2015 Event Review

Los Angeles County Air Show, March 21-22, 2015
Location: William J. Fox Airfield, Lancaster, CA
Admission: Adult Ages 13+ - $25.00, 6-12 - $20.00, 5 and under free
Parking: $10 onsite
Value: Very Good
Rating out of 10: 9
 
MCAS Yuma base commander
The eight-horsepower Budweiser Clydesdales

The LA County Air Show is now two-for-two in terms of landing major military jet demonstration teams. Last year’s schedule was hurriedly rearranged in order to land the Blue Angels, moving up from autumn to the spring and taking place on a Friday and Saturday. This year’s show, featuring the Thunderbirds, took place over the weekend of March 21-22 and was a huge success. It’s clear that show organizers paid attention to issues which arose last year, such as traffic management, and made the necessary changes to improve their show. Having a night show seems to be all the rage this year at airshows in the Southwest and the LA County show was no exception. A pyrobatic night show and concert took place on Friday at the nearby Antelope Valley Fairgrounds, combining flying with musical entertainment. The gates to the airshow at William J. Fox Airfield opened at 9AM, flying began around noon and continued until the Thunderbirds touched down a little after 4PM. The lineup included a nice collection of civilian aerobatic performers, warbirds and modern military demonstrations from the Navy and Marines in addition to the Air Force’s “Ambassadors in Blue.”

In place of the usual jet-car or jet-truck providing entertainment on the ground, there were the eight-horsepower Budweiser Clydesdales. They began the show by “taxiing” down the runway as show announcer Ric Peterson put it. The Patriot Parachute Team brought in the US Flag, but being ex-Navy SEALs, they flew it in a lot more aggressively than most skydivers. The flag was stretched between two jumpers who hurtled straight down at breakneck speed, separating at what seemed the last possible moment. They returned later in the day with even more amazing feats. At one point a triple-stack raced directly towards the ground, circled all the while by their videographer. Amazing stuff.

