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Highlights of the 2005 Edwards AFB Airshow

One of the premier airshows in the world is held at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave desert about an hour north-east of Los Angeles.   It's a show like no other, held at America's most historic aviation test facility, adjacent to Roger's dry lake bed which is used as an emergency landing area during flight tests, and for occasional visits by the Space Shuttle returning from orbit.   This is the only show anywhere in the world where you'll hear military aircraft break the sound barrier (twice in one day at the 2005 show, once by an F-16 fighter and later by a B-1 bomber).

Even the static displays at Edwards are unique, with air force test equipment, NASA aircraft from the Dryden Flight Research Center on the grounds of the base, and other goodies, like this marine corps CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter, the very aircraft which evacuated the American ambassador from the embassy in Saigon at the end of the Vietnam war, repainted in the field green color scheme used at that time.

CH-46 used to evacuate the American embassy in Saigon

The air force's Heritage Flight program commemorates equipment used to defend America in bygone days by putting them in formation with modern equipment, in this case a world war two P-51D Mustang with an F-16 Fighting Falcon.

F-16 Fighting Falcon in formation with a P-51D Mustang

This wasn't the only Mustang flying at the show, nor was it only historic equipment on display.   Here's a piece of living history, Chuck Yeager taxying a P-51D Mustang after landing.   It's especially appropriate that Yeager flew at this show, since Edwards is where he piloted the rocket powered Bell X-1 research plane to become the first person to travel faster than the speed of sound.   It's extraordinary to think that he's still flying today.

Chuck Yeager taxying a P-51D Mustang

This is the first time I've seen the full Commemorative Air Force "Tora, Tora, Tora" display team do their re-enactment of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor which brought America into world war two.   It was an impressive sight, with the replica "Zero" fighters at the bottom flying in tight unison with two replica "Kate" torpedo bombers and fixed undercarriage "Val" dive bombers.   Combine all of these with a 10 or 15 minute pyrotechnic display of fireballs and black smoke and you've got quite a routine!   As an interesting footnote, the Japanese phrase "Tora, Tora, Tora" broadcast after the first wave of attacks on Pearl Harbor means exactly the same as the English phrase "Tiger, Tiger, Tiger" which was broadcast after the CH-46 on static display had evacuated the American ambassador in Saigon.

'Tora, Tora, Tora' simulated Pearl Harbor attack

Moving a few years ahead in time, there was a Korean War display by the Planes of Fame Air Museum F-86 Sabre, a type which made its first flight in this very location on October 1st, 1947.   A long and dazzling list of aircraft made their first flights here, largely because of the huge dry lake bed which has been called "God's gift to the US Air Force".

Planes of Fame museum at Chino F-86 Sabre

But here's an aircraft whose first flight definitely wasn't here, a Russian-designed MiG-15 jet fighter, whose NATO reporting name was "Fagot".   The MiG-15 was the F-86's adversary in Korea, however despite being very durable and having a 37mm cannon and two 23mm cannons compared to the Sabre's less deadly machine guns, the F-86 still manage a roughly nine-to-one kill ratio against the MiG-15.

MiG-15 'Fagot'   (click here to open a new page with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

Another leap in time brings us forward to the Vietnam war and America's premier fighter of the era, an F-4D Phantom II owned by the Collings Foundation and flown at Edwards by Frank Romaglia, who has over 5000 hours flying this type, much of it in Vietnam.   This is the only privately owned Phantom in the world, and it's a great thing that the air force is willing to have it along to a show, when they could just as easily have brought along one of their own slightly less authentic QF-4 Phantom drones to the show.   Although one of the drones is painted up in much the same color scheme as the Collings bird, it's still not quite the same as having an unmodified aircraft of this type.  You can also see an air-to-air photoshoot I did a few weeks earlier with the Collings F-4.

Collings Foundation F-4D Phantom II landing

And now to the present day, a T-6A Texan II trainer.   As well as doing this marvellous low-level display, the Texan II also flew one of an ongoing series of "Historic Flight" formations with its distant predecessor and namesake, the world war two T-6 Texan, which was used to train many thousands of pilots both during that conflict and afterwards.   Unfortunately, the runway is an awfully long way from the spectator area, so sights like this are restricted to accredited media types or people who browse the magazines or websites of accredited media types!   Spectators do, however, get an excellent view of most of these aircraft taxying at close quarters before and after their displays.

T-6A Texan II  (click here to open a new page with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

Here's another new aircraft in the air force inventory, but if the Texan II was at low level then this C-17 Globemaster III is nearly over the moon!   It did an excellent display including dropping multiple pallets by parachute, as well as passes with undergear down and even some nice banking.

