By Fred “Crash” Blechman
The second annual Jacqueline Cochran Air Show, “Thunder Over the Desert,” took place at Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport on November 5. Featuring many warbirds and military aircraft, as well as several aerobatic performers and special acts, the free air show attracted over 35,000 attendees.
“Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport?” you ask. “Where’s that?” You may have known it in past years as Desert Resorts Regional Airport or Thermal Airport. Located 20 miles southeast of Palm Springs in California’s low desert, in Thermal, Calif., the airport was renamed after one of the most prominent aviators of the 20th century at its first air show in November 2004. Intended mostly for business aircraft, including corporate jets, it boasts two asphalt runways (8,500 feet and 4,995 feet) and typically excellent Palm Springs area weather.
More than 40 national and local sponsors financed the air show. Warbirds and other aircraft were parked throughout the large viewing area, allowing visitors to get up close. Vendors throughout the area offered food, gifts and information.
After a 6:30 a.m. pancake breakfast, opening ceremonies began at 9. a.m., with a missing man formation flyover of four T-34 Mentors. That was followed by California Department of Forestry demonstrations, with helicopters and tankers performing water drops.
Tim Weber later performed extreme aerobatics in his Extra 300. Jacqueline Warda flew a Pitts S-3C biplane in an exciting demonstration of twisting, turning, yanking and banking.
John Collver streamed smoke trails doing typical military flight training aerobatics in his former Navy SNJ-6 trainer, “War Dog,” now painted as a Marine aircraft. His performance was intended as a patriotic salute to American Veterans, young and old, and the families left behind. Attendees were impressed when a giant Air Force C-17 Globemaster made a flyby, followed by Rob Harrison performing radical “Tumbling Bear” maneuvers in his bright yellow 340-plus horsepower Zlin 50LX.
Then everyone looked upward as 44 professional skydivers from the Golden Stars Parachute exited two Twin Otter aircraft, deployed their parachutes, and activated colorful smoke from their boots as they spiraled down over the crowd with streamers, banners and a large American Flag.
After this relative quiet, Bill Reesman dazzled the crowd with air combat maneuvers in “Red Bull,” his Russian MiG-17F fighter jet. The morning air show concluded with Margie Stivers of the Silver Wings Flight Team performing breathtaking and spine-tingling wing-walking stunts on the top wing of a Stearman biplane piloted by Hartley Folstad.
Additional acts included an aerobatic routine flown by Steve Hinton in the Planes of Fame’s P-51D Mustang, “Wee Willy II.” Hinton then joined with an A-10 Thunderbolt II flown by Air Force Major Rob “Narc” Brogan for a Heritage Flight. The P-51 broke away to leave the A-10 to go through a series of high and low speed maneuvers, rapid rolls, maximum performance climbs and dives, and simulated weapons deployment.
The grand finale of the air show was a thrilling performance by the Patriots Jet Demonstration Team. Three modified Czechoslovakian Aero L-39 Albatros jets streamed red, white and blue smoke while in close formation as they performed high-speed precision aerobatics, including a backward jet slide, then separate opposing and solo maneuvers.
Special credit should be given to professional air show announcer Gordon Bowman Jones, who kept his excellent background information, interviews and commentary running throughout the air show. As the show ended, he interviewed Robert Gilliland, former Lockheed chief test pilot for the SR-71 Blackbird.