Great Pacific Air Show - Huntington Beach 2019

Great Pacific Air Show

by John Thow

For the fourth year in a row, Huntington Beach California, sometimes called Surf City, USA, hosted an airborne beach party like no other! I have to say, we are seriously impressed with this event. There were huge crowds all weekend, a flotilla of boats and yachts just outside the air show box watching from the pacific, people filling balconies at high rise hotels across the street and air show booths set up all over the main promenade with souvenirs, live music and more surrounding the Hunting Beach Pier.

Originally scheduled as the last stop for the Royal Air Force Red Arrows on their 2019 North American Tour, the Reds were to be joined by their Canadian Forces counterparts, the Snowbirds and a host of civilian and military performers, which was sure to make for an outstanding air show. Then to make things even better, just a few weeks before the big show, the USAF Thunderbirds decided to get in on the fun when their previous engagement in Puerto Rico was canceled due to issues

RAF Red Arrows

RAF Red Arrows flying over Huntington Beach to wrap up their North American tour. Photo John Thow ©

USAF Thunderbirds staged at Los Alamitos Army Air Base for the Great Pacific Air Show

The Air Force Thunderbirds arriving at Los Alamitos for the Great Pacific Air Show at Huntington Beach
Photo: John Thow ©

The Thunderbird Diamond makes a beautiful show pass over Huntington Beach, California

The Thunderbirds Diamond in the hazy sky over Huntington Beach, CA. J. Thow ©

RAF Red Arrows at Hunting Beach, CA

Streaming red, white and blue smoke, the RAF Red Arrows fly over the shoreline at HB. J.Thow

surrounding severe weather in the region. What may have been negative for Puerto Rico, was to be great for Huntington Beach! Never before, in the entire history of the team, had the Red Arrows been this far west. Having three major, military jet teams in one show, was a first for us. Now billed as “One City, Three Jet Teams” the Great Pacific Air Show was going to be the stuff of legend before it even got started.

Since the performers obviously can’t take off and land on the beach, they stage the teams and Military aircraft at the nearby Joint Forces Training Base, Los Alamitos. We were there for the arrival of the Thunderbirds on Thursday. The Snowbirds and Red Arrows had already arrived and as you can see their aircraft were perfectly aligned awaiting their next flight. Civilian performers were based at Lyon Air Museum, at John Wayne Airport.

The show kicked off with a group of fire fighting helicopters and the national anthem, soon followed by the Red Arrows support aircraft, the A400M Atlas. The Navy Legacy Flight included a pair of F/A-18E Super Hornets flanking an F8F Bearcat in the markings of the Blue Angels. Next up was the massive C-17 Globemaster making its way gracefully down the beach, eventually being joined by a KC-135 Stratotanker in a mock refueling pass. Mike Wiskus performed aerobatics in his bright orange, Lucas Oil, Pitts S-1-11B over the water surrounded by the spray of a fireboat from below.

Then it was on to the first of our three teams, Canada’s Snowbirds. The Snowbirds fly a smooth graceful routine that includes nine aircraft in an orchestrated aerial ballet that is truly wonderful and a real crowd-pleaser.

After the Snowbirds, our attention turned to the beach where two men launched from the sand into the air on jet packs. Real jet packs, not water jets as many of us have seen in recent years. In what was billed as the first jet pack appearance at an air show, they seemed to fly effortlessly in a standing position out over the water, even dipping their feet in the sea at one point. It was like watching something from a comic book, now I really want a jet pack.

Canadian Snowbirds, F-18 Superhornet Demo Team, and RAF Red Arrows

On the ramp at Los Alamitos waiting for the weekend are the jets of the Snowbirds, Super Hornet Demo Team, and RAF Red Arrows, with A400M, C-17, and KC-135 behind left. 

A-10 Demo Team “Warthogs”

A-10 Demo Team “Warthogs” on the ramp at Los Alamitos the night before the show. J. Thow ©

F-35 Demo Team F-35A Lightning II engulfed in vapor over the beach. J. Thow

F-35 Demo Team F-35A Lightning II engulfed in vapor over the beach. J. Thow

Canadian Snowbirds Over Huntington Beach, CA

Canadian Snowbirds from a balcony at Pasea Hotel, Huntington Beach. photo: Steve Chesney

Arrows in a Row

RAF Red Arrows all lined up at Los Alamitos while waiting their turn in the show.

