Of sunscreen and hats...
Dave Jones avoids the heat at Edwards Airshow 2003
California is really a mecca for aircraft enthusiasts. Museums are in abundance throughout the state, and bases are also plentiful.
However, in October of each year you can really go to town in just eight to ten days . Within this time span we took in Miramar airshow, March field for C-141s and the fantastic museum, San Diego museum of flight, Castle Airbase Museum, William J. Fox Field (Neptune firebombers and OV10s), Blackbird Airpark at Palmdale and of course the ubiquitous Edwards AFB airshow!
A week after Miramar, Edwards is located roughly ten miles East of the town of Rosamond, this being some twenty-five miles north of Palmdale. It is a dry lake bed and home to both the Airforce test centre and NASA Dryden research centre. Finding it is easy - northbound, just turn right at Rosamond and follow the road. It only goes to one place.
This was an easy start for my group. A nice late start (for us and airshows), at 0830 from a hotel on the Northern outskirts of LA, past Palmdale and to Rosamond, turn right and head on out into the desert. It's about an hours drive from the I-5 and I-101 junction in Northern Los Angeles.
After about seven miles you pass through the security gate and proceed another three or so miles past the aircraft museum with its SR-71, B-52, A-7, F-104, F-4 and Meteor (yes you did read correctly), plus others, but there's no stopping for pics as the traffic is building up and the Edwards website stated that the museum is closed anyway due to security issues. Ah well, maybe later as we join the queue about a mile from the build up that is Edwards. Parking here (bearing in mind that it was on a dry lake bed) is slow, and takes about thirty-five minutes (slow by Miramar standards). Edging forwards we notice various types on the static and across on the live side. Looks good.
Once parked up then the nightmares began a bit. We had to pass through security screening with only two queues available and twenty-five minutes waiting, then somebody decides that they will open four more lanes and we pick the slow one!! Standing on the desert floor in temperatures in the 90s at 0945 in the morning for over half an hour is not good. Be warned. Transfer from there to the show is by frequent free bus service, and deposits you outside one of the main hangars along the flightline.
Upon walking into this hangar, you knew that you'd made the right decision!! Osprey, Global Hawk, X-34, NASA F-16s and 18s and the automated refuelling F-18 #847. It is hard to describe the scene, only to say that we were all enthralled. This hangar was also the main sales area so souvenirs could also be purchased.
Venturing outside into the heat of the Californian desert we were confronted with practically every enthusiast's dream. The static consisted of the following: NASA 747 (open for walk throughs), celebrity B-52 #008, Vista F-16, Edwards F-117, Edwards F-15s and 16s, F-5s and T38s, a German AF Alpha jet, Edwards C-17 (second production aircraft), Northrop N9-M, U2, B-1, A-10s any many others, including some rather nice heritage aircraft too. Another hanger contained Raptor 91-4002 for viewing alongside F-18 NASA Flying research lab #853.
Celebrities spotted included George Marrett, who was displaying his OH-1 and selling copies of his book 'Cheating Death' (which incidentally is a great read). George was a Skyraider pilot (sandy) during the Vietnam war, tasked with helping in air rescues of downed airmen behind enemy lines. Another celebrity who made his name flying a tad faster than George was Brian Shul, who flew the wonderful SR-71 Blackbird. Indeed, he flew on El Dorado Canyon missions out of Mildenhall during the Libyan crisis. Upon chatting to him, he still insists that the bird he flew that day over Libya was the best '71 he ever flew (17960 for all of you who are interested, and this is now gate guard at Castle AFB museum).
Pictures taken, we settled in for the flying display which had already started as we went through security with a sonic boom from a F-15 (alas without Chuck Yeager aboard this year), and then a series of B-1 flybys throughout the day as it attempted to set fifty-two world speed, distance and height records culminating in its climbing roll before the finale (more of which later).
We were then treated to a leisurely day of flying displays and flybys by most Edwards-based types except the B-52: a cargo drop from the first pre-production C-17; the F/A-22 Raptor displaying for the first time with its F-16 partner; the B-2 Edwards bird 'Spirit of New York' with the N9-M in the same airspace (how rare is that?); A-10 demo; patriotic A-10A and P-51 flyby and demo.
The best display by far was a flyby of twelve massed Edwards' birds as a prelude to the Thunderbirds display. This consisted of B-1, B-2, C-17, KC-135, C-130, F-117, F-15, F-16, T-38 and L139 with wonderful photos taken of them all in the same frame, but interestingly no Raptor to join them.
Then to finish the show the Thunderbirds display team. Having seen them at Waddington a few years back I was very much waiting for much of the same - however a much publicised ejection and subsequent crash at a show earlier last year had left them a man and aircraft down. Combined with the endless delay in getting airborne and a rather lacklustre display way beyond the crowd left this a little flat.
Returning to the bus, we managed to get a shot or two of the 'new' B-52 that was parked behind the hangars out of official public viewing. This aircraft is due to take up post, now that the drop-bird 008 is seemingly to be retired.
What to make of Edwards? Well it is a "must do" airshow, with its rare birds and very laid-back atmosphere. Personally I loved it, photography was quite easy except with the displays which seemed even further away than I could have imagined (the announcer even 'announced' that Raptor had made a safe landing, as we could not see it land so far away!!). They could have learned a lot from Miramar, with regards to security and merchandising, and a list of what we could see in the far distance tantalising us would have been excellent.
All in all a great show, and above all else it was free, getting home was a doddle, and there were no queues getting out. So, hard to fault it really - sitting under the wing of 008 downloading my memory card in the shade to the PSU, looking at the mission marks was worth the visit alone. Amongst worldwide airshows, this HAS to be in the top ten for entertainment, if just for the static. Go and experience Edwards, but take some sunscreen and a hat!!