After a week of STEM-based virtual lessons and seminars geared at educating students and community members alike, residents from Bakersfield to Ridgecrest and Lancaster to Hesperia were treated to an aerial spectacle as sorties of planes soared above them on Friday and Saturday.
F-18s Hornets soared along with F-22 Raptors and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, F-16 Falcons and T-38 Talons. The formation included the B-52 Stratofortress and C-17 Globemaster, the state-of-the-art KC-135 Stratotanker and a handful of other aircraft used by the U.S. Air Force.
The community demonstration, part of the Aerospace Valley Hybrid Air Show, marked the first air show in 11 years for Edwards Air Force Base — and an overall first of its kind, adapting to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Edwards AFB live-streamed the event on both days, including a parachute demonstration by the U.S. Air Force Academy’s Wings of Blue team. The live stream follows a week of educational material and virtual tours meant to bring the air show to the community rather than scrap it entirely for the year.
“We broke another barrier today. No one had ever done a hybrid air show,” Brigadier Gen. Matthew Higer, commander of the 412th Test Wing, said Friday.
The air show was initially planned as a three-day event on the weekend, with a STEM-based segment for students. Then the pandemic hit in March, and according to Higer, the planning team changed course and became inventive.
The flight on Friday involved a media ride onboard a C-17 transport plane assigned to the 412th Test Wing, piloted by Lt. Col. Zack “Scrape” Schaffer.
The massive plane handles like a jet in the air, Schaffer noted during a brief tour of the cockpit prior to takeoff. The plane can travel as high as 35,000 feet in the air and as far as 2,780 miles to deliver its cargo or troops.
The C-17 also incorporates a newly designed digital heads-up display in its cockpit to better assist the pilot crew in its flight. The C-17 itself is 174 feet long with a wingspan of nearly 170 inches, with its massive cargo space at 88 feet long, 18 wide, and 12 feet tall.
According to Staff Sgt. Kori Myers, the C-17’s loadmaster, the aircraft can carry a wide range of personnel and equipment. On average, it can carry up to around 130 passengers, parachute teams and airdrop equipment and supplies for everything from military support to humanitarian relief.
At max capacity, with people sitting on the floors, it could haul out around 550 people during an emergency evacuation.
Myers grew up in California City from the age of 7 and graduated from Desert Junior-Senior High School onboard Edwards AFB. She’s been with the Air Force for six years, enlisting in 2014.
Myers role as loadmaster covers everything from calculating load and balance for the aircraft. The C-17’s belly her domain, with the responsibility to load or unload and deploy anything at any location in the world.
“I got really lucky getting this job, I got it out of a random pick of jobs,” Myers said. “I love it and I get to fly all over the world.”
Myers recounted a number of memorable experiences during her Air Force career.
“A lot of good moments include when we went to Tarawa and I got to take back human remains from WWII and finally bring them back to American soil while stationed in Hawaii,” Myers said. Tarawa is an atoll and capital of the Republic of Kiribati in the Central Pacific and site to a battle fought Nov. 20-23, 1943 in the Pacific Theater. “Here at Edwards, just getting to drop a mock-up of the Orion Space Capsule with their parachutes and everything at 35,000 feet with NASA is another one.”
Myers noted being assigned to a tour at Edwards AFB, close to home, has been beneficial because of its proximity to Cal City.
“It’s great to be around my family because a lot in the military don’t get that chance,” Myers said. “I like coming back here as an adult and being able to see everybody, being able to catch up.”
Aboard Friday’s media flight, Myers was the one to open the C-17’s rear cargo door for much of the 90-minute flight over from Edwards through Bakersfield, Mojave, Tehachapi and Cal City.
Secured by harness and safety straps, Myers sat on the edge of the door waving to the communities below or waving the American flag.
Glimpses below showed a shifting landscape from high desert shrubs to Central Valley green, the wind turbine farms of Tehachapi and Mojave and the mountains between East and West Kern. The landscape rotated, shifting from horizontal to diagonal as the plane banked during its flight. Noisy and windy at times, the flight otherwise went smoothly.
The community flights on Friday and Saturday culminated in part to treat students who were learning virtually and partaking in weeklong STEM webinars hosted by the AV Hybrid Air Show.
Col. Randy Gordon, Vice Commander for the 412th Test Wing, noted it’s in part a treat for the kids to see planes in action.
“Rather than just being a way to just being a way to excite kids, it’s a way to engage kids, to get them really excited about STEM,” said Gordon said Friday. “What we are hoping to do is make science, technology, engineering and math real and deliver it in a way that they haven’t seen since the school year started.”