What on earth could be better than sitting around a campfire, hearing first-hand what it is like to save an aircraft that is spinning out of control, the earth merely seconds away; or the rush of being the first person to fly a world-class fighter jet for the very first time?
Well, there won’t be s’mores, but there will be plenty of stories, merriment and fellowship as the Flight Test Historical Foundation hosts their annual Gathering of Eagles banquet, this year commemorating the 20th anniversary of the F-22 aircraft’s first flight.
The event occurs Oct. 21 at the H.W. Hunter Pavilion at Antelope Valley Fairgrounds in Lancaster, Calif., with social hour starting at 4:45 p.m., dinner at 6 p.m., followed by a panel discussion and an auction of aviation memorabilia.
Admission is $75 and tickets may be purchased online at the Foundation website, http://EdwardsMuseum.org/GoE2017.
“This is one of the great premier events of the Antelope Valley, where everyone can come and meet the test pilots who helped make these amazing aircraft fly and are in the history books,” said Art Thompson of Sage Cheshire and A2ZFX, who is designing and crafting the center pieces for the event.
Thompson said that the legends in aerospace will be sharing their stories and hair-raising experiences during test flights and program development.
“It is an opportunity to rub elbows, get photos with and hear first-hand from this amazing community of pilots that are not only on stage but fill the audience as well.” Some stories shared at these events are rarely shared with the general public.
“We will be flying with people who made history and have shaped the face of aerospace,” Thompson said.
Serving as the vice chair of the Flight Test Historical Foundation, Thompson helped recruit an anonymous $2 million donation this year to help create a Flight Test Museum, STEM education center, and relocate the museum outside the secure gates of Edwards Air Force Base. The move will improve accessibility of the facility, so the public can more easily enjoy and learn from Edwards’ rich aviation history.
The panelists for this year’s Gathering of Eagles are: Paul Metz – F-22 first flight, and Lockheed Martin chief test pilot; Chuck Killberg – first Boeing test pilot; Bret Luedke — second Lockheed Martin chief test pilot; Randy Neville — second Boeing test pilot; James “JB” Brown – third Lockheed Martin chief test pilot; and Steve “Hooter” Rainey – first U.S. Air Force F-22 pilot, former Boeing F-22 pilot and current Lockheed Martin chief test pilot.
The honorary chairman will be retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Doug Pearson.
In memoriam: David P. “Cools” Cooley will be remembered and honored during the event. Cooley perished in 2009 in an F-22 crash near Edwards.
James Brown was the first pilot to reach 1,000 hours flying the F-22 Raptor in 2012 and will be honored as an Eagle at the event.
“I find becoming an Eagle quite an honor and I’m privileged to be in the company of such accomplished individuals.” Brown said it was amazing to join the program when the jet was in its infancy and grew to become a world-class Olympic Champion without peer.
“It is the most capable fighter aircraft ever developed by mankind!” Currently, Brown is the chief operations officer and test pilot instructor at the National Test Pilot School located in Mojave, Calif.
Displaying some of their aviation art this year will be Douglas Castleman, Mark Pestana and sculptor Nay Schuder.
“I really want to thank everyone who helps with this event and a special thanks to Edwards Federal Credit Union, for stepping up as our Signature Sponsor,” said Danny Bazzell, general manager of the Flight Test Historical Foundation. “If you are an aviation fan, this is an event you do not want to miss!”