Jeff Boerboon in his jet assisted twin Yak 110. Photo: Luke Thow

Jeff Boerboon in his jet-assisted twin Yak 110.
Photo: Luke Thow

Jet pack pilots launched from the beach, over the water in first air show appearance. Photo: Luke Thow

Jet pack pilots launched from the beach, over the water in first air show appearance. Photo: Luke Thow

The A-10 from Davis Monthan made its appearance, swooping up and down in simulated attack runs and steep turns and dives over the Pacific. The A-10 Demo Team’s primary aircraft showed up sporting a newly painted World War II, throwback paint scheme and looked very cool buzzing the beach.

The F-35 Demo Team brought out their F-35A Lightning II, and the sky erupted with the roar of more than 40,000 pounds of thrust from the mighty Pratt and Whitney F135 turbofan engine. With trails of vapor streaming from the wingtips and occasionally engulfing the fuselage as well, the Lightning II made a lasting impression on show-goers, many of whom were obviously seeing the fighter for the first time. This was one of the things we enjoyed most about this show, the ability to hear people talking over the noise of the aircraft, it was great to hear young and old alike marveling at the incredible things they were seeing, that we sometimes take for granted being around these amazing people and machines so often.

P-51 Mustang “Wee Willy II” joined the A-10 and F-35 for the Air Force Heritage Flight, and after a few parachutes and some low-level passes from C-47 Skytrain “Willa Dean”, it was time for the Thunderbirds. This was the first time we’ve seen the Thunderbirds not flying as the show finale. It is our understanding that the RAF Red Arrows were given that honor for their final U.S. tour performance. In any case, the T-Birds did not disappoint, bringing their very precise, special brand of high energy, fourth-gen fighter aerobatics to the beach! Complete with rock music, elegant formations, and a high-speed sneak pass that may have startled more people than we have ever seen caught off guard by the fast pass!

Next up was an act we have been wanting to check out for a while now, Jeff Boerboon in his jet-assisted twin Yak 110. You read that right, a pair of Yak 55 (x2 = 110) fuselages, joined at the wing with a jet engine in the center, working in conjunction with the two prop-driven radials at the front on either side, makes for some serious differential thrust and some wild maneuverability… awesome!

Finally, at the end of the show, the Red Arrows got their turn to wrap things up in style. We had seen the Reds the previous weekend at Miramar, but they only flew with eight of their nine jets. It seems congratulations are in order, as Red 2 had returned home for the birth of his child. While it was great to see the team at Miramar, things did occasionally look a little off with a jet missing. Happily for all of us he was back for Huntington Beach and all nine jets were part of the demonstration. Much like the Snowbirds, the Reds are much like an aerobatic ballet with their show split into two halves. The first half consisting mostly of a series of unique formations resembling everything from the Concorde to the lunar lander. The second half of the show peps things up, with a series of head-on passes, loops, and more. Unlike the other teams, there is no music during the show, instead, the show is calmly narrated, explaining all that is going on in the air. That red, white and blue smoke is awesome, I love how each jet is loaded with all three colors and able to use them at will. Bottom line, while we don’t expect another tour this far west from the Reds anytime soon, when/if they return, we’ll be there, it was a great show.

Our hats are off to the organizers of the Great Pacific Air Show for not only assembling an amazing lineup of aircraft and performers but for the pacing of the show. We attend a lot of air shows, and many of them struggle to keep the pace of the show moving, often with lengthy gaps between performers, leaving bored onlookers waiting through lengthy delays. NOT HERE, this is absolutely one of the best moving shows we have ever attended, with very few, short gaps between the action. The show was non-stop fun, which filled the day beautifully. I couldn’t help but notice how many families were lining the beach and making a great day of the show, often watching for a while and then going for a quick swim and coming back to dry off and watch some more.

The show is free to the public, with the exception of parking which can be a bit difficult, but this one is well worth the effort. As you can see from our images, we were shooting straight into the sun most of the time, which makes our job tough, but since that can’t be changed this show scores a 10 out of 10 with us. Looking forward to the next one!

For up-to-date information on this and other air shows for the current year, have a look at our Air Show Calendar.
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