Last weekend was the “Lightning in the Desert” Airshow at Luke Air Force Base. We had seen the fighter jets flying around the baseball stadium while we were at the game, so we decided to check out the airshow on Sunday.
We had heard that there were horrendous traffic backups on Saturday getting to the base from the 101, so we decided to approach from the opposite direction, taking the 303 around the western edge of the valley. We arrived at the designated parking area with no trouble at all, and took our place in line waiting for the bus to take us to the base.
There were probably 20 busses lined up , waiting to take people over to the base, but the problem was that they couldn’t fill them until everyone made it through security, and they only had 4 people checking bags and 4 people scanning everyone. Talk about a HUGE bottleneck!
Well, we finally made it onto a bus and over to the base, where we were dropped off just a few yards away from the runways where the planes and jets were on display.
The airshow had gotten started while we were waiting in line for the bus, and there was a trio of stunt planes in the air as we arrived.
We snagged a spot under a plane and set up our chairs in the shade.
After a few minutes, Tom and Nicolas decided to go for a walk and see what was on display, while Bryce and I watched the planes in the air from our comfy spot in the shade.
One plane that we’ve been hearing a lot about lately is the new F-35 Lightning II. It’s the latest and most technologically-advanced fighter jet, planned to be used globally by the Air Force, Navy and Marines. Luke AFB has been selected as the training facility for pilots of the 5th generation fighter, and we heard that it was going to be on display during the air show.
What we didn’t know was that it was also going to fly in the air show.
Our first glimpse of the 5th generation fighter was when it flew side-by-side with the first generation fighter, the B-38.
Then it returned, on another flyby, with the F-16 fighter jet.
After seeing the fighter jets, we began to hear a lot of noise coming from the north end of the runway. It was one of these, starting up its engines.
This is the MV-22, known as the “Osprey”. It can take off vertically like a helicopter, hover, and fly both forward and backward, as well as side to side – pretty cool! Nicolas had seen two of them flying over the lake last week, and we watched this one put on a demonstration of everything it could do.
Tom and Nicolas had come back by then, so after the Osprey demonstration we all went to find some lunch. We watched a few more flyovers as we ate.
After eating our lunch – surprisingly decent cheeseburgers – we walked around some more. The lines for the planes were still really long,
but we were able to talk to a couple of Coast Guard rescue swimmers.
While we were out walking, we heard some loud explosions and saw lots of black smoke coming from the area by the runway.
Fortunately, there was nothing wrong! It was an F-16 air strike simulation, coordinated with Marine ground forces. It was pretty exciting!
After completing the air strike, the fighters “saluted” the crowd,
and the Bomb Squad could leave. Thankfully, everything went just fine, and their services weren’t needed!
Tom and Nicolas went to see if they could get into some planes, and Bryce and I searched for some shade where we could wait for the final demonstration of the show – the USAF Thunderbirds.
The Thunderbirds originated at Luke Airforce Base in 1953, and the team is one of the most well-known public faces of the US Air Force. In addition to performing in air shows, the Thunderbirds travel throughout the US and other nations, promoting the Air Force and supporting community relations activities.
Each of the pilots was introduced (there’s even one female pilot!), and the Thunderbirds took to the sky.
Their maneuvers are fast, and perfectly coordinated . . . like this one where the 4 jets are performing a roll in perfect unison.
Or this, when 2 jets approached each other from opposite sides of the flightline, one inverted,
they passed within feet of each other,
flipping over, and going off in the opposite direction of where each came from . . . all of this at super high speed!
This show is so impressive, and exciting to watch . . . especially when we’re intently watching the team of 4 in one directions and suddenly one of the solo jets flies in from the opposite direction – surprising everyone in the crowd!
The majority of their demonstration was high speed -- as much as 1500 mph – but there was a little bit of low-speed action, too.
The show lasted about 30 minutes, with our eyes glued to the sky the entire time.
With the Thunderbird show complete, the airshow was over and even though the displays were available for a couple more hours, the base started to empty out.
We had been in the sun long enough, so we packed up our chairs and made our way back to the bus stop. There was a line of busses waiting to take everybody back to the parking lot, so the wait was short and we made our way out of the parking lot easily.
It was a beautiful day, and an excellent airshow, and we were glad we came – another great Arizona memory!