane hit the WTC.

Brad on August 10, 2018:


A question popped up in my mind when I read this article and look at your question.

I would say that open house or not, the question is what were they doing on 911?

One might suspect that they had nothing there that would have showed any secrets during an open house. Andrews AFB is best known as an air taxi for politicians including the president.

But it had one chance to change that image on 911, and if failed. Not a single government agency defense or otherwise did a single thing that stopped or even made a feeble attempt to stop the attack while it was in progress.

I would put most of that blame on congress than the military. The military does their job but then congress messes it up.


Robert Sacchi (author) on November 30, 2017:

Yes, Open Houses are good opportunities for the military to highlight what they do.

RTalloni on November 29, 2017:

That reality is very sad business. Perhaps they try to consider an exercise in their craft, but it's no joke, is it? We are thankful for what the work they do, both here and other places.

Robert Sacchi (author) on November 28, 2017:

A reality of these times is there are people who are out to cause mass mayhem at large gatherings. Military bases have a great deal of security at open houses.

RTalloni on November 28, 2017:

The open houses are wonderful events, but if safety is an issue then I would have to sadly agree with ending them completely.

Robert Sacchi (author) on May 30, 2016:

I think it's one of those things where I assume most people don't have a definite opinion either way. It would seem of interest in the poll is what those who have a definite opinion think.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 30, 2016:

You could always add a 3rd option...something like Not Sure or Uncertain.

Robert Sacchi (author) on May 29, 2016:

Yes, there are good pros and cons on both sides of this. That's why I put in the poll.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 29, 2016:

I did not vote because if it means greater security for our military personnel...then I would vote no. Budget constraints might also cause a no vote. On the other hand if it generates pride in American military personnel accomplishments then my vote would be yes. There are definite pros and cons. They certainly had a string of bad luck with the weather!

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