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.
Alongside, connected to but not part of Joe Davies Historic Airpark is Blackbird Airpark. On the south side of Palmdale’s airport, this area pays tribute to some of the most iconic products from Plant 42 across the airfield. Lockheed’s Skunk Works turned out some amazing aircraft and this exhibit includes an A-12, an SR-71, a U-2 and an D-21 drone. Having an A-12 next to an SR-71 is pretty special. You have to look closely to see which is which. A selection of black airframes together in the desert sun does not make for easy photography and there are lots of power lines and fences in the background but it would be churlish to complain too much. It is free after all!
I got to the gate for Antelope Valley Air Show 2022 early in the morning. We were lined up outside the security gate for Edwards AFB waiting for the time things opened up. I was on the phone so was happy to sit in the car for a while chatting. When I finished my call, I could see that I was a short distance away from Century Circle – a display of various aircraft associated with Edwards. Nothing was moving so I figured I would walk up and have a look around. I had got most of the way there when it looked like cars were starting to move. I rapidly retraced my steps to the car and we drove on to the base.
At the end of the show, I was coming back out the same gate so decided to see if it was possible to pull in and see the aircraft on display. Indeed, there were no barriers and Iw as able to park up and have a walk around the various exhibits. The name, Century Circle, is a reference to how many of the jets are Century Series fighters. There is going to be a museum for the Air Force flight test center and the base for the building was not far from the aircraft. I will be interesting to see what the museum is like when it is finished and how many of the other interesting aircraft that are currently on base will be included.
Of the jets on display, my favorites are the F-106, the F-105 and the F-104. Nicely sequential now I think about it. There is an F-102 which I have never been so keen on and this one is a two seater which takes a place that didn’t look that great and makes it worse. Still, vintage jets on display is a good thing and I shouldn’t be critical of what is on offer.
The one plane that is a bit of an oddball is the McDonnell Douglas YC-15. This was a program the USAF ran for a new jet transport to replace the C-130. Boeing and McDonnell Douglas both built demonstrators for the program but neither was taken to production. However, there are a lot of features from the YC-15 that will be familiar to observers of the C-17. Having a transport jet alongside the sleek fighters is a little unusual but it is a rare beast and worthy of preservation. Thankfully, the dry desert atmosphere is a place that will allow the airframe to survive for many years.
There was a grey camo F-16 on the ramp at the air show at Edwards this year. When I saw it I was really excited but I think I was in the minority. I mentioned to a photographer next to me how cool it was and he commented on the air data boom. I told him it was an F-16XL and he had no idea what that was. The XL was the long range strike version of the F-16 that went up against and lost to the F-15E Strike Eagle. Two jets were built and they ended up having some test duties including so work for NASA. The single seater was the jet on the ramp for the show.
It has a large cranked delta wing but, from a normal viewpoint, that can be seen but isn’t obvious. A look at the shadows, though, and you know what you are dealing with. The airframe is an early fiscal number – the next jet became the AFTI aircraft – and the rear fuselage has the mounting points for an anti-spin chute rig. This jet has done a lot in its flying days but it is now a museum piece.
I have posted about the JetStars that were stored at Klamath Falls. There were three airframes that we got a chance to check out. We were given a great opportunity because they also opened up the jets so we could look around inside. It was fun poking around inside what was once the premier form of executive transport. It was also interesting to see the difference in the configurations with things like the throttle quadrants looking very different between the jets.
If you don’t know I like JetStars, you have not been a regular reader of this blog. If that is the case, I have a real soft spot for this jet. The original business jet and a plane that looks so cool even decades after it first flew. If you did know, my apologies for being so repetitive. On the evening that Mark and I arrived in Klamath Falls, I saw a post on the JetStar Facebook group about some JetStars in the city. A Brit, Kev Perry, had posted some shots of them. I decided to contact him, and he gave me some good information about where they were and the team that looked after them.
The next morning found me and Mark at their front door asking if we might come in. The team couldn’t have been more accommodating. Two of the jets were parked up on the ramp in the morning sun looking fantastic. They let us take any shots we wanted. They also told us about a third jet that they had in their hangar so it would have been rude to not wander across and take a look. Photographing a jet in the hangar is not as cool as in the morning sun but three JetStars in a morning is not something to miss.
In a previous post, I mentioned coming across a MiG 21 in Corvallis Oregon. When we saw this jet through the door of the hangar, we were surprised. However, we are polite types so I went in to the office attached the hangar to ask if we could take a look at the MiG. When I said this to the person on the desk, she asked if I wanted to see their Starfighter. I was confused but wasn’t going to argue about the type since I wanted them to let me in. She pointed me through the door to hangar and said I was welcome to look around.
I went through the door and looked to my right and immediately realized what she was talking about. Tucked in a corner to one side of the MiG was an TF-104G Starfighter. It was in bare metal but there was a hint of previous paint on it. I found a panel with markings on it which suggested the jet had seen service with Turkey. Mark advised that they had received jets from other countries so it might have served elsewhere before.
While it was tucked in the back of the hangar, the hangar doors had plenty of clear panels which meant there was some nice light illuminating the jet as it sat there doing very little. The Starfighter is such a fantastic looking jet. It is so dynamic looking and, when in bare metal, it looks even more cool. I have no idea the story that brought it to Corvallis but was so happy to have found it as part of a short diversion from the long drive home.
I was heading back from south of Seattle when I was surprised to find out that the NOAA WP-3D Orion, Kermit, was at Boeing Field. It had come in the day before but I hadn’t heard about it. I was planning to stop for lunch so why not go to BFI? Just after I got there, I saw a prop start turning on the number one engine. However, after running it up, they shut down again. I was dreading that they were going to go tech and the plane wouldn’t move.
Fortunately, whatever they were concerned about wasn’t too much of an issue. A little while later, while I was still eating my lunch, I looked up to see two engines running. This looked more promising. Sure enough they taxied shortly afterwards. The nice news was that they crossed the runway to taxiway bravo so we got a good look at them. A while later it was their turn for departure and they came my way. The nice thing about a four engined prop is that they didn’t climb too rapidly so a good angle on them. It was pretty overcast so not ideal light but the dark colors show up better without too contrasty light.
I’ve seen the JetStar prototype a few times in various visits to the Museum of Flight restoration facility up at Paine Field. The JetStar is a favorite of mine as might be determined by several of my posts over the years. The prototype is a bit different, though. It was built with two engines – Bristol Orpheus turbojets. After the first two aircraft, the rest were four engined. After it finished testing, it was used by Lockheed for transport duties. It ended up in Vancouver before coming into the museum’s collection. These shots are of it in the restoration shop.
A couple of years ago, a NOAA Gulfstream was operating in the area for a while and I managed to get some shots of it that were shared in this post. That Gulfstream had a couple of interested radomes fitted. Another part of the NOAA fleet is a WP-3D Orion. It also has some interesting radomes and antennae installed. It is based in Florida – there are usually storms to follow on that side of the country. However, the Pacific has its share of storms too and NOAA studies them as well.
Consequently, NOAA recently deployed the WP-3D to Alaska to pay attention to some weather activity out in the ocean. They staged it through Boeing Field to split the journey up there in two. I was waiting for it when it arrived. The conditions had been pretty overcast but, with a late in the day arrival, the cloud cover was starting to break up and the sun popped out just in time for its arrival. An interesting airframe with a nice color scheme. It headed on the following day but I couldn’t be there for that.