High Desert Hangar Stories: LA County Air Show 2020, and when wings get clipped

All my life I’ve fancied myself a struggling storyteller and I’ve been blessed that people find value in the stories I share.

The range of my subjects can be very diverse, but aviation is one of my favorites. It’s always looking for a voice to share its ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies.

With this month’s cancellation of the LA County Air Show, the anticipation of what was going to be is now, sadly, a story of what will never happen. Upon reflection we will find proof that the loss will not be permanent, but just be a setback — in the future, the planes will once again take to the skies to entertain and inspire. Back in September 2001, my son and his friend made preparations to join me for our yearly trip up to the Reno Air Races, which had become a father-son tradition for us. That Tuesday morning before race weekend, we watched the tragedy that will always haunt us, as the towers in New York came down and thousands of Americans perished. America was on the ropes and we all looked for a bit of normalcy in our lives. As we already had tickets and hotel rooms, and were told that there was the possibility that the races would still go one in a limited manner, we pressed on with our plans. Friday morning we headed north, hoping for a little distraction from the current troubles in the world. We wanted a chance to mingle with longtime friends and acquaintances and be entertained by the planes and the airmen that, year after year, had us coming back for more.

When we got there, we were met with the sad news that the event had been cancelled, but we still made our way out to the airport just to walk among the planes and vendors that were feeling the loss as much as we were. The money we had spent on hotel and show tickets was lost, but we really didn’t care when we realized that what we were experiencing was an unprecedented event in American history. Money and refunds were not a big deal when we realized that there was a lot more in play than just those expenses.

Reno 2001 with a simple message of American unity on the prop in an empty pit area. (Courtesy photograph)

We walked and talked with others around the flight line and spoke of what could have been. The common thought was that this was an inconvenient setback, but only temporary, as Americans always find their way back to the things that bring value to their lives. 

I see the same thing playing out with the cancelled LA County Air Show, as we find ourselves in another unknown situation, similar to that we faced as a nation back in 2001. Just a month ago, we never could have seen events unfolding in such a manner. So many folks making the magic happen were staying on target to make sure that all the pieces were in place and the very best of Aerospace Valley would take to the skies for all to enjoy.  

Right up to the end, the LA County Air Show was seeing the efforts of volunteers, directors and people who were getting excited about the amazing line up and displays. Then the word came and in less than a few hours everything changed. When I was watching the cancellation of the Yuma Air Show, the March ARB Air Show and others hitting the internet, my biggest disappointment would be what I had experienced back in 2001: the loss of family, friends and neighbors and a chance for our community to become one for a couple days, to put some smiles on faces and make some air show memories. To add to the sting, we had not seen an LA County Air Show in our skies for a couple of years.

Air shows will always have a home here in the Antelope Valley as this hearty crowd at Fox Field of yesteryear shows their passion on a windy and dusty day. (Courtesy photograph)

I can’t tell you how excited I was to share some history panels that would have covered everything from Women in Aviation; to the history of the Lockheed U-2, and to get a chance to tell the story of our local history with the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force members who had a connection to our Valley back in World War II. The one amazing “get” we had coming that I was particularly proud of was the amazing Sea Fury aircraft, which would have been the centerpiece of the War Eagle Field display.  

But let’s turn a negative into a positive and remember that the desire to be entertained by the amazing men, women and aircraft will just not disappear and never return. Too many people love to share and have a passion to not only watch things fly, but to make those events happen for all to enjoy! The majority of the people behind the scenes of the LA County Air Shows are volunteers. Their pay is in the smiles and the thanks of a grateful audience, and their aches and pains on Monday morning after the show are just the rewards of being an amazing person who puts others before self.   

So the air shows will continue on — we can all agree on that and we look forward to the time when the gates will open once again. Crowds of eager spectators, young and old alike, will stand side by side with eyes to the skies and smiles on their faces.

Back in 2001 it looked pretty grim for my son and me and the aviation entertainment industry, but it did come back, and continues to be a great thing that will always bond us as father and son. I’m sure there are some little ones and parents who will use future air shows to make that powerful bond in their own lives with their families!

See you at Edwards in October. And until then, I hope you continue to enjoy my stories and opinions here in Aerotech News! Stay safe — for now, it’s Bob Out!

The crowds enjoy the LA County Air Show several years ago. The crowds and the aircraft will return. (Courtesy photograph)


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