High Desert Hangar Stories: From Flying Circus to Hybrid Airshow

By Bob Alvis, special to Aerotech News
The week of Oct. 5-10, 2020 saw a first that only Edwards AFB has ever attempted, when it comes to aviation entertainment and education.

Billed as the Aerospace Valley Hybrid Air Show and online STEM event, the leaders and support staff at Edwards got together and figured out a way to give the aviation community and its fans some form of entertainment, filling in that void left by all the coronavirus restrictions which we are all doing our best to endure.

Back in the early days of aviation, when flying entertainment was billed as a Flying Circus or a barnstormers gathering, the new technology of flight was not so much about the science and engineering — it was about the potential of failure. That dramatic possibility is part of what kept the townspeople constantly making a trip to that remote field outside of town, to maybe witness the unthinkable by those early day risk-takers who became legends of the air.

With the evolution of the airplane over the last 100-plus years, the air show communities have done nothing but expand. The development of aircraft has inspired the spectator to want more and more of the incredible experience of seeing what amazing accomplishments were taking place in the world of flight.    
With the loss of our air shows and fly-ins this year, a great void was cast for some of the most important and cherished guests at any of our air shows — our youth, who from a young age start the learning process of how and why these amazing aircraft can perform in such a manner. The planes and crafts we see today are the gifts to the future that came from the imagination of young people of yesteryear, who were inspired by those early air shows that they attended holding Mom or Dad’s hand. Given the fact that we have lost almost a year’s worth of that inspiration, it was great to see Edwards step up and figure out a way to reach out to those future leaders of the aerospace community, sitting at home in front of one of those screens that have been their classroom for way too long. I’m sure the Hybrid Air Show was a great inspiration for all those STEM kids who wanted to see the mechanics and science they all long to achieve and be a part of!  

Brig. Gen. Matt Higer, 412th Test Wing commander, dons his headphones prior to the live stream broadcast. (Photograph by Melinda Rodriguez)

Not long ago I wrote an article about the very first air show at Muroc, when the event was just referred to as a military appreciation day.

When Muroc became Edwards, its mission statement changed to one of innovation, experimentation and testing, all while supporting the Air Force mission. With the best and brightest minds, Edwards became, and has always been, the location that was looked up to as the place that the greats of flight test called home. Today that is as a true statement as ever. That is why the importance of this new format of air show should be embraced, for those young bright minds who may not ever get a chance to visit a live show. They may very well venture into the world of science and technology thanks to an online visit with those legends, and seeing firsthand the equipment that not only serves our military and commercial aviation industry, but will someday take us to far off places in that vast area we call space!

Of course, we all look forward to the return of the traditional air show in the near future. The family interaction at an air show is just as important to the bonding of family, as parents and their children share the dream together and make those memories that someday will be passed on to future generations!

This old guy writing will always have those memories of my Dad and I walking those flight lines, when my hand was just big enough to maybe hold on to one of his fingers while trying to match him step for step!

I am typically involved with many air shows each year and I can honestly say, my greatest joy is seeing that same interaction of parents and kids — that is where I really put the value of those traditional air shows. They will come back! But for now, we embrace the possibilities and lessons we are learning. Maybe the best of the two formats can be combined, and future air shows can be a hybrid of the past and the future. The potential is there to expand the reach to thousands more young minds, hungry to be a part of something bigger than themselves!   

Edwards Air Force Base, the place where the word innovation was truly born, continues to expand its meaning in the world of science, technology and air show participation!

Until next time, Bob out …

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