Edwards Airshow

Barry lived on Edwards Air Force Base for some years growing up, and although he tells a convincing story for life on the base, the annual open house and air show was heralded as a experience not be missed: even back in July. On Saturday, October 28th we drove the 3 hours up the 15, round the 138, and into the middle of nowhere to the quaint "town" of Lancaster. California as we knew it had left miles ago, and a mirage of Texas and redneck carnage lay strewn about the town. Saturday night though was just to be a staging point for our early arrival on Sunday.

Morning came just behind the time change, and Barry told the Edwards story depicted in dozens of photographs and posters lining the hotel walls. Many pilots died testing experimental planes, but this was not always a technical failure. The support teams fought to protect the pilots, and the pilots fought to protect planes. Thus in a barely habitable desert, egos thrived to often fatal ripeness. It was and is still quite a different society altogether.

This area was chosen in particular because of the dry lake beds that span many square miles. Acting as a natural runway, any plane or space shuttle in need of an emergency landing could touchdown here and just coast for miles at a time. While driving the main road to the base, we stopped to take a closer look at the dry lake bed, because some of the darker sands made the bed look wet. Very bizarre, this was quite a mirage to be held. Here is the lake bed, stone dry:

Very, very dry:

We arrived to the dustbowl parking lot with time to spare, but the transport wagons were fairly slow to accommodate the masses that poured in. We did manage to get to the taxiing lane just before the event kicked off with an F-18 sonic boom. The plane was safely miles above, but every still felt the wave like a firework that went off far too close to the ground. This taxiing lane showcased most of the planes before they took skyward:

Like this F-15:

And this very new F-22:

On those occasions when the space shuttle needs to touch down in Edwards, there has to be a way to get it back to Florida for tests and analysis. Apparently they don't perch it on top of a u-haul and make the lengthy drive. Instead, there are a couple modified Boeing 747's outfitted with supports. The shuttle lies on top of the supports, and is flown cross-country piggy-backed to the jetliner, whose insides are completely gutted to minimize weight. The shuttle with proof that I was there:

Barry (right foreground) leads the search for sunscreen, headed towards one of the massive hangars now full with merchants and displays:

The F-35 was the Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin contestant for the new supremacy fighter. It lost to the F-22, but still was an engineering feat to be witnessed. Here is the tail of the jet:

And one of the planes from The Right Stuff:

Some NASA plane that was compensating for nothing. Honest:

The C-17 cargo jet behind a prop fighter. The C-17 was a ridiculously huge plane, but still smaller than the C-5:

Some sturdy metalwork:

Barry asked for clarification on this plane, as it clearly did not match the description on the program map:

The big selling shows were the major fighter jets: F-15, F-22, F-18s, etc. However, they did try to sneak in the propeller-based planes to break up the show, and even had legacy flybys that teamed jets with ancestor fighters. In these cases, the prop planes ran full throttle, while the jets fought to stay afloat at such slow speeds. Here is one such pairing being led to the runway:

The B-1 bomber was a static display as well as a spectacle for the show. Most of the flight patterns for fighters included fast and slow flybys, demonstrations of turning radius and speeds, sheer vertical accelerations and attack runs. The bombers, aside from a few generic flybys, demonstrated payload drops at both slow and fast speeds...the whole bit from bomb door opening to low dropping zone to evacuation maneuvers. To be the bad guys and seeing an air show like this in practice would sure wear out my courage:

Barry in his tourist attire:

Another prop plane:


There were several food stands. Most of which were grills:

People and desert:

I see no plane:

Here is a U2 reconnaissance plane. Barry told me stories about his dad flying lengthy missions in these:

The Warthog pictured was the first plane to perform, and for being a cheaper jet, was an amazing engineering vehicle that was extremely maneuverable:

The B-2 bomber:


With side view:

And wider side view:

The wing of the plane, although note that by midday most people were crowding for shade under all of the plane wings. You could seriously trace the plane's silhouette with people strewn beneath:

Inside the wheel mechanism:

Static System Drains:

Emergency helicopters far down the base still only show a fraction of how large this place was:

More planes:

Even more planes:

The weapons display:

Things that go "boom":

A sidewinder missile used to shoot down other missiles:

A tomahawk cruise missile that can steer to follow enemy fighters:

While looking down the tomahawk cruise missile (in grey on top) we asked what the large engine-looking device was underneath it. The military man said that this was a clip to hold many, many cruise missiles. Basically, they would mount these under a bomber jet and launch missiles like a revolver spits chambered bullets. Unbelievable:

A grounded cruise missile:

The Northrop Grumman Predator is a remote controlled plane outfitted with extensive cameras and missiles.

Did I mention cameras and missiles?

The MC for the event was worse than a 4 year-old in that every plane that passed his favorite.

Over 30,000 people were on the site by 11am. It only grew more crowded as the day wore on:

B-1 and prevalent sunburn:

Wing walkers have never graced the Edward's desert skies until this year. The was scheduled to feature a married couple. The wife, pictured below with black hair, and her husband, the pilot of a double-winged propeller-driven plane. The wing walker then hobbles about the body and branches of the craft maintaining ballet poses during the flybys. Let's call her Jealousy, because of her damaged knee that prevented her from being the first. Instead, Jenny, a geochemist from the east coast had to be called up to fill in the gap. Jealousy was the mic'd narrator while Jenny flew with her husband. Jealousy was quick to acknowledge her injury, and proceeded to explain that the show she had prepared, having performed as a wing walker for fifteen years now, would perform many more complex and difficult maneuvers than Jenny. But Jenny was expected to give a good show.

Now, Jenny was flying on Jealousy's plane. Jenny had never flown without a seatbelt to fasten her to the plane.. Jealousy's plane did not have a seatbelt because years of experience and professionalism had taught her otherwise. But Jenny was expected to give a good show.

For the first pass, Jenny wasn't quite able to hit the position as well as Jealousy would have been able...

Nor were her hands strong enough to move quickly enough between the wing wires the way Jealousy would have....

And on.

The narration then began to hint towards a rather sultry side of wing walking. Jenny was not only at a disadvantage under Jealousy because of experience, but also because Jenny had such long, slender legs that would need to quickly spread wide across the fuselage of the plane. Barry and I giggle like titmice.

But Jealousy continued. This next flyby would feature her favorite position on the plane as the husband would direct the plane to press her firmly against the back pole with one leg free to kick high above the pilot's head. But with Jenny's long athletic legs, the maneuver would take much, much longer to get in place... and on. Somehow we weren't being charged $2.99 per minute for this. I lost it; Barry lost it too.

Finally, Jenny landed and came to the stage for a few comments and welcomed applause. She definitely deserved a full salute for the "show":

C-17 in flight:

A motley crew at this event:

Inside the C-17 were a number of restraints and latches to fasten down anything from food to soldiers to tanks:

Much of the C-17 was designed to fly-by-wire. Wires directed through pulleys were controlled centrally from the front of the plane to manipulate the wings and external controls. Above were many wires leading to the tailfins.

Near the side doors was a 6-foot length of escape rope to be used in emergencies only. This was the funniest thing of the whole trip.

The view out the window:

An engine with scale to a crowd:

Tracing the wing silhouettes with people and chairs:

From inside the NASA B-52 used to carry the space shuttle, we got a decent view of the other exhibits:

People cooling their jets:

Cool jets:

Getting ready for the Thunderbirds:

A B-1 and B-52 flyby:

Finally, the parking lot at night: