Long Beach Airport’s Festival of Flight 2019

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This past Saturday, Long Beach held its annual Festival of Flight. An aviation show taking place on a taxiway of the Long Beach Airport on the opposite side of the passenger terminal. It was my first time visiting this show. I came here a day early in the afternoon to take some pictures of the planes before the big masses come in on Saturday, November 2nd, 2019.

I arrived about 45 minutes early on Saturday and was one of the first 5 people. We all waited patiently in line for the security guards to check our bags and open the gates. It was a free event so quite a few people showed up early. My biggest reason for coming in early was to get pictures of the planes without the crowds, but that got a little bit messed up thanks to the festival operators.

So what happened? The Festival of Flight was supposed to open at 10 a.m., well the actually opened 2 minutes later. That’s not a big deal and I am sure they were just finishing up inside. But now the sad part. I and a few other peoples showed up very early, but once it opened, they only let us walk in about halfway to the center of the festival grounds. The show was then kicked off with the National Anthem followed by speeches from airport officials and politicians. A flyover of the Condor Squadron in their North American Aviation T-6 Texan aircraft. This aircraft was used by the armed forces to train their pilots during World War II. By the way, this year is also the 95th anniversary of the Long Beach Airport, which is the oldest continuously operating airport in California.

Now everyone was able to go to all the planes and booths. However, the place was now so filled with people, that people coming in later got to the planes earlier than others. Overall not a big deal, but I was so excited to get a couple of good shots with just the aircraft and maybe some of the staff members, but no crowds.

That was the worst part for me, about the festival. You can call it a first-world problem, but if you are into photography, this is a big difference.

The main attractions of the event were, of course, the two military planes a McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender and a C-17 Globemaster. Both of them were built here in Long Beach and you could tour both planes. But the lines were long, especially for the KC-10 Extender. I didn’t go inside any of these two planes, as I have been their countless times before, I rather visited the Cosmic Girl right next to it.

Cosmic Girl is a retrofitted Boeing 747 to launch rockets from underneath its wing into space. Cosmic Girl is owned and operated by Virgin Orbit and the aircraft used to be a passenger plane for Virgin Atlantic. Once Virgin Orbit started retrofitting the plane for rocket launches, it stripped out all the passenger stuff, like seats, entertainment system, galley,… and replaced it with a few seats for the rocket engineers and their instruments. Most of the plane is now empty and the extra lift capacity is needed to carry Launcher One, that’s the name of the rocket hanging from the wing, into the air. Virgin Orbit has a hangar at Long Beach Airport and Rocket Launch operations will take off from the Mojave Air and Space Port, which is also home to Stratolaunch.

I had a really interesting chat with one of the staff members of Virgin Orbit. This was the main reason for me to come here. Originally I planned to go out to the desert, including the Mojave Air and Space Port, this weekend but postponed it a few hours for this event.

Lots of other aircraft were on site, everything from small to big. This included a P-8 Poseidon, H-60 Seahawk, and a Gulfstream G-650. Unfortunately, the G-650 was only a static display and you couldn’t go inside. I was curious how it feels to step on a private jet like the G-650. Gulfstream has a manufacturing plant attached to the Long Beach Airport.

U.S. Coast Guard

A local helicopter school offered short flights in some of their helicopters and you were also able to sing up to get your pilot’s license.

Besides the aircraft, visitors could enjoy live music from a couple of bands (California Feetwarmers; The Satin Dollz; Knyght Ryder) while having a snack from one of the many food trucks on the grounds. Different branches of law enforcement were also exhibiting including the Long Beach Police Department and California Highway Patrol.

The actual event was held on airport property and only an orange safety fence separated the event grounds from the actual live runway with planes taking off and landing. Since the fence was only about 3 feet high, it was a great opportunity to walk up to it and get some great shots of the commercial airlines taking off and landing here in Long Beach. No chain-link fence was in the way to mess up the picture.

Overall an awesome event worth visiting if you are into aviation of any kind. I will try for sure to come again next year and hopefully, the event organizers plan it out a little bit better. But other than that, it was a great time which I certainly enjoyed, even tho, I spent only about 3 hours there. I hope next year I have more time for the event.

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