Highlights of the 2004 March Field Airshow

Robosaurus is one of the hazards of freeway driving in California that they don't tell you about.   Here he performs his act of mass destruction before an adoring crowd, with the snow-covered heights of Mount San Jacinto in the background.


Robosaurus was just passing through but here is one of the aircraft which is usually based at March Field, a KC-135 Stratotanker air refuelling tanker, together with a C-141 Starlifter cargo plane.   You can see the Stratotanker's refuelling probe extended behind the aircraft, but this is an operation which is normally carried out at 28,000 feet and is certainly too dangerous to do before a crowd of people.   The Stratotankers were modifications of Boeing's 707 airliner, and they've continued in service much longer than the airliner.   Although they're all over 40 years old, and have been partially superseded by the KC-10 tanker, there are still around 650 of these aircraft in service with the United States Air Force, and with upgrades they'll continue flying for some time yet.   Unlike the Starlifter, this Stratotanker has upgraded engines, you can see that they put out much less smoke, and they're also far quieter and more fuel efficient.

KC-135 Stratotanker and C-141 Starlifter

The Starlifter did a very good performance, dropping containers by parachute on both days of the show.   The lighting conditions at the show are difficult for photography, with the sun in your eyes for much of the day.   The main viewing area on the east side of the airfield is good in the morning, but gets worse and worse as the sun heads west.   Fortunately, it's also possible to view the show from the museum area on the west side of the airfield.   Not only does this give you a chance to view the many historic aircraft at the museum, it's also less crowded (perhaps because it costs $5), you're nearer to the runways where the planes take off and land, and the aircraft often come closer and bank more, because officially speaking you're outside of the air display box, and therefore the pilots aren't as constrained by the safety regulations which keep the planes at a distance from the main crowd.

C-141 Starlifter dropping containers by parachute   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

A photograph from the museum side of two of the four L29 Delfin (dolphin) jets which did a formation display.   These were a real bonus, because they weren't on the list of aircraft supposed to be flying at the show.   They were designed and manufactured in the 1950s by a Czechoslovakian company called Aero Vodochody as a military trainer for the Soviet Union.

L29 trainers taking off  (click here to open a new window with a larger version of this photo for use as PC wallpaper)

Another Soviet jet, this time the MiG 17 "Fresco" fighter, successor to the infamous MiG 15 "Fagot" which was used in the Korean war.   The plane is sponsored by the company that makes the Red Bull sports drink, which is sort of appropriate since the communist's color was red, but for me it's a shame to see a military aircraft with commercial signs on it.   Nevertheless, the pilot does a really excellent display, as you can see here.

Red Bull MiG 17

This photo of America's premier fighter aircraft the F-15 Eagle was taken from the museum side of the airfield - it wouldn't have been possible to get this shot from the other side, because the pilot can't bank like this close to the crowd.

F-15 Eagle

This is an American world war two B-25 Mitchell bomber called "Heavenly Body", complete with appropriate nose art on the other side.

B-25 Mitchell 'Heavenly Body' taking off

A nice view of the same aircraft's top gun turret and the bomb bay, taken from the main viewing area.

B-25 Mitchell 'Heavenly Body' with bomb bay doors open

There were two B-17 Flying Fortresses at the show, but only this one called "Sentimental Journey" flew.   Other world war two performers on the day were a couple of P-51 Mustangs and an F8F Bearcat, but the F6F Hellcat and P-38 Lightning which were scheduled didn't turn up.   There were also a number of aerobatic acts and formation flights by some historic American propeller-driven trainer aircraft, the T-6 Texan and the T-34 Mentor.   An F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter did a few passes on Saturday, but unfortunately didn't provide any good photo opportunities, because it didn't bank while it was near the viewing area.

B-17 Flying Fortress 'Sentimental Journey'

For many people the highlight of each day's show was the display by the Air Force display team, the Thunderbirds.   Unfortunately they've decided to precede their flight displays with an interminable introduction over the loudspeaker system, with various people saying how good they think the Thunderbirds are, including George Bush senior (who at least was a military aviator in world war two) and various inappropriate people including some young champion Surf Dude, who I suppose is meant to appeal to teenagers, though he probably doesn't know the front end of a plane from the back.   While talking on and on about the Air Force's fine qualities like dedication and perseverance, they demonstrated by their actions their lack of another fine quality - punctuality - taking off 45 minutes after their scheduled start time, an action they almost matched the next day.

Thunderbirds banking

Well, there's no denying that they put on an excellent display in their F-16 Fighting Falcons, and the color scheme of the Thunderbirds does contrast nicely with the blue skies.

Thunderbirds climbing into the blue