The fifth annual Los Angeles County Airshow marked my season opener this year, taking place March 24-25 in the high desert locale of Lancaster, California, where I was joined by tens of thousands of airshow fans at General William J. Fox Airfield, commonly known as Fox Field.
This region is intimately linked to aviation history and aeronautical achievement, with Edwards AFB next door, the legendary Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in Palmdale down the road, and Mojave Airport with Scaled Composites just up the highway.
The Skunk Works marked its 75th anniversary this year and the theme “First, Fastest, Farthest” was echoed throughout the airshow.
At 9:30 a.m. on March 24, a sharp sonic boom heralded the opening of the festivities, an advantage of an airshow held over sparsely populated desert.
The performers lineup this year was quite diverse and entertaining, proof that you don’t always need a top billing headliner team. There was a good selection of aerobatic, military, and warbird performances on the daily schedule.
A healthy dose of civilian performers were on hand, ranging from relative newcomers like Anthony Oshinuga in his Pitts Special, to seasoned veterans like Kirby Chambliss and Bill Stein in their Edge 540s, and Chuck Coleman in his Extra 300.
The gifted Kent Pietsch was on hand with the Jelly Belly Interstate Cadet for a comedy routine followed by attempts to land on the smallest runway in the world, but gusting winds would show him who was boss.
Jim Pietz performed in his rare aerobatic Bonanza, complete with smoke system, making many GA pilots envious.
Red Bull brought its famous aerobatic MBB Bo-105 helicopter, with new pilot Aaron Fitzgerald at the controls, performing maneuvers that really shouldn’t be possible in rotary wing aircraft.
Greg “Wired” Colyer put on a great performance with his Lockheed T-33 “Ace Maker,” the classic jet trainer based on the P-80 Shooting Star that was the first aircraft produced by Kelly Johnson in the Skunk Works.
Notable appearances on the show schedule were a series of flybys from a USAF Lockheed U-2S Dragon Lady, nicknamed so by her pilots due to her temperamental nature — sometimes you dance with the Lady, other times you wrestle with the Dragon.
Later flybys were 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. The ER-2 performed a simulated landing, complete with a NASA Dodge Charger chase vehicle racing down the runway calling out descent rate and ground proximity to the pilot. The U-2 appearances fit the Skunk Works anniversary theme perfectly.
Another truly unique performer that I eagerly awaited to see was Jerry Conley with his de Havilland DH-115 Vampire, the world’s first single engine jet fighter. This classic early jet wears the colors of the Swiss Air Force, which was the last service to use the Vampire, retiring the type in 1990.
Jet fans also enjoyed a demonstration of the F-86 Sabre and MiG-15 from the Planes of Fame collection as they flew both solo and formation passes.
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 F8F Bearcat and B-17 Flying Fortress, flying with a F4U Corsair, P-51 Mustang, P-38 Lightning, B-25 Mitchell from the PoF collection in Chino. The Collings Foundation brought its P-38 Lightning, formerly from the Evergreen Collection, to participate in the show.
A duo of military demonstrations spanned the speed range with the USMC MV-22 Osprey showing off its hover and short takeoff abilities (along with dust cloud generation) while a powerful performance by the USAF F-22 Raptor Demo Team wowed the crowd with its impressive maneuverability.
The F-22, also a Skunk Works product, would later team up with the Planes of Fame P-38 Lightning for a Lockheed-themed Heritage Flight to close the aerial show.
One highlight was the presence of the only flying Lockheed Vega in the world. John Magoffin brought his 1933 DL-1 Lockheed Vega (DL stands for “Detroit Lockheed”) and none else but Allan Lockheed, Jr., himself was on hand for the arrival.
Lockheed described to me how this Vega was the “missing link,” marking the transition of wooden aircraft construction to modern aluminum fabrication techniques. All of the famous record-breaking Vegas in history were wooden ones, he noted.
Another world premiere at the show was the first public viewing of the X-44A, a previously unknown flying-wing drone built by the Skunk Works in 1999. First flown in 2001, it was used for developmental purposes by Lockheed Martin and possibly a contender for some unnamed low-cost military drone program.
On the grounds was a Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) expo. Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin had large tents filled with STEM activities for the young and young-at-heart.
Other tents hosted very interesting panel discussions on the Skunk Works 75th, Lockheed Vega, SR-71 Blackbird, and Free Falling from Space.
As for the static displays, a good variety was on hand. NASA brought an F-18 Hornet, an F-15 Eagle and a T-34 Mentor from Armstrong Flight Research Center.
Classics were represented by a showroom condition Howard DGA (“Damned Good Airplane”) and a Waco cabin biplane.
Scaled Composites displayed its Proteus (an alien looking high-altitude long-endurance aircraft used to carry experiment packages), ARES (a prototype for a low-cost close air support aircraft displaying Burt Rutan’s design philosophy), and the unique BiPod experimental roadable aircraft.
The LA County Firehawk and LA Sheriff Eurocopter tried to balance out the fixed wing displays.
Military static displays were limited to a MV-22 Osprey from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, and a Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II flight test aircraft (“AF-01”) and F-16 Fighting Falcon, both from nearby Edwards AFB.