Thunderbirds return to Surf City for The Great Pacific Airshow
The Great Pacific Airshow
Huntington Beach hosted its 3rd annual airshow last weekend under a new name, The Great Pacific Airshow, and new management. The 3-day event again drew crowds to the beach south of the Huntington Beach Pier but created a nightmare for those who tried to find a parking spot at the very last minute. Alternatively, many people biked to the beach, or utilized the complimentary shuttle departing every 30 minutes from the Huntington Beach Civic Center.
The airshow traditionally began with a perfectly executed Flag Drop by a member of the SOCOM Para-Commandos while a fire boat from the Port of Long Beach sprayed water hundreds of feet into the air in the foreground. The flag drop was quickly followed by aerial performances from Matt Chapman in his yellow and blue Extra 330LX and Bill Stein in his color-changing Edge 540. As was the case with many other performers, both planes were trailing smoke making the already troublesome backlit scene even worse for all photographers.
There were three helicopter fly-bys, including a privately owned black and white Sikorsky UH-60A Black Hawk, an MD-500 representing the Huntington Beach Police Department and two U.S. Coast Guard helicopters, a Sikorsky HH-60J Jayhawk and a Eurocopter MH-65D Dolphin, which demonstrated a search and rescue operation.
Other aerial performances included Air Combat USA flying their SIAI-Marchetti SF.260 trainers, Lukas Oil with Michael Wiskus flying Pitts S-1-11B Super Stinker, Sammy Mason in Pitts S-1S, a veteran pilot Paul “Sticky” Strickland in his Aero L-39 Albatros and Jeff Boerboon flying his very unique Yak-110. Jeff participated in the Breitling Huntington Beach Airshow two years ago when he flew the Screamin’ Sasquatch, a 1929 Taperwing Waco plane with an added jet engine. This time he brought two Yak-55s assembled together with, as you can probably guess, a GE J-85 jet engine strapped between them.
Air-to-air refueling demo
It is always fun to see large planes performing low passes over the beach and traditionally a FedEx-owned Boeing 757 made an appearance with the gear both up and down. Spectators were also able to marvel at a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III transport plane and Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker performing solo and also simulating air-to-air refueling. Both military planes came from Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma.
Virgin Orbit surprised everyone with an unscheduled visit of their Boeing 747-400 Cosmic Girl, a former passenger airliner previously operated by Virgin Atlantic. Cosmic Girl has a specially designed pylon mounted under its left wing to release a LauncherOne rocket while cruising at 35,000 ft. This technique allows smaller satellites to be launched into low Earth orbit and possibly sub-orbital spaceflight in the future. A similar concept is planned for the gigantic twin-fuselage Scaled Composites Stratolaunch.
There were only two historic warbirds participating in the Great Pacific Airshow. The first, piloted by Greg “Wired” Colyer, was a Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star (Canadair CT-33), a former subsonic jet trainer operated by approximately 40 countries around the world. The second was a Douglas C-47B Skytrain “Willa Dean” from the nearby Lyon Air Museum. Hopefully, we will have more historic planes participating in the airshow over the beach in the future.
Ambassadors in Blue
The event culminated on all 3 days with a dazzling aerial performance by the Ambassadors in Blue, the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds! On Friday, which is also known as the practice day, the main formation of single seat General Dynamics F-16C Fighting Falcons was followed by a two-seater model D acting as a photo chase plane. You can view some of the photos taken that day on the Thunderbirds’ official Facebook page. Saturday’s performance was briefly interrupted when one of the planes had to land due to a mechanical malfunction.
Some visitors were surprised that portions of the beach were closed off and reserved for ticket holders only. Hopefully it was just a misunderstanding and beach access will not be limited for the 2019 Great Pacific Airshow and beyond.