The show's name doesn't indicate much: Los Angeles County spans 4,084 mi², includes national forests, deserts, and cities, and is home to some 10 million people. I don't know how it's possible to effectively manage all that - and maybe you can't. But when I first found out about the Los Angeles County Air Show, it came as a surprise that it wouldn't be at some nearby beach. Instead, it's held at a smallish airfield in the Mojave Desert.
From, say, Hollywood (which is pretty central for what I would truly consider to be Los Angeles proper), the drive is 70 miles north. Along the way, the lush-enough Hollywood Hills give way to the San Fernando Valley, followed by the Sierra Pelona and San Gabriel Mountains, then, finally, you arrive in Lancaster (within the Mojave Desert and the Antelope Valley). Whew, that'a lot of geography to cover.
Despite the trek, the location for the air show makes sense... Edwards Air Force Base is nearby, which is home to the Air Force Test Pilot School, hosted the first landings of the Space Shuttle, and has seen the development of all kinds of advanced aircraft. Also, over this desert, Chuck Yeager became the first person to officially break the sound barrier in 1947.
Along the way to General William J. Fox Field for the air show, there isn't much to speak of, until you hit a musical road! We weren't entirely sure what the sign for that meant, but driving over the grooves in the asphalt hums what sounds sort of like a dying record player playing the William Tell Overture at half speed. What a brilliant idea, but the dissonant tones are more appropriate for a scary movie at night.
The kind of air show I'm more familiar with is a grand spectacle, and maybe borderline excessive. I'm from Ohio - the home of the Wright Brothers, "the birthplace of aviation". Those shows in Dayton always feature either the Blue Angels or Thunderbirds and include a big conference and technology expo. One year, my brother and I spotted Neil Armstrong and John Glenn chatting... it's that big of an event. The Los Angeles County Air Show, on the other hand, was much more modest, and I'm okay with that, too.
After parking, with plenty of camera gear to slow down my pace, we eventually walked as far as we could and plopped our chairs down next to the flight line fence. I've never been able to claim a spot close to the fence in Ohio.
The national anthem signaled the start of the show, as parachuters, with an American flag in tow, drifted down to earth, while being circled by a pair of aerobatic planes emitting smoke.
The intro seamlessly transitioned into demos by two prop planes, which performed all kinds of twists and turns that showed just how powerful small aircraft can be.
A bi-plane performed, and then came the jets... A Canadair CT-33 tore up the sky, in a badass display of old technology.
More prop planes performed, including an LOL-inducing acrobatic display from a Beechcraft Bonanza. This one is the sleeper car of aviation.
Red Bull raised the bar with a helicopter and airplane display. Watching a helicopter do loops and barrel rolls definitely makes you consider pinching yourself, to see if it's all real. The airplane even flew corkscrews around the helicopter. It was wild!
For the WWII era aficionados (yeah, I'm part of that group), a B-25 Mitchell, P-38 Lighting (possibly my favorite aircraft ever), B-17 Flying Fortress, P-51 Mustang, F4U Corsair, F8F-2 Bearcat, and a British Spitfire performed the ol' bombing run display over the airfield. I hope the pilots had as much fun flying as I did watching.
An F-86F Sabre and MiG-51 were up next, simulating a dogfight. It was completely fascinating watching these two aircraft, which were once cutting-edge technology, chasing each other back and forth over the Mojave Desert.
An Osprey did what an Osprey can do, which is not much. Sure, the unusual part is the versatility offered by the tilt-rotor design, so it either flies like an airplane or like a helicopter. Everyone seemed to be done with this demo when the rotors kicked up a thick cloud of sand and dust, which we watched creep toward and choke us. It brought to mind when the biplane gets swallowed in 1999 version of "The Mummy".
When the air cleared, a British de Havilland "Vampire" jet performed. It was intriguing, as I knew nothing about this aircraft. The red-on-black color scheme seemed appropriate for the name, and it really seemed like a mean machine. Over 3,000 were built between the 1940s and '60s, and just 10 are still airworthy today.
To close the show, an F-22 Raptor took center stage. I was as giddy as a tween at a BTS concert. First of all, most people (such as me) don't often see fighter jets. When they do, they normally don't see the afterburners glowing. They don't see the aircraft making gravity seem like a theory. They don't see generations of cutting-edge technology on display side-by-side... but that's what this day provided.
A couple days after the show, one of my hard-to-please coworkers asked to see some photos from the day. "Woah, it looks like something you'd see on a calendar!" he said of the image below. If you want to order a print, hit me up! :)
The air show was a great time. It was a thrill. But before you start to wonder if this is a sponsored post (it's not), let me tell you about the "thanks for the money you'll never see again" approach that makes me question if I would ever go to the Los Angeles County Air Show in the future. In Nov. 2019, before the pandemic began, I bought two tickets and parking during a "flash sale," for a whopping $25 ($7 tickets, $11 parking). In the following months, the world quickly changed. The air show, scheduled for March, was postponed, then postponed again.
On Twitter, people started asking the air show's organizers about refunds. Some of these people had spent many hundreds of dollars for special access and opportunities. In that public forum, they never received a single response. Compared to the VIP level, my payment would have been pennies in the bucket. Nonetheless, it seems like no one - NO ONE - received a refund for the air shows that didn't happen in 2020 or 2021. If regular operations are resumed in, say, 2027, maybe they'll honor what some people paid and got nothing for... but given the lack of communication, I'm not holding my breath. I'd probably die.
Regarding the Los Angeles County Air Show, the future might not be bright, but that one time in the past sure was a lot of fun.
GENERAL AIR SHOW TIPS
I've been to a bunch of 'em. In the USA, the shows usually take place during summer. Thus, plan accordingly, and here's my list of recommendations:
1. Take ear plugs. Modern jets are LOUD! Protect your hearing, seriously.
2. Use sunblock, even if it's cloudy. Clouds don't block all UV rays.
3. Speaking of, don't forget a hat or your sunglasses. You never know - the sun might start shining through on an overcast day.
4. Some sort of mask might be helpful. Remember that mention above about the Osprey kicking up a cloud of dust? A hanky kept me from eating some of the sand that blew our way.
5. Stay hydrated and nourished. Take in your own water and food, if that's allowed. If you can't and parking is nearby, see if there are any in and out privileges. We kept our lunch in the car and ate healthier and cheaper by not buying pizza and hot dogs during the show.
6. Make sure your electronics are charged and have plenty of free space for photos and videos. Take a USB battery power bank, if you have one.
"Los Angeles County Air Show (2018)"
Written by Justin Kilmer, Edited by Janine Kilmer
All images and media on this site are © by Justin Kilmer, unless otherwise noted.