“Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth, and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings ...” —From the poem “High Flight,” John Magee, 1941
Those famous words written during the early days of World War II will resonate once again throughout the Antelope Valley as the Los Angeles County Air Show lifts off March 19-20 at William J. Fox Airfield in Lancaster.
The air show is always a fascinating weekend event showcasing some of the most famous, vintage air craft, daring aerobatics, and aeronautics history as a wide assortment of “flying machines” dash and dart high above the landscape and bring thrills and chills to onlookers. Sponsored by Lockheed Martin, the air show will also feature some of the nation’s best aerobatics performers and wing walkers, along with warbirds, military aircraft and pyrotechnics.
The legendary Blue Angels
The big highlight of the event, of course, is the demonstration by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels. This six-jet squadron is known throughout the world as, arguably, the premier flying acrobatic team. The six demonstration pilots (a seventh “advance pilot” also serves as a backup member) fly the Navy’s F/A-18 Hornet, typically in more than 70 shows at 34 locations throughout the United States. And after 70 years, the famous squadron employs many of the same practices and techniques used in their original aerial displays. The Blue Angels should not be confused with the United States Air Force Thunderbirds, established in 1953, which is also a aerial acrobatics squadron.
The oldest air show is the French Air Force Patrouille de France which traces its history back to the pre-jet days of 1931.
More than 50,000 people witness the Blue Angels in their standard show season (March through November). It is estimated that since 1946, the Blue Angels have entertained more than 260 million spectators. The original mission of the Blue Angels—technically the United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squad—was to “showcase the pride and professionalism of the United States Navy and Marine Corps by inspiring a culture of excellence and service to the country through flight demonstrations and community outreach.” The genesis of the Blue Angels came from a directive by Admiral Chester Nimitz who believed that such a touring group could boost Navy morale, demonstrate to the world American air power ... and generate public and political support for increasing the Navy’s annual budget.
Witness the Diamond Formation
Since then, the Blue Angels have accomplished these objectives in amazing ways. As jet airplanes go, the F/A-18 Hornet is a relatively tiny (but mighty) machine. The squad takes off and quickly splits into their vaunted Diamond Formation. Most of the show tends to alternate between maneuvers performed by the six-member formation and those finesse moves performed solo. When they move into tight formation—usually at lower speeds of about 400 miles per hour—the pilots will begin to perform formation loops, barrel rolls and various transitions from one formation to another. The solo aircraft will showcase the high-performance capabilities of the fighter jets as they execute daring high-speed passes, slow passes, fast rolls, slow rolls and ultra-tight turns that literally have to be seen to be believed. The highest speed flown is 700 mph (just under Mach 1) and the same craft can almost instantly reduce velocity down to 120 mph. Some maneuvers include both solo aircraft performing at once (e.g. opposing passes toward one another in what may appear to be a foolhardy game of “chicken”), while other formations appear to be performed back-to-back or in “mirror formations.” In the next instant, the pilots will fly belly-to-belly or even wingtip-to-wingtip with one of the jets flying upside down.