REVIEW: Laughlin AFB Fiesta of Flight 2024


The 2024 edition of the Fiesta of Flight airshow took place on 9 March at Laughlin AFB in Del Rio, TX. With the distinction of being one of the first airshows of the season, and one of the few single-day airshows hosted by the US military, this year’s show was headlined by the F-35A Lightning II Demonstration Team in the hands of its new pilot, Capt. Melanie Kluesner, but also featured a low key international debut by one of the Mexican Air Force’s aerobatic teams.

While it was windy, the sun was shining on show day upon a selection of static display aircraft, including an RC-135V Rivet Joint, KC-135R Stratotanker and KC-46A Pegasus. Fighters on display included a pair of A-10Cs from the 442nd Wing, and a pair each of F-16Cs and F-35As from Luke AFB. Laughlin AFB showcased one of each of their own airframes: a soon-to-be-retired T-1A Jayhawk, T-38C Talon and T-6A Texan II. The Army brought an AH-64D Apache and UH-60 Blackhawk, the Navy brought a stunning special-scheme T-45 Goshawk and Border Patrol contributed an AS350, adding to the already large presence of Border Patrol assets at the show, given the proximity to the Mexican border.

Flying started promptly at 12 noon with a flypast by six home station aircraft. On the second pass, the T-38 broke formation at show center followed by the T-6 Texan IIs. The T-1 Jayhawks made a few passes before the T-38 did likewise, even flying a high-speed banking pass along the crowd line. When they all landed the six aircraft made a parade taxi down the crowd line, showing off the striking heritage schemes on the T-6s.

Jeff Shetterly then flew his dynamic routine in his bright yellow SNJ-6 Texan warbird. This aircraft has lights that blink during the display and add to the appearance of the maneuvers he flies. Not to be outdone, Randy Ball performed some very low and very fast passes in his MiG-17F. This is one of a kind act, partly because Randy Ball is the only civilian jet pilot in the USA who can perform an aerobatic and high manoeuvres at such low altitude.

The next segment kicked off with Tora! Tora! Tora! accompanied by pyrotechnics. Of note, they had only one Nakajima B5N replica bomber and one replica Hawk aircraft, with the rest being replica Mitsubishi A6Ms. A P-40 Warhawk from the Commemorative Air Force and B-25J Mitchell “Yellow Rose” from the Central Texas Wing also joined them.

Next up was the USAFA Wings of Blue Parachute team jumping from C-47A Skytrain “That’s All Brother”, also from the Central Texas Wing. This was impressive to see, given in the past week the airframe celebrated its 80th anniversary from being built and is set to return once again to the skies of Normandy in June to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the D-day missions along with several other C-47/DC-3 aircraft later this year.

As the afternoon progressed, spectators got a change a pace in the form of the high energy aerobatics by Adam Baker in his Extra 330LC. Adding to the excitement was a race with a jet car driven by Bill Braack. This jet car, originally driven by Scott Hammack, has been doing airshows since about the 1980s. It’s tough to say who “won” the race but it is always a crowd favorite – and on this occasion the Extra 330 performed its pass inverted as it raced at 200mph down the runway.

Altus Air Force Base provided some stage presence with a two-ship demonstration featuring a C-17A Globemaster and KC-135R Stratotanker. The C-17 performed a short capabilities demonstration before joining up under the KC-135 for a refueling pass. The KC-135 then performed a single low approach before the C-17 demonstrated a short field landing, then backed up and departed for home.

Without doubt one of the major highlights of the airshow was the international debut of one of the Mexican Air Force’s two aerobatic teams. Known as the Equipo Acrobático EMAATFA (EMAATFA being the Mexican Air Force’s weapons training school), the team flies six T-6C+ Texan IIs similar to the T-6As based at Laughlin, but with added underwing hardpoints for carrying weapons and stores. While Equipo Acrobático EMAATFA do have a fully aerobatic display involving dynamic maneuvers, this appearance included non-aerobatic formation flybys. It was narrated by a bilingual announcer who talked through the pilots and stories of the team as they flew. Let us hope we see more of them in the coming years.

Closing out the one-day show was the Air Combat Command F-35 demonstration team from Hill Air Force Base. The pilot and commander for the team is Capt. Melanie Kluesner and this was her first ever public demonstration, having just received her certification at the annual Heritage Flight Conference about a week prior. The roar of the crowd was almost equal to the jet as she performed the profile demonstration of capabilities of the F-35, before being joined by Gen. Tommy Williams in P-51D Mustang “Fragile but Agile” for a Heritage Flight.

In addition to the static and flying lineup, the airshow played host several ground activities that are worthy of mentioning. There was a kids’ zone under an aircraft overhang that provided shade and a robust play area. Numerous vendors were selling handmade items and other goods while there were several items from border patrol on display, including vehicles, watercraft, gear, a horse and more. Food vendors were accomodated in two areas. A car show also featured, albeit on the opposite side of the showground to where it had been advertised. Finally, there was a premium seating area at the northwest end of the showground, available for a reasonable $15 per person.

One other thing to note was the almost 10-minute walk from the front of the parking to show center. To mitigate this, the base provided shuttles to the edge of parking, which seemed to be a welcome inclusion as the crowd departed.

No firm date is set for the next Fiesta of Flight, but word is that the show will run biannually, and will hopefully return in 2026.