By Fred “Crash” Blechman
Ventura County’s major public aviation event this year was Air Show 2006 at Camarillo Airport August 19-20. The local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association, based at the airport, hosted the event, now in its 26th year. Volunteers worked hundreds of hours during the weekend, and shared their love of aviation with 11,000 attendees.
From 1957 to 1969, Camarillo Airport was known as Oxnard Air Force Base. The airport is now home to more than 588 production, homebuilt, and World War II aircraft, and has an average of 557 operations per day. It also houses numerous aviation related business, as well as active chapters of several local aviation organizations, such as EAA, the Ventura County Ninety-Nines and the Southern California Wing of the Commemorative Air Force. A special ceremony during the air show paid tribute to Camarillo Airport’s 30th year as a general aviation airport.
“Chapter 723 of EAA is proud to sponsor this annual event,” said the air show’s chairman, Lt. Col. Ken Coolidge (USAF, ret.). “The air show is our way of sharing with Southern California families the fun, diversity and contribution of aviation.”
Each day started with a 99s sponsored pancake breakfast, and included flybys and aerobatic performances. Aircraft, classic cars and tractors were on display. Airplane rides were provided, as well as children’s activities, CAF World War II museum exhibits, food, souvenir and gift vendors and music. A silent auction and raffle benefited local female student pilots.
The Camarillo Air Show was proud to welcome retired Air Force Lt. Col. Dick Rutan as this year’s grand marshal. Rutan is best known for his historic 1986 nonstop, unrefueled 23,366-mile flight around the world in Voyager, an aircraft designed by his brother, Burt Rutan.
During the Vietnam War, Rutan flew the F-100 Super Sabre. Credited with 325 combat missions, he earned the Silver Star, five Distinguished Flying Crosses, 16 Air Medals and a Purple Heart. More recently, he’s been involved in test-flying a rocket-powered, delta-wing canard single-seat experimental aircraft called the EZ-Rocket, also designed by his brother. Rutan is presently involved in promoting a piston engine that runs on jet fuel. The engine is a direct light-weight replacement for a conventional Continental 550 or Lycoming 550 piston engine.
Greg Andrews was the air show announcer. The show included flybys by ultralights, GA aircraft, experimental and homebuilt airplanes, as well as civilian-operated jets and numerous World War II fighters and bombers. Between flybys, Bill Reesman, Rob Harrison, John Collver, and Spencer Suderman performed thrilling aerobatic acts.
Bill Reesman, an Air Force veteran who flew the F-100 Super Sabre in 320 combat missions over Vietnam, has been doing air shows for about 15 years. He flew his Russian-built afterburning MiG-17F Fresco through beautiful and demanding maneuvers at speeds approaching 600 mph, and climbing at more than 20,000 feet per minute. Reesman, sponsored by Red Bull, has more MiG-17 flight experience than any other American pilot in history. His air show announcer, Julie Nistico Reesman, is also a pilot
Rob Harrison performs his “Tumbling Bear” act with the Czech-built Zlin 50, an unlimited aerobatic monoplane that has dominated European aerobatic competition for two decades. The Zlin provided a spectacular performance that emphasized speed and rarely seen radical tumbling maneuvers. Harrison introduced his fiancée, Susan Newman, and announced they would be married in the air on September 23, while flying in an AN-2 Colt biplane based at Cable Airport.
John Collver’s crowd-pleasing, nonstop aerobatic demonstration in War Dog, an SNJ-5 advanced trainer, was a salute to our armed forces and veterans of all wars. The SNJ-5 uses a smoke system to follow actual maneuvers taught to U.S. fighter pilots during WWII.
Spencer Suderman thrilled the crowd by demonstrating the high performance of a Pitts biplane. Although he’s new to the air show circuit, Suderman put the small plane through intense gyroscopic maneuvers. The crowd witnessed an inverted flat spin and signature corkscrew smoke trail, with the plane dropping at a rate of 6,000 feet per minute!
John Slais, former Air Force and airline pilot, did some high speed flybys and climbing wingovers in his Polish–designed Iskra jet.
In addition to the aerobatic airplane acts, Torrey Ward, who has flown more than 4,000 hours in 60 different aircraft, performed unbelievable maneuvers with his turbine-engine powered “Hotshot” 10-channel, radio-controlled, twin-tail delta-wing model jet. The model reaches speeds up to 260 miles an hour, and can climb at 200 miles an hour.
In one of the hangars, about a dozen fighter and bomber pilots and aces were eager to share their stories, including Clyde East, double ace and veteran of three wars; Sal Del Valle, Cuban “Bay of Pigs” C-46 pilot; P-51 pilot Clint White; and George Muennich, Luftwaffe Ju-52/Me-110 pilot. Among those authors selling books were Robert Ellsworth Jones, WWII night-attack pilot (“Once a Knightly Intruder”); Roy Roush, former Marine and Air Force jet pilot (“Open Fire!”); and Leonard Zerlin, WWII B-26 gunner (“World War II Memories”).
Attendees of the air show included retired Navy Captain Charles Plumb and his wife, Susan. Plumb was shot down during the Vietnam War while flying an F-4 Phantom, and was a POW for more than six years. He’s sought after on the national corporate motivational speaker circuit, where he offers his book, “I’m No Hero,” and audio tape, “Packing Parachutes.”
The 250 members of EAA Chapter 723 host this family-oriented event each year. Members displayed and flew various examples of homebuilt and experimental aircraft as well as factory-built airplanes. Several of those members enjoy spending their spare time building or restoring airplanes in home garages or at local airports.
Chapter members also participate in the nationwide EAA Young Eagles program, which offers free first-time airplane flights to young people, 8-17. Retired Navy pilot Neal Fowler, EAA Chapter 723 Young Eagles coordinator, says the chapter has given 3,500 Young Eagle flights in the last 10 years, out of Camarillo Airport and nearby Santa Paula Airport.
For more information about EAA Chapter 723, visit [http://www.eaa723.org].