Gene Soucy, who had been circling the jumpers as they flew in the flag, put on an aggressive aerobatic display in his brightly painted ShowCat biplane. He would later return with Teresa Stokes walking on the wings. Local resident John Howell put on a display of aerobatics in his Extra 300 that clearly demonstrated why he was chosen to be a member of the 2014 USA Advanced Aerobatic Team. Chuck Coleman, also flying the Extra 300 put on a similar high-powered demonstration of competition-level maneuvers. Bill Stein completed the trio of high-performance acts, pushing his Edge 540 to the limits. It was a real treat to compare and contrast the approaches that each pilot took to their routines. Matt Younkin slowed it down with the graceful routine that he flies in the Beech 18, although that's perhaps not the best way to describe his dirty pass, dubbed the "Elephant Waltz." Performed to the distinctive strains of the "Pink Elephants" music, Matt rocks the huge transport's wings more than 90 degrees with the landing gear and flaps extended.
The Planes of Fame Museum in Chino once again brought quite a number of warbirds to the show. Four of their World War II fighters passed by in formation then performed individual passes. It was terrific to see and hear the P-38, P-40, P-51 and Yak-3 in the clear blue skies over Lancaster. The museum's Korean War vintage T-33 jet would put on a similar performance later in the day. On Saturday the world's only flying B-29 Stratofortress, "FiFi," made several passes in front of the crowd. Also present, but not flying, were a TBM Avenger and SDB Dauntless. Joining them on static display were a T-34 Turbomentor and F/A-18 Hornet from NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center. NASA's ER-2 (the civilian version of the U-2) put on a flight demonstration on Sunday. The second civilian jet act of the day was Paul "Sticky" Strickland, former Thunderbird, in the Bitcoin L-39. He hasn't lost a bit of the precision flying he mastered while in the Air Force.
But for many in the crowd, the top draw was the military performers. Due to the ongoing budget sequestration process, military aviation support for airshows is still very limited. The fact that this show was able to attract demos from the Navy, Marines and Air Force in this climate speaks volumes to the respect it has managed to acquire in such a short time. The Marine Corps started off with a full tactical demonstration of the AV-8B's capabilities. The pilot, from VMA-311 "Tomcats" out of MCAS Yuma, performed a short rolling takeoff and returned with a number of high-speed passes before slowing down and coming to a complete stop to hover in front of the crowd. After backing up and performing a full 360 degree turn he retracted the gear and climbed vertically, trailing the two sooty plumes that are so characteristic of this maneuver. This was one of only eight appearances this year by the Harrier at civilian airshows. Not to be outdone, the Navy's Super Hornet demo later pulled out all the stops. Absent from the airshow circuit for two years now, they came roaring back with something to prove. LT Jarod "Rhianna" Wheeler of VFA-122 "Flying Eagles" from NAS Lemoore, took off with a roar that rivalled that of the Harrier, maybe not as loud, but definitely throatier, as the twin engines in full afterburner propelled the F/A-18E into the sky. With less than two dozen appearances at airshows this year, SoCal audiences were clearly fortunate to have been able to see both the "Foxtrot" demo from VFA-106 the weekend before at NAF El Centro and the "Echo" model from VFA-122 at this show. LT Wheeler put on the full show, complete with the high speed passes, min-radius turn, square loop, inverted whisper pass and even threw in a beautiful touch-and-go landing at show center before returning for a perfect three-wire landing. The Navy TACDEMO is back!
The Thunderbirds closed the show as only they can. The six brightly painted F-16s filled the sky in beautiful formations, flying with wing-tip separations of less than two feet. The solo pilots amazed the crowds with their daring head-on crossings at show center and their beautifully symmetric calypso and mirror passes. Most of the performers had appeared at the autograph booth at show center after their performances, but the Thunderbirds approached the crowd directly after their performance and signed autographs and answered questions for a long while.
In addition to a large variety of food, beverage and airshow vendors, there were quite a few educational and outreach displays. The 15,000 square foot STEM Expo featured numerous activities and displays of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math in the Antelope Valley, with participation by Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and NASA. Many K-12 schools and local colleges were also present with exhibits and interactive demonstrations that engaged the visitors. This air show is very nice from a photographer's perspective. First off, the showline faces north, so the sun is at your back and the skies are invariably bright blue. Secondly, the organizers provide the opportunity to purchase a limited number of Photo Tour Passes. This provides early morning access, preferred parking, lunch, and a designated "photo pit" for photographers. And last, but not least, is the proximity to the show box and the broad gamut of top performers.
Airshow announcer Ric Peterson did a great job of narrating and Air Boss Ralph Royce scheduled the non-stop action. Executive Director Dennis Dunbar estimated the attendance at approximately 70,000 for Saturday and 65,000 for Sunday, a sizeable increase over last year's crowd and a good indicator of the future viability of this show. Congratulations and thanks to the organizers, sponsors and volunteers for making this show such a success. We would like to thank PR Director Karen Strong and her team for the media arrangements and support. The Blue Angels will be back next year, and so will we for another terrific airshow in Aerospace Valley!

Performers included:

USAF Thunderbirds
AV-8B Harrier II Tactical Demonstration, VMA-311 “Tomcats”, MCAS Yuma
F/A-18E Super Hornet Tactical Demonstration, VFA-122 “Flying Eagles”, NAS Lemoore
Paul “Sticky” Strickland, Bitcoin L-39 Aerobatics
Bill Stein, Edge 540 Aerobatics
Chuck Coleman, Extra 300L Aerobatics
John Howell, Extra EA-300 Aerobatics
Matt Younkin, Beech 18 Aerobatics
Gene Soucy, Showcat Biplane Aerobatics
Gene Soucy and Teresa Stokes, Wingwalking
NASA ER-2
B-29 Superfortress “FiFi”
P-38J Lightning “23 Skidoo”
P-40N Warhawk
P-51D Mustang “Wee Willy II”
T-33 Shooting Star
Yak-3
The Patriot Parachute Team
Report and photography by Norman A. Graf for The Aviation Magazine

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