The sounds of high performance jet aircraft are commonplace in the high desert of California, home of Edwards Air Force Base and the civilian activities at nearby Mojave.
With the cancellation of the popular Edwards AFB Open House events however, local airshow fans were left wanting.
After several years of concerted effort, and the lead sponsorship of Lockheed Martin, the Los Angeles County Airshow was born. Now in its fourth year, tens of thousands of folks flocked to the city of Lancaster to attend the March event held at General William J. Fox Airfield (Fox Field).
To set the right tone, this airshow started off with a sonic boom high over the growing spectator ranks, one of the perks of an airshow over sparsely populated desert.
While the US Air Force Thunderbirds received top billing, there was a fair selection of aerobatic, military and warbird performances on the daily schedule.
The civilian acts started off with Rob Holland, Bill Stein, and Matt Chapman performing together as “The 4CE” (actually ¾ of The 4CE for this show), with their individual performances later in the schedule.
Airshow veteran Rob Harrison, “The Tumbling Bear,” performed in his Zlin 142C, followed by Vicky Benzing putting her immaculate red Stearman through its paces.
Jet fans were not forgotten as Paul “Sticky” Strickland demonstrated his Czech L-39 Albatros jet trainer and Greg “Wired” Colyer put on a great performance with his Lockheed T-33 “Ace Maker.”One unique item on the show schedule were a series of fly-bys from a NASA Lockheed ER-2, a derivative of the classic U-2, based at nearby Armstrong Flight Research Center (formerly known as Dryden) and used for high-altitude civilian research.
Besides the Thunderbirds, the only other military performer was a powerful Super Hornet demonstration by the US Navy West Coast Super Hornet Tac Demo Team (VFA-122 Flying Eagles, NAS Lemoore).
Warbird lovers were rewarded with a selection of aircraft provided by Planes of Fame and the Commemorative Air Force. We were treated to performances by the CAF’s Spitfire Mk-XIV and Yak-3, along with a F4U Corsair, P-51 Mustang, P-38 Lightning, B-25 Mitchell, and F-86 Sabre from the Planes of Fame collection in Chino.
The P-38 got a little more airtime as it, flanked by two A-10 Thunderbolt II’s, performed in the Heritage Flight salute to Air Force veterans and service members.
The B-25 Mitchell performed some bombing runs synchronized with pyrotechnics to create crowd-pleasing explosions. Planes of Fame’s own Steve Hinton traded the P-38 for a gleaming F-86 to put on a graceful demonstration of what the 1950’s-era Sabre was capable of.
One non-flying performer this year was Bill Braack with “Smoke-n-Thunder,” a highly modified 1957 Chevy pickup powered by two jet engines salvaged from a US Navy T-2A Buckeye jet trainer. With 25,000 hp on hand, plus afterburners, this custom truck reaches speeds over 350 mph and put on quite a show for the fans.
The theme of the show, evident in the ground displays and airshow performance narrative, was STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math). Northrop Grumman had a large tent filled with STEM activities for the young and young-at-heart.
Other tents contained very interesting panel discussions on the F-117 Stealth Fighter, Women in Aviation, Virgin Galactic Space Travel, the Vietnam Air War, and Free Falling from Space.
To go along with the ultra high-altitude skydiving panel, the Red Bull Stratos capsule was on display. This was the pressurized capsule that took Felix Baumgartner to an altitude of 127,852 feet before he stepped off into the history books.
As for the static displays, the number of aircraft was less than expected for a show of this size, but the variety was good. California Aeronautical University brought one of its Cessna 172s. There was a NASA King Air, Globe Swift, Piper Apache, Diamond Twin Star, Civil Air Patrol Skylane and a showroom condition Howard DGA (“Damned Good Airplane”).
Scaled Composites displayed its ARES, a prototype for a low-cost close air support aircraft displaying Rutan design philosophy.
The LA County Firehawk, USCG Dolphin and LA Sheriff Eurocopter balanced out the fixed wing displays.
The most popular static display was the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II, a flight test aircraft (“AF-01”) performing missions at nearby Edwards AFB.
The largest aircraft there was a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, but the strangest one had to be the kite-winged Northrop Grumman X-47A Pegasus Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle.
Opened in 1959, General William J. Fox Airfield (WJF) was built by the County of Los Angeles, which still operates the facility. Located in Lancaster, this is the only general aviation airport in the Antelope Valley.