FOX FIELD, LANCASTER, Calif. – With a world-renowned aerobatic pilot drawing smoke screens for a dramatic blue sky backdrop, the leadership team of the Los Angeles County Air Show unveiled plans for welcoming the Air Force precision flying team, the “Thunderbirds,” along with plans for community-wide celebration in the Antelope Valley the final weekend in March.
On March 1, with 25 days unfolding before the air show, city leaders from Lancaster were joined by performers and panelists, among them, Rob Harrison, the “Tumbling Bear,” and Art Thompson, CEO of Sage Cheshire, builder of the Red Bull Stratos capsule that lifted free-falling space skydiver Felix Baumgartner to the edge of the heavens in 2012 (CQ) at an altitude of 127,852 feet.
With Lockheed Martin the presenting sponsor, one of the additions to the aircraft static display will be the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter, Air Show President Ronda Perez announced at the news conference on the tarmac at Gen. William Fox Field.
“The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, once again, are going to thrill us with their amazing acrobatics,” Perez said.
Perez noted that this year’s theme is “Red, White and Boom!” to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the breaking of the sound barrier, that signature skyward sonic “boom” that is a part of Antelope Valley life. The LA County Air Show, Perez said, will feature the largest STEM exhibition, the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math displays, to inspire young people to aspire to roles in technology innovation.
Perez, who is director of Parks, Arts and Recreation for Lancaster, added that the air show set for March 25 and March 26, Perez said is “about the kids and next generation, and we are so excited to inspire them about aviation and the Antelope Valley.”
Perez thanked the army “of countless volunteers who work behind the scene to make this happen.”
Each day’s show culminates with the high-flying performance acrobatics of the Thunderbirds, the Air Force precision flying team, but Air Show Executive John Fergione — a test pilot himself – said there will be “so much more to see, on the air, and on the ground.”
Opening each day’s performance, the Patriots Parachute Team members will tumble from their aircraft and skydive to the ground, displaying an American flag. There is even a jet-powered pickup truck, “Smoke and Thunder.”
In addition to the aerobatic performers flying throughout both days, there will be flights by “War Birds,” vintage combat aircraft, ranging from World War II, to the Cold War, the Korean War and the early days of the jet Age. War Bird performances will be flown by pilots from the Commemorative Air Force and its Southern California Wing, and from the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino.
A Mark XIV Spitfire and Soviet era Yakovlev Yak-3 will sweep the field, along with North American Aviation’s F-86 Sabre jet, a Lockheed T-33, a North American P-51 Mustang, a Vough F4U-1 Corsair and the North American B-25 Mitchell, the medium bomber renowned for the “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” raid.
Dana Kilanowski, the History Panels manager said, “More milestones of aviation happened in AV than anywhere else in world,” adding that the benchmarks were set by such legendary pilots as Chuck Yeager, Scott Crossfied, and William J. “Pete” Knight
She enumerated first flights that including Yeager’s breaking the sound barrier in the Bell X-1, Crossfield’s record-setting speeds in more X-plane flights, and Knight’s heralded titled “fastest man alive” in the X-15, a record that still stands. She also spoke of technology developed and built in the Valley, including the Space Shuttle.
The LA County Air Show will feature a series of history panels in the morning that feature pilots from “Out Of The Black,” the first test team for the F-117 stealth fighter, the Nighthawk from Lockheed’s famed Skunk Works. Also, civilian astronaut pilots of Virgin Galactic who are preparing to carry passengers into space, and female pilots who broke barriers to fly in combat, in space, and on the airlines.
An historic military pilot, Col. Joe Kittinger, joins Alan Eustace in the “Free Falling From Space” panel where each man can describe his freefalling from the heavens.
On Oct. 14, 2012, Felix Baumgartner broke the records previously set by Kittinger for the highest free fall, the highest manned helium balloon flight, and the fastest free fall; he jumped from 127,852 feet, reaching 833.9 mph — Mach 1.24. Kittinger was a member of the mission control and helped design the capsule and suit that Baumgartner ascended and jumped in.
On October 24, 2014, Alan Eustace broke the record previously set by Baumgartner for the highest free fall. He jumped from a height of 135,908 feet
Kittinger established the first world altitude record in 1960, a record that stood for 52 years until exceeded by Felix Baumgartner who was carried aloft in 2012 for the live streaming broadcast of the “Free Fall From Space” in the Red Bull Stratos capsule engineered by built by Lancaster designer-builder Art Thompson, CEO of Sage Cheshire.
Two of the three space free fall record holders – Kittinger and Eustace, of Google — will appear at the LA County Air Show together March 25, joined by Thompson. In 2012, Kittinger operated as the capsule communicator when Baumgartner performed his globally streamed freefall from 24 miles above the Earth.
After the Thunderbirds performance late afternoon each day of the Air Show, a small gathering of eagles — Vietnam War combat pilots will include Kittinger, and Dick Rutan, who gained world renown for flying the Voyager aircraft around the world on a single tank of gas. The gas tank was the cutting-edge aircraft designed by Rutan’s brother, Burt.
Kittinger and Dick Rutan, joined by brother air warriors from Vietnam, will participate in the “Going Downtown: Air War in Vietnam” history panel discussion. Rutan flew daring “Wild Weasel” ground attack missions. Kittinger shot down a MiG 21, and survived 11 months as a Prisoner of War in the dreaded “Hanoi Hilton.”
“This is a historic gathering of iconic aviation heroes, sharing their legends,” Kilanowski said.
At the March 1 news conference, Vice Mayor Marvin Crist called the LA County Air Show, “One of the greatest events in the city of Lancaster, one of the greatest events in the Antelope Valley.”
Speaking for Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, her field deputy, Donna Termeer, agreed with Crist. She said that Supervisor Barger — who represents the Antelope Valley — considers the Air Show an asset to LA County commerce and public-private partnership.
Lancaster Councilman Raj Malhi recalled that his son’s trips to the Air Show have inspired the Quartz Hill High School student to aspire to be a pilot in the Air Force.
Jim Hawse of Sierra Toyota, the founding sponsor, said that as a pilot, he has “jet fuel in his veins.” His son, Brett, approached him nearly five years ago, to seek initial support to get the air show off the ground.
“To have the Thunderbirds twice is just awesome ,” Hawse said. “I’m here every day watching like a little kid. I bring my friends, my employees, and we just have a ball. It keeps jet fuel running through my veins, and keeps me excited.”
With the City of Lancaster as a key partner, the city plans to put on “a really great street party” on the downtown Lancaster Boulevard, with Jake Nelson and the Tone Wranglers, and Big D and Bubba of 97.7 KTPI. It should be noted than even the musicians fly. Nelson is an airline pilot, and accomplished private pilot.
Editor’s Note: Dennis Anderson writes for Aerotech News and Review on matters related to active military, veterans and military families. He works as clinical social worker at High Desert Medical Group, specializing in military community outreach. He is the Events Manager for the Los Angeles County Air Show.