From the A-10 to the C-17 and, of course, the F-16, aerobatics teams entertain a California Capital Airshow record crowd of 105,000
World War II, Cold War and modern military aircraft buzzed Sacramento County rooftops once again last weekend, as the sold-out 17th annual California Capital Airshow broke attendance records at Rancho Cordova's Mather Airport.
Promoters announced Monday the former Air Force base hosted a record 105,000, an army of onlookers Saturday and Sunday, highlighted by a return of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds squadron. The massive festival of aviation included civilian and military aircraft of every imaginable kind and era, including General Douglas MacArthur’s Constellation, “Bataan.”
Performers included the Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt Team, the U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster, U.S. Navy F-18 Super Hornet, an awe-inspiring lineup of world-class civilian aerobatics and an extraordinary selection of rare World War II aircraft.
The airshow kicked off the weekend by hosting a new, free event Friday at Village Green Park in Rancho Cordova. Attendees met airshow performers, including the USAF Thunderbirds, and enjoyed live music, food trucks and activities provided by local STEM and sports organizations.
“The feeling of bringing the airshow back to full capacity for the first time since 2019 is indescribable,” said Darcy Brewer, CCA executive director. “It was a perfect weekend, made even more memorable by seeing the joy and excitement the event brought to the Sacramento region’s families and aviation enthusiasts.”
The spectacular afternoon T-Bird tricks were the usual mix of six F-16s performing formation flying and solo routines. For example, the four-ship diamond formation – with wings 18 inches from one another at 500 mph – showcases the precision and training of U.S. Air Force pilots.
But the star of the show remains the Thunderbirds’ aircraft of choice for decades, the venerable F-16 Fighting Falcon. The Air Force still loves the dynamic Cold War fighter that – like the B-52 bomber and U2 spy plane – just won’t go away. Not yet.
Falcon vs. Bear
Long after production was approved clear back in 1976, more than 5,000 updated versions of the Falcon are currently still in operation around the world in 25 countries.
As of 2015, the F-16 was the world’s most numerous fixed-wing plane in military service, with the U.S. still operating the most with more than 900 today, according to Statista.Described as a “stripped-down hot rod,” the F-16 is much smaller and lighter than its predecessors like the F-4 Phantom but uses advanced aerodynamics and avionics.
USAF no longer buys the General Dynamics F-16 in favor of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, but Falcons continue to be built for export customers such as the Netherlands and Denmark.
Already a “rock star” in Western Europe, the F-16 is in world news lately as NATO is sending Dutch and Danish Falcons and training pilots to help Ukraine in its war with Russia. In short, the stubborn F-16 is going to war yet again – a half-century later, against a familiar foe it was designed to face five decades ago. The U.S. announced last month that Ukrainian pilots will be training with the F-16 in Arizona.
“The F-16s will be superior to Ukraine’s older jets. With their more powerful radars and better resistance to jamming, the F-16s will be able to detect Russian aircraft at longer distances and allow Ukrainian pilots to stay further outside the range of front-line Russian air defenses,” said “think tank” Atlantic Council last month.
The F-16s will help since the jets will replace losses Ukraine has suffered over the course of the war, Atlantic experts agree. The Ukrainian Air Force entered the war with 70 fighter aircraft split between older-generation Mig-39 and Su-27 jets.
While Ukraine has received two dozen additional Mig-39s from Poland and Slovakia, it has lost at least 32 fighters, according to reports. These losses are partially due to the fact Russia has so far enjoyed a decisive advantage in radar and air-to-air missiles during the 18-month war.
Additionally, F-16s will provide Ukraine with a platform capable of easily handling a wide variety of sophisticated weapons should the U.S. and other countries choose to provide them in the future, the council said.
U.S. Navy veteran pilot Carl Kamiski, volunteering last weekend at the airshow with the Rancho Cordova VFW, sees the F-16 performing well in Ukraine and beyond.
“It’s not a problem. As long as maintenance is kept, they just keep going,” Kamiski said as children peaked at a nearby static F-16 cockpit exhibit Sunday.
“The F-16 is a very interesting aircraft. ... It is very versatile and can be used in many different ways,” said retired Air Force Col. Cedrick Leighton. “It has all those capabilities in one package.”
“We anticipate hundreds of F-16s in active service for decades to come,” U.S. Air Force Col. Tim Bailey said last year.