Skip to content

Southern California aviation history on display this weekend in Lancaster


The Blue Angels will take flight for their first show in a year at the 2014 Los Angeles County Air Show today and tomorrow at William J. Fox Airfield, 4555 W. Avenue G, in Lancaster. Gates will open at 9 a.m. both days with tickets priced at $20 for persons 13 years and older, $10 for ages six to 12 years and free for children five years and under. A “Family Fun” pack is available for $50. The admission price does not include seats.

Northrop N-9M (65235)

The Blue Angels are the United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron and were organized in 1946 by Admiral Chester Nimitz with the first show taking place that year at Craig Field in Jacksonville, Fla. Not to be confused with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, the Blue Angels are witnessed by an estimated 11 million people each year; more than 50,000 persons are in attendance at each show from March through November. The government sequestration last year forced their grounding, and they finally took to the air again last week at their winter practice session at the Naval Air Facility in El Centro.

“Community outreach is key to connecting Americans to the military,” said Thomas Frosch, commanding officer and flight leader, this week in announcing the new season. “Our performances provide a unique opportunity to inspire millions to connect with and support our service members.” The group is scheduled to perform 65 shows at 34 locations nationwide this year.

In 1946, Admiral Nimitz, chief of naval operations, had a vision to create a flight exhibition team in order to raise the public’s interest in naval aviation and to boost Navy morale. At that time, the aircraft included the F6 Hellcat, the F8 Bearcat and the F9 Panther. The 1950s saw the inclusion of F9 Cougar and the F11 Tiger, and the introduction of the famous six-plane delta formation, still demonstrated today. By the end of the 1960s, the aviation troupe was piloting the F-4 Phantom; the mid-70s would feature the A-4 Skyhawk, a smaller and lighter aircraft with a lighter turning radius that allowed for more dynamic flight demonstrations. By 1986, today’s F/A-18 Hornet had become the star of the show.

A number of support aircraft to carry and service the fighter planes were utilized early on by the Blue Angels, including the McDonnell-Douglas R4D Sky Train, the Curtiss R5C Commando, the Douglas R5D Skymaster and the Lockheed C-121 Super Constellation. Lockheed-Martin’s behemoth C-130 transport is used today and is commonly referred to as “Fat Albert,” the moniker taken from Bill Cosby’s popular 1970s cartoon character because of its immense size and shape. It holds 46,000 pounds of fuel, will cruise at 375 miles per hour and requires eight Marines to operate it (three pilots, two flight engineers, a navigator, a flight mechanic and a loadmaster). Practically all of the aforementioned military aircraft over the past 60 years were conceived and designed in the South Bay cities of Downey, Hawthorne, Inglewood and El Segundo, and tested at Edwards Air Force Base in Palmdale. Additional support aircraft have included the SNJ Texan (1946), the T-33 Shooting Star (1952-54) and the F7U Cutlass from 1952-53.

There are 16 jets in the Blue Angels: four single-seat F/A-18A models, nine single-seat F/A-18C, one two-seat F/A-18B and a pair of two-seat F/A 18D jets, all with a maximum speed of 1,190 miles per hour or just under Mach 2, and each priced at upwards of $21 million. Through 2014, there have been 246 demonstration pilots and 35 commanding officers, including retired Captain Donnie Cochran who in September 1985 became the first African American to fly with the Blue Angels. In July 1994, Cochran became a flight leader. Last year, a record 16 women had become members of the Blue Angels team, primarily piloting the support aircraft. The Blue Angels demonstrate the precision taught to all naval aviators while flying less than 36 inches apart in the four-plane diamond, echelon and six-plane delta formations.

Boeing’s F/A-18 Hornet is a twin-engine supersonic jet designed both as a fighter and an attack aircraft. It was derived from Northrop Aviation’s YF-17 of the 1970s for use by the Navy and Marines. It is powered by a pair of General Electric turbofan engines with its primary missions as fighter escorts, fleet air defense, Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD), air interdiction, close air support and aerial reconnaissance.

Taken at the Gathering of Mustangs, Columbus, Ohio. P-51 B painted in the colors of the Tuskegee Airmen (65389)

All pilots are active-duty Navy or Marine officers with a minimum of 1,250 flight hours. One of the most popular attractions is the “Diamond 360” maneuver in which the pilots will fly as close as 18 inches of one another. They will often produce a smoke screen or entrails to allow spectators to follow the flight path. The smoke is composed of simple paraffin oil pumped into the exhaust nozzle.

“We’re very excited to do a show in the Antelope Valley,” said Navy Lt. Ryan Chamberlain at a press conference late last year in announcing the air show. “We hope that the event will inspire future pilots and engineers.” The first air show at Fox Field was in 1962; Edwards Air Force Base hosted an air show in 2009.

