2016 Event Review

Los Angeles County Air Show, March 19-20, 2016
Location: General William J. Fox Airfield, Lancaster, CA
Admission: Adult Ages 13+ $25.00, 6-12 $20.00, 5 and under free, online discounts
Parking: $10 onsite
Value: Very Good
Rating out of 10: 9
 

Tora, Tora, Tora

The third annual Los Angeles County Air Show took place March 19-20 at General William J. Fox Airfield in Lancaster, California. The weekend's 75th anniversary tribute to Pearl Harbor kicked off with a Friday night meet-and-greet featuring a softball game between the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at nearby Edwards AFB, hula dancing, a luau show and period warbird flyover. The two-day show featured world-class aerobatics, parachute demonstrations, wing-walking, warbird fly-bys, USAF and NASA jet fly-bys, the Tora! Tora! Tora! recreation of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, and ended with the Navy's Blue Angels.

The gates opened promptly at 9AM, flying began around noon and continued until the Blue Angels touched down shortly after 4PM. The Patriot Parachute Team brought in the US Flag, circled on their downline by Skip Stewart and Melissa Pemberton. Reflecting their Navy SEAL background, the two jumpers stretched the flag between them as they hurtled at breakneck speed directly towards the ground, separating at what seemed the last possible moment. The team returned later in the day with even more amazing feats.

Skip Stewart was the recipient of the 2015 Art Scholl Memorial Showmanship Award presented by the International Council of Airshows. His jaw-dropping maneuvers in the highly-modified Pitts S-2 biplane, named "Prometheus," left no doubts that the award was well-earned. Melissa Pemberton performed a number of times during the day. She flew circles around her husband Rex as he demonstrated the exceptional flying capabilities of modern wingsuits, breaking off only as he deployed his parachute. Her solo aerobatic demonstration in the Edge 540 showed off the skills which have earned her a spot on the US National Aerobatics team. Her sequence ended with a double-ribbon cut with both ribbons strung from the same set of poles. She first flew low to the ground, cutting the lower of the two, then circled around to cut the other ribbon, flying inverted. Chuck Coleman, flying the Extra 300 put on a similar high-powered demonstration of competition-level maneuvers. Melissa and Skip then joined up with Chris Darnell in the Shockwave Jet Truck for the Tinstix show, featuring lots of low-level flying, afterburner flames from the truck and pyro explosions in the background ending with a race between the flying pair of aircraft and the speeding truck on the ground.
The Planes of Fame Museum in Chino once again brought quite a number of warbirds to the show. Three of their World War II fighters passed by in formation, then performed individual passes. It was terrific to see and hear the P-38 Lightning, P-40 Warhawk, and F-86 Sabrejet in the clear blue skies over Lancaster. The N9MB Flying Wing also put on a very nice aerobatic display

The Texas Flying Legends Museum brought quite a few of its warbirds to the show: FM-2 Wildcat, TBM-3 Avenger, P-40K Warhawk "Aleutian Tiger," B-25J Mitchell "Betty's Dream," P-51D Mustang "Dakota Kid II" and Spitfire MkIX "Half Stork." Unfortunately, their A6M2 Zero and FG-1D Corsair were involved in a taxiing accident during a refueling stop on the flight out. The six warbirds made several formation passes before performing individually, finishing with beautiful banana passes to expose their topsides.

Unlike last year's show, which featured both the Marines' AV-8B Harrier II and the Navy's F-18E Super Hornet, this year's show was devoid of modern military tactical demonstrations. However, there were two surprise additions to the lineup: the appearance on Saturday of an F-16D Fighting Falcon from nearby Edwards AFB, which flew in from behind the crowd, then departed in an afterburning climb back to base, and Sunday's single pass by a B-52 Stratofortress. NASA's ER-2 (the civilian version of the U-2) put on an amazing flight demonstration. One normally thinks of this aircraft as only capable of sedate maneuvers, but a plane designed to fly in the rarefied atmosphere at 70,000 feet has plenty of lift at ground level in the high desert. The pilot put this to particular good use as he zoom-climbed out of a high-speed low-level pass in front of the crowd to end his display.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. No one recreates this event better than the Commemorative Air Force's Tora! Tora Tora! re-enactment team. Flying the aircraft originally modified for the 1970 movie, they put on an incredibly well-choreographed aerial ballet interwoven with extensive pyrotechnic displays on the ground. The smoke from the explosions and resulting grass fires often conceal the aircraft, adding to the realism, but making photography challenging. That and the fact that aircraft are coming from left and right, high up and down on the deck, all at the same time. It's an incredible display and one not to be missed, especially this year.