C-17 Globemaster III dropping a pallet by parachute

This KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refuelling tanker is much older than the Globemaster III, in fact it was a parallel development with Boeing's first jet airliner, the Dash 80, also known as the Boeing 707.   Almost all Boeing 707s have been retired, movie star John Travolta flies one of the last ones still operating in the United States, but the KC-135 is still going strong and re-engined examples like this one will continue in service for a lot longer.

KC-135 Stratotanker landing

Edwards is an excellent place to see a wide variety of modern American military aircraft flying, and this year there was a special treat, an F-16 Fighting Falcon jet fighter based at Edwards, but flown by pilot Gert-Jan Vooren of the Royal Netherlands Air Force.   His call sign is "Goofy", but his display is anything but Goofy!   In fact, the Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 display is widely considered to be the best demonstration by this aircraft type anywhere in the world.   It's very loud, very aerobatic, stays very close to the crowd and is greatly enhanced by the use of flares and the "smokewinder" smoke generators you can see in action here.   Sadly, the flares weren't on show at Edwards, perhaps out of fear that they might set the desert scrub on fire, but the rest of the display was as superb as ever, and several people said they felt sorry for the US Air Force F-16 pilot who had to follow this act with his own less spectacular routine.   I don't have a full presentation of the Dutch display on this website, but there is a computer wallpaper of it doing its full display at the 2002 Royal International Air Tattoo in England.

Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 display

Here's the USAF's most exciting new aircraft, the F-22 Raptor air superiority fighter.   This is a replacement for the ageing F-15 Eagle, which is still considered by most people to be the world's best fighter aircraft.   The Raptor has significant advantages over the Eagle, including the ability to "supercruise" at about Mach 1.5 without using its afterburners, and the same type of stealth technology already employed on the F-117 Nighthawk and the B-2 Spirit.   You shouldn't be too surprised to hear that both the F-15 and the F-22 made their first flights at Edwards, the F-15 on July 27, 1972 and the YF-22 on September 29, 1990.   Oh, and the B-2 made its maiden flight here on July 17, 1989!

F-22 Raptor fighter climbing with afterburner

Not only are interesting aircraft types on display at Edwards, but the displays tend to be more interesting than at other shows, perhaps partially because this is the air force's test center and also because there's an awful lot of empty space here, with little danger of damage on the ground in the extremely unlikely event that something goes wrong.   As an example, Edwards is probably the only show anywhere where you'll see a pass by a Raptor with all of its weapons bays open.   Officially, the Raptor is designated the F/A-22 Raptor to signify that it has abilities both as a fighter and as an attack aircraft able to bomb ground targets.   In practice this is a claim forced on the military and its contractors by politicians wanting to make a name for themselves as defenders of the public purse - the Raptor was designed as a pure air-to-air fighter aircraft, and while it is able to carry a small quantity of bombs within these bays, its capacity is far lower than less high performance but more versatile aircraft like the F/A-18 Hornet.   To carry more ordnance the Raptor has to use external bomb racks which almost completely obliterate the aircraft's stealthy characteristics, as well as affecting its ability to supercruise.

F-22 Raptor doing a pass with its weapons bays open

Like the Stratotanker, the B-52 Stratofortress was designed by Boeing and entered service in the mid 1950s, and like the Stratotanker it has a surprisingly bright future.   Continually updated since they were first introduced, these two dinosaurs are expected to remain in service for several more decades.

B-52 Superfortress landing  (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

Although the B-52 frequently appears at airshows as a static exhibit, it's not too often that members of the public get to see a full display, taking off, doing multiple passes and landing at the same place.   Not only did this demonstration include separate passes with landing gear down and bomb bays open, but after one pass they also did this rapid climb out, which I've never seen before.   It certainly gives a different perspective on the Stratofortresses massive 185 foot (56.5 meter) wingspan.

B-52 Stratofortress climbing steeply

The B-1B Lancer looks like it should have made the B-52 totally obsolete, and on paper it certainly looks like a worthy successor, able to carry almost 135,000 pounds (61 tonnes) of ordnance compared to the B-52's 70,000 pounds (32 tonnes), and able to fly at Mach 1.2 against the B-52's top speed of Mach 0.86.   The Lancer also has a much lower radar signature and far better electronics.

