By Susan JAMES
In a 2007 Ferrari F430 I was doing 170 mph down the runway with driver Eric’s casual hand on the wheel while above us crack aerobatics pilot Rob Harrison, aka “The Tumbling Bear,” was rolling around in the sky in his Zlin 142C airplane. It was the 4th annual LA County Air Show, which took place March 25-26 at the William J. Fox Air Field in Lancaster. Celebrating the history and inspiration of aviation, the air show also celebrated the 70th anniversary of Chuck Yeager’s first supersonic boom that marked the beginning of the modern aviation era. In the black blur of the Ferrari, I was now part of the show.
On Saturday the weather was perfect except for some wind that nearly blew the hats off the thousands gathered for the show. Rows of spit and polish airplanes filled hangars and lined the runway in neat military rows. There was a cherry red 1940 Boeing Stearman biplane flown by Vicky Benzing. There were the Planes of Fame War Birds of World War II, a Corsair, a Mustang and a Spitfire called Wee Willy II, one of the air fleet that won the Battle of Britain. A shiny sterling silver B-25 flashed across the sky while an F86-F Sabre from the Korean War, a plane that can clock 885 miles per hour, boomed its way into a supersonic dive.
Rob Holland, pilot extraordinaire, holder of an unprecedented six consecutive National Aerobatic Titles, made his one-of-a-kind, single seat MXS-RH do things that were unbelievable. The plane hovered, swooped, dropped, swan dived and skimmed the ground in twists, turns and rolls that made the crowd dizzy. How Holland even knew the location of the ground was a miracle. Four other daredevils of the air, Bill Stein in his kaleidoscope-painted Zivko Edge 540, Greg Colyer in his Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star, Matt Chapman in his bright yellow and blue Extra 330LX, and Paul Strickland in an L-39 Czech Republic high performance jet, wheeled and soared and swung through the tumbling cumulous clouds and the brilliant sunlight. But the main attraction was the precision aerobatics of the best of the best Air Force pilots, the six-man crack team of Thunderbirds under the command of Lt. Col. Jason Heard. Forming their signature diamond in the sky, they flew crossovers, parallels and near misses with a precision that was breathtaking.
There was a flyover by NASA’s ER-2 High Altitude Science Aircraft and an L-39 Albatros jet. But planes were not the only things in the sky. Four former Navy SEALS who make up the Patriot Parachute Team braved the high winds to fly red, white and blue parachutes and a snapping Old Glory to precision landings on the tarmac. Also available for James Bond-style white knuckle rides were the above-mentioned sleek black Ferrari and a cool silver 2007 Lamborghini Gallardo streaking down the runway in between landings, both courtesy of Precision Exotics.
The City of Lancaster, host of the event, has a long aviation history. Located just down the road from Edwards Air Force Base, Lancaster is a short drive from nearby Palmdale, site of the Blackbird Aviation Park. The park exhibits spy planes like the ill-fated U2 and the Lockheed U2D, together with a 747 that transported the space shuttle orbiters. Recently the city has turned airplanes attached to plinths into art with its “planes on a stick” exhibitions, public art installations of actual planes that mark historic moments in the evolution of flight. Besides looking at the skies, enjoy a walk down Lancaster’s revitalized BLVD with its Museum of Art and History (MOAH), and variety of restaurants. Have a slice of lemon tart at the Lemon Leaf Café. You won’t be disappointed.
Photos by Susan JAMES