The Blue Angels, in only the second show of their season, put on an amazing show. Starting with Fat Albert's demonstration of the flight capabilities of the massive C-130 Hercules to the incredibly precise formation flying of the F/A-18 Hornets, it is non-stop action. Some of the solo passes, especially the high-speed crossing maneuvers, seemed a bit off, though. This may have been due to mechanical issues, as Blue Angel #6 landed during the performance. Captain Jeff Kuss quickly climbed into the spare jet and rejoined the team for the remainder of the show. Being some of the oldest Hornets in the fleet, the Blue Angels jets have been experiencing a growing number of mechanical difficulties in the past few years. It's hard to believe that the Blue Angels have been flying the F/A-18 Hornet for almost half of their 70 years in existence. The Navy recently issued a contract to Boeing to study the design modifications necessary to convert the Super Hornet for Blue Angels duty. It will be interesting to see where that leads.

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. Many K-12 schools and local colleges were also present with exhibits and interactive demonstrations that engaged the visitors. New this year were the STEM Expo Forums featuring speakers from Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Scaled Composites and NASA. Dennis Dunbar, executive director of the Los Angeles County Air Show said “The Air Show team and our dedicated volunteers, community partners and sponsors have worked tirelessly to bring the Aerospace Valley the best of aviation while inspiring the next generation with science, technology, engineering and math with an Expo that will mesmerize and entice kids of all ages.” The non-flying static display featured a pair of F/A-18E Super Hornets from nearby NAS Lemoor and a T-34 Turbomentor and F/A-18 Hornet from NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center.

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 weather is generally dependable. 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.
"In three short years, the Air Show continues to make a positive economic and community impact," said Allen Hoffman, board president of the Los Angeles County Air Show. "We look forward to growing this wonderful event while striving to make a difference in the region and the lives of our youth with the scholarship program and more." In only its third year, the show attracted a record crowd of 137,000 spectators over the two-day event at Fox Airfield. Proceeds from the event will fund several scholarships to regional youth and provide seed money for the 2017 Air Show.
Airshow announcers Ric Peterson and Rob Reider both did a great job of narrating and Air Boss Ralph Royce scheduled the non-stop action. 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 Thunderbirds will be headlining the show next year, and we'll be back to cover another terrific airshow in Aerospace Valley!
Performers included:

Blue Angels
Tora! Tora! Tora!
Shockwave Jet Truck
Melissa Pemberton, Edge 540 Aerobatics
Skip Stewart, Pitts S-2S “Prometheus” Aerobatics
Tinstix: Skip Stewart, Melissa Pemberton & Shockwave
Chuck Coleman, Extra 300L Aerobatics
Kent Pietsch, Interstate Cadet Aerobatics
Third Strike Wingwalking
NASA ER-2

Planes of Fame Museum Warbirds
P-38J Lightning “23 Skidoo”
P-40N Warhawk
F-86F Sabrejet “Jolley Roger”
N9MB Flying Wing
Texas Flying Legends Museum Warbirds
FM-2 Wildcat
TBM-3 Avenger
P-40K Warhawk “Aleutian Tiger”
B-25J Mitchell “Betty’s Dream”
P-51D Mustang “Dakota Kid II”
Spitfire MkIX “Half Stork”
The Patriot Parachute Team

Static displays included:

F/A-18E Super Hornet (x2)
NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center
T-34 Turbomentor
F/A-18 Hornet

Report and photography by Norman A. Graf for The Aviation Magazine with additional images by Geoffrey Arnwine

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