Kirby Chambliss, a two-time Red Bull Air Race World Champion and five-time U.S. National Aerobatic Champion, is scheduled to perform his explosive aerobatic routines in his Edge 540 in conjunction with the wingsuit flyers to create an aviation circus-like performance by some of the world’s top extreme athletes. Chuck “Malibu” Aaron will also perform. He is known as a methodical risk taker and the first civilian to be licensed to perform helicopter aerobatics in the United States. Aaron is a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. Other performers will include Greg Colyer in his Lockheed GT-33 Shooting Star; Bill Braack with his “Smoke ‘N Thunder” jet car which reaches speeds of 400 miles per hour; a “Heritage Flight” featuring North American Aviation’s famous P-51 Mustang and an F-86 Sabre Jet; an aerobatic demonstration featuring a Lockheed P-38; a Korean War “dogfight” between an F-86 Sabre Jet and a Russian-made Mig 15, and fly-overs by a Northrop N9MB Flying Wing.

Oliver’s Skydancer is an aerobatic performance by Steve Oliver who presents a 12-minute, tightly choreographed routine in a 1956 de Havilland Chimpmonk which can cruise at 160 miles per hour and can climb at 2,500 feet per minute. Susanne Asbury-Oliver is the nation’s only female professional skywriter who literally “paints an aerial canvas” 10,000 feet high. The letters in her unique act are approximately one mile in width, two miles vertical and can be seen 30 miles in each direction. Also, Antelope Valley resident Chuck Coleman will offer a high-energy aerobatic performance in his Extra 300L.

NASA will showcase its ER-2 High-Altitude Platform, said to be a versatile aircraft suited to perform multiple mission tasks as it operates at altitudes ranging from 20,000 to 70,000 feet—the latter extreme above 99 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere. NASA operates two Lockheed ER-2 Earth resources aircraft as flying laboratories in its Sub-Orbital Science Program. These aircraft are based at NASA’s Science and Aircraft Integration Facility in Palmdale. In addition, the American Aeronautical Foundation’s B-25J Mitchell bomber, the “Executive Sweet,” will be available for tours during the show. This plane has 13 machine guns and can carry up to 6,000 pounds of ordinance.

The West Coast Ravens Formation team will demonstrate the custom-built Van RV aircraft, many of which are homebuilt.

There will be a special demonstration of the P-51 Mustang honoring the Tuskegee Airmen, as well as a backseat ride in one of these World War II aviation legends. The P-51, originally produced for the Royal Air Force of Great Britain as part of the 1941 Lend-Lease Act, was used by the all-Black Tuskegee Airmen of the Red Tail Squadron in the 332nd Fighter Group. Originally shunned by the segregated military during the Jim Crow years, the Tuskegee Airmen flew 15,000 missions as bomber escorts during World War II, losing a reported dozen bombers over Europe and the Pacific. North American Aviation built more than 15,000 P-51s from 1940-45, including an astonishing 857 planes in one month at its Inglewood facility. At least 25 different countries flew the P-51 for more than 35 years. The P-51 Mustang is easily identified by its iconic “Red Tail” rudder. In 2007, 350 Tuskegee Airmen and their widows received the Congressional Gold Medal and the Alabama airfield where they trained has been designated as a Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.

In 1970, the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) acquired an original P-51 to include in its educational program. By 1980, the Red Tail Project had taken hold and, although that original P-51 was involved in a crash that killed the pilot, a retired Navy commander, the Tuskegee Airmen endorsed and encouraged the aircraft’s second restoration and the newly restored P-51 appeared in 2009 at AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis. Since the 1990s, the Red Tail Squadron has raised more than $2 million for ongoing maintenance and associated educational programs. There have been two documentary films made about the P-51 Mustang: “Red Tail Reborn” (2007) and “Flight of the Red Tail” 2009. Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Terrence Howard starred in the motion picture “Red Tails” in 2012.

The CAF began in 1957 with a small group of ex-service pilots who pooled their money to purchase a P-51 Mustang. They added two F8F Bearcats and soon founded the Warbird Movement, an effort to preserve and honor military history with the rallying cry of “Keep ‘Em Flying.” Fifty-five years later, CAF would become the world’s premier Warbird organization operating 156 vintage aircraft and hosts more than 10,000 members who distribute the aircraft to 80 units in 24 states.

Visitors to the air show will be able to explore static aircraft displays, interact with pilots and crewmembers, and experience interactive attractions and educational exhibits designed to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program. A number of private owners will also have their aircraft on display.

For tickets or more information about the 2014 Los Angeles County Air Show, visit, or call Fox Airfield at (661) 940-1709.