The Antelope Valley Airshow at Edwards AFB last year gave access to some very unusual airframes including some unique types. In the 90s, an F-16D airframe was converted into a variable stability testbed. It was used for test pilot training but also became a testbed for other technologies. Known as VISTA, it also tested a thrust vectoring nozzle on the engine as MATV, performing some amazing maneuvers. I know one of the test pilots that flew it including when it misbehaved!
The aircraft continues to be used for new developments and, relatively recently, it was re-designated to be an X-plane. It is now known as the X-62 while continuing to perform some of its original test pilot training roles. It was on display in one of the hangars at Edwards. It was a bit hard to get good shots of it since everything was rather crowded, but I was able to get a few that I was happy with.
I was planning to head up to Skagit for the May Fly Day at the Heritage Flight Museum anyway. As it turned out, I had been talking with Rich at COAP about the trip he was leading and, when he asked if I would like to tag along with their group, I said yes. They had been working with the Museum and arranged some opportunities to shoot from locations that normal ticket access wouldn’t allow.
The team at COAP and the team at the museum were super helpful and friendly. Add to that, the weather was great and the combination of aircraft they were able to put up was excellent so, the day was set to be a bunch of fun. It did not disappoint. I have shot at the museum fly days before but, sometimes, the planes I was after didn’t fly and sometimes the conditions weren’t ideal. On this occasion, everything came together. I did play around with my shots trying to get more dynamic images. The high vantage point we had available helped with that too.
I took a ton of shots and culled them heavily. The result was a few shots I was particularly happy with and it was nice that the museum shared a few of them on their social media platforms too. Seeing the Skyraider fly is always cool but the day was a trainer day and they put up some great trainer formations. The conditions were a little bumpy but they made a good job of it and there were shots to be had. I look forward to the next time I am up there.
One of the bigger attractions at the Antelope Valley Air Show, held at Edwards AFB, was the appearance of the Darkstar plane from Top Gun Maverick. Obviously not a real plane (and not even the real Darkstar which was a reconnaissance UAV that never progressed beyond testing), it was part of a hugely popular movie so garnered a ton of attention. It was parked in the static display alongside a very real SR-71 Blackbird. This was something I found far more interesting having seen them fly for real in my younger days. The Darkstar was still fun to see. I am not that churlish.
The aerial display by the SOFIA was a high point of the Antelope Valley Air Show 2022 at Edwards AFB. When it finished, it landed and taxied in to it parking location. I was at that end of the ramp so was able to watch it come in and position prior to being maneuvered into its final position. Being that close to a 747 is always pretty impressive since even the SPs are large jets. Everyone was crowding to see it come in and it was drawing attention away from some of the flying display!
The KC-46 will end up being a big selling tanker because the USAF will buy loads and a few export customers will follow suit. However, where open competitions have been held, the Airbus A330 MRTT has been most successful. It is developing a wide customer base and one of those customer is the Royal Australian Air Force. They have brought their tankers, known as KC30, to the US on exercises but I had not seen one in person until I got to the Antelope Valley Air Show at Edwards AFB. The tanker was sitting on the ramp in the static area. It was looking particularly clean for a military jet and was configured with both the boom and the underwing pods for probe and rogue refueling. Fitting in a big jet in a busy ramp is tricky so a pano can help out making a shot possible. Now I just need to see one actually airborne!
Edwards AFB might be the home of the USAF flight test center but it is also home for NASA’s Armstrong test center. Consequently, NASA was included in the flying display. They put up a three ship formation that mad a series of passes. The formation was led by a Gulfstream with an F-15 and an F/A-18 on the wing tips. The Eagle is one that has been with NASA for years and is painted in a white scheme. The Hornet was still in Strike Test colors from Pax River but I have no idea how long it has been with NASA.
The two jets also did some demonstrations of sonic booms as they maneuvered high above the crowd with the booms reaching the ground at different times depending on how high they had been created. The sound was also modified by the maneuvering of the jet. Formations like this don’t appear regularly at air shows so this was a welcome addition to the flying program.
The F-35’s appearance at Seafair has resulted in a few posts of departures and arrivals at Boeing Field on this blog. However, I don’t think I have actually shared any shots of the display itself. I quite enjoyed the demo routine that the USAF had last year. Unfortunately, the display axis for Seafair is a long way from the shore so the shots were a bit distant. I also didn’t know the routine and was caught out when flares were dispensed and so didn’t get shots of those that I am happy with. However, there were a few times when the jet came in close to the shore and I got some closer views. I do want to see the display at a more conventional location at some point.
During the air show at Edwards AFB, there was a lot of maneuvering of aircraft high above the crowds. There was a little cloud at higher levels – not enough to stop it being almost uncomfortably hot, but enough to be visible – and the planes that flew through this level left their wakes through the cloud layers breaking them up and forming patterns where they had been. I thought this looked really cool and, because the show was backlit, the sun was coming through these patterns and the shadows made them appear more conspicuous. A C-17 flew across at one point which gives you some idea of the scale of these interesting patterns in the sky.
One of the highlights of the Blue Angels’ display is the sneak passes. The display is good but the sneak pass gets the jets as fast as you are going to get in their routine and there is a chance of vapor cones forming around the shocks and expansion fans. A display over water enhances the chance of the vapor. The distance of the display line on Lake Washington was a little disappointing as the jets were quite far away but the advantage of this location was that Mercer Island provided a backdrop.
The benefit of this backdrop was that, the rapid changes in density of the air in the shocks and expansions makes the refractive index change and this will distort the view of the background. With a clear sky, this is usually not visible but, with a background, you can see the shocks around the airframe. This is a rare opportunity. Fortunately, while there was little vapor, there were plenty of shocks. I was quite happy when I got home and studied the shots of the display to find I had some good results. It would have been great to have been on the media boat but let’s not complain.
Over the course of the Seafair weekend, I got to see the demo F-35A arrive and depart a few times. The demo pilot would get airborne and keep the jet on the deck in full burner building up a decent amount of speed. Then, she would pull to a steep climb just as she got to the perimeter of the field. This looked pretty impressive from the side but it was even more impressive from head on.
The return to land after the display was a lot more sedate. It was a pretty standard pattern and approach but there were plenty of people at the south end to enjoy the last moments of the flight. I headed down there a couple of times. You could easily do both departure and approach since you had the whole time that the display was underway to re-position. I did all go to Ruby Chow Park from one departure and shot video rather than stills. Seeing the F-35 come right at us and then pull hard was impressive. The noise was intense and the wake threw dust and debris into the air around us. It made an impression!