EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE – Although still a few months away, Edwards Air Force Base officials are gearing up for the 2020 Aerospace Valley Air Show Oct. 10 and 11. Air Force Thunderbirds Narrator and Advance Pilot Maj. Jason Markzon, flying the flight demonstration team’s No. 8 aircraft arrived for a site visit and media day Jan. 16.
“Our mission is to recruit, retain and inspire,” said Markzon. “We go around the country, upwards of 30 different places and around 60 to 70 year shows a year. Our job is to just really kind of focus on the kids and talk to them about all the opportunities the Air Force has to offer and try to inspire the next generation.”
It’s been more than a decade since the general public has had an opportunity to see some of Edwards’ tech up close and personal. The air show is being presented in partnership with the nonprofit Los Angeles County Air Show.
“What’s unique about Edwards is they’re in a restricted airspace,” said Markzon. “So they kind of control the airspace which is way different than any other air show that we do. We have a lot of leeway to execute the maneuvers that we need to execute.”
Thunderbirds pilots fly anywhere from 80 to 90 sorties during the November to March training season, according to Markzon.
“We’re flying twice a day, practically every day,” he said.
Thunderbirds 1-6 fly in the air show demonstrations; Thunderbird 7 is the operations officer; and Thunderbird 8 is the advance pilot and narrator, coordinating last-minute logistical details at show sites and lending his voice to describe the maneuvers during the show. Thunderbirds 9-12 are support officers who perform expert medical, administrative, maintenance and public affairs functions.
“The Hometown Hero thing is probably one of the best things that we get to do,” said Markzon. “We take normal, everyday American citizens who’ve just being faced with extraordinary circumstances and have gone above and beyond what they’re required to do and they get the opportunity to fly with us.”
Markzon has been with the team for a year and says there are many aspects about the assignment that make it memorable.
“Probably one of the coolest things was going to Columbia, South America, and being a part of that culture,” he said. “We haven’t been there in 50 years and we had such a good crowd, just an amazing time.”
As he nears the end of his time with the demonstration team – officers serve for two years in the assignment while enlisted personnel may serve three to four years – Markzon said he hopes to inspire others to reach for their dreams.
“I like to tell young kids out there, you’re gonna have some barriers, but don’t let those barriers stop you,” he said. “If you have a goal that you’re trying to achieve and you’re passionate about it. There’s definitely ways around those barriers.”
Air Show Director Maj. Tom Stuart said the base is looking forward to welcoming members of the community to Edwards again.
“I think the base is excited to see the show themselves but also to welcome the community onto the base and get the word out about what we do at Edwards and they get people excited about aviation in general but also STEM, especially, for the kids in area,” he said. STEM is a curriculum to educate students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in an interdisciplinary and applied approach.
“On October 9, we’re planning on having a STEM day for the kids in the area so that’s going to be one of the more exciting things about the show,” said Stuart. “Bringing those kids in letting them see some exhibits and interact with people and get excited about what the future can hold for them. On the 10th and 11th, it’s going to be a great opportunity, a pretty unique opportunity if you’re not someone that works on base to see what Edwards looks like. See the diversity of aircraft that we have out here and you get to see the Thunderbirds fly you’ll get to see an F 35 demo that’s extremely impressive and you also get to see a number of our local aircraft fly as well as some civilian aerobatic acts, so it’ll be a pretty good opportunity.”
Edwards is one of the few bases in the Air Force that has such a diversity of aircraft operating and testing at the base.
“Edwards is also unique in that flight test is our mission,” said Stuart. “We’re always testing and developing new capabilities for the warfighter. So that’s that’s another message that the show is highlighting, that mission that we do.
“The vision is to really highlight this is the Aerospace Valley Air Show. It’s not just Edwards that does flight test in the area. There’s all sorts of awesome flight test aviation and also, you know, space test that goes on in the area.”
While still in the planning stages, the show will likely feature some aspects of the testing done by NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center and possibly Mojave Air and Space Port.
Partnering with LA County Airshow organization will allow Edwards and General William J. Fox Airfield to alternate shows.
“We both have a show this year which is cool because the LA County your show is going to have the Blue Angels – the Navy’s demonstration team – and we’re going to have the Thunderbirds – the Air Force demonstration team,” said Stuart.
Edwards will also have a number of static displays at the LA airshow on March 24 and 25 as well as flybys of Air Force aircraft and first responders and ground support, supporting the show.