B-1B Lancer afterburner takeoff   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)
B-2 Spirit 'stealth bomber'   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

The B-1 might be far more technologically advanced than the B-52, but it has an even more sophisticated counterpart in the B-2 Spirit, which is popularly called the "stealth bomber".   The B-2 demonstration at Edwards is far better than the one put on at other airshows, so I've put together an entire page about the stealth bomber display at the 2005 Edwards AFB airshow.

This crazy looking aircraft was designed to penetrate heavily defended territory which would be too dangerous for the B-1 or B-52, however some critics say that since the collapse of the Soviet Union it no longer has a credible opponent (a charge which is also levelled against the F-22 Raptor).   It has almost exactly the same maximum speed as the B-52, but can only carry 40,000 pounds (18 tonnes) of ordnance compared to the B-52's 70,000 pounds or the B-1's 135,000 pounds.

Completing the lineup of America's front-line aviation weaponry is this F-117 Nighthawk, commonly known as the "stealth fighter".   It would actually be more accurate to say that this is a YF-117A Nighthawk, since this is the third prototype aircraft.   This same aircraft was painted up in this US flag scheme in 1983, but since the Nighthawk was still a top secret project at that time, very few people ever saw it; however because this aircraft was due to be retired straight after this show, it was decided to paint it up again and put it on public display in this scheme for the first time ever.

Just to say it again, this is the sort of display that makes the Edwards show so special - it's the only event in the world where you have any hope of seeing an F-117, a B-1, B-2, B-52 and F-22 all put on extended performances in the same place at the same time.

F-117 Nighthawk 'stealth fighter' with USA flag underside   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

But wait, there's more!   Since many of the aircraft at Edwards are test planes rather than combat aircraft, you'll also see paint schemes which are found nowhere else, like this very graceful T-38 Talon supersonic trainer, which is used as a chase plane to follow aircraft undergoing flight testing.   This white scheme isn't one you'll see in too many other places.

T-38 Talon supersonic jet trainer

Nor is the white-and-orange scheme on this two-seater F-16 Fighting Falcon likely to turn up in too many places!

Edwards F-16 Fighting Falcon

As I mentioned earlier, NASA also has its Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards, so not only can you see interesting NASA color schemes, but you can see some unusual NASA aircraft as well.   Several were on static display, and they also flew one of their F-18 Hornet chase planes (which was itself chased by a NASA T-34 Mentor), as well as some real oddities, like this highly modified F-15 Eagle code named ACTIVE, which not only has large auxiliary canard wings near the front, but also has thrust vectoring engines like on several of the Russian fighter aircraft which displayed at the 2005 MAKS airshow in Moscow.   The ACTIVE F-15 also has an "intelligent flight control system" which consists of an adaptive neural network which is intended to allow the aircraft to continue to fly even after it suffers serious damage in flight which would otherwise cause the plane to crash.   It has to be said that the F-15 is already able to survive a great deal of damage and keep flying even without a computerized neural network - an Israeli air force F-15 had a mid-air collision with an Israeli A-4 Skyhawk, but the pilot was able to bring the Eagle in for a safe landing even though it had lost nearly its entire right wing!

NASA 'ACTIVE' F-15 Eagle with canards

Here's another interesting and unusual NASA aircraft, an ER-2 high-altitude research plane, which was derived from the U-2 spy plane.   This shot of it taxying towards the crowd area after performing its demonstration shows off its glider-like wingspan of over 103 feet (33 meters).   The aircraft has a bicycle landing gear with two sets of wheels mounted fore and aft under the fuselage, so before liftoff and after landing a support truck trails it, to retrieve and later refit the flimsy "pogo stick" landing gears which you can see about half-way along each wing.   These wheels fall off automatically at takeoff, but are put back on after the pilot slows the plane to a crawl and allows one wing to dip towards the runway.   All of this happened during the show, and I was also lucky enough to see the same thing about 10 years ago when I was still living in New Zealand, where NASA was doing ozone hole research.

NASA ER-2 high-altitude research aircraft

Another speciality of the Edwards show is the mass flyby done by many different air force aircraft types.   This year the display consisted of a C-12 Huron, B-2 Spirit, KC-135 Stratotanker, MC-130 Hercules, C-17 Globemaster III, B-52 Stratofortress, the American flag F-117 Nighthawk, F-16 Fighting Falcon, T-38 Talon, the F-16 Fighting Falcon in the white and orange color scheme which you saw earlier on this page, and the F-22 Raptor.   It's a really spectacular display.

mass flyby
one section of the mass flyby

The mass flyby is an awesome sight, but it's very difficult to take a photograph which does it justice - you just have to be there to experience it!

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