By Hayman Tam
An estimated 20,000 fans attended this year’s Wings Over Wine Country Air Show, put on by the Pacific Coast Air Museum in Santa Rosa, Calif. every August. This two-day show takes place at Charles Schulz—Sonoma County Airport (STS) and has been the museum’s major fundraiser for 12 years. For this year’s event held Aug. 16-17, the clouds were few and the weather warm—just right to put on earplugs, sunscreen and enjoy the festivities.
The flying got off to a small-scale start with exhibition flights of radio-controlled planes by local modelers. Battery technology has advanced to the point where many planes are electric powered, allowing them to fly fast and very quietly.
The full-scale flying kicked off with the Sonoma County Sheriff Department’s Bell 407, with its SWAT team dangling underneath like garlic bulbs on a string. The STS-based CAL FIRE unit used one of its Grumman S-2s for a fire-retardant drop demonstration, with the assistance of its North American OV-10 spotters.
On Saturday, a U-2R Dragon Lady made several circuits over the show, displaying its slender proportions to the crowd before returning to its home at Beale AFB.
One of the star attractions at the show was a flying demo by Jeff Harris piloting a beautifully restored P-38 Lightning—one of only six P-38s known to be flyable — which buzzed the flight line with several low passes.
The event hosted a reunion of sorts since STS (formerly Santa Rosa Army Airfield) was a P-38 training base during World War II. Two of the student pilots were credited with shooting down two Japanese fire balloons sent floating over to burn up the West Coast.
Aerial performances featured Paul Lopez in his MX-2, Jacquie Warda with her Pitts and Kent Pietsch providing humor with his Jelly Belly-sponsored Interstate Cadet. Ground-bound entertainment included the Air Force Reserve Jet Car and the airport’s new high-tech fire truck.
Warbirds also took center stage, with flybys of several T-6 Texans and a trio of Nanchang CJ-6s. The heavy iron took to the air with seven P-51s and a mixed group that included a P-40 Warhawk, Hawker Sea Fury and Yak-3U.
The nimble C-17 Globemaster III was up next. Based at March Joint Air Reserve Base in Southern California, 452nd Air Mobility Wing (AKA the West Coast Demonstration Team, it started with a short field takeoff and a series of maneuvers that showed the plane’s capabilities. A pre-show media ride aboard the C-17 conducted on Friday gave a lucky few the chance to experience these maneuvers from the comfort of fold-down seats lining the sides of the cargo bay.
Just as demonstrated during Saturday’s performance, the passengers underwent an assault landing with blackout lighting turned on and full-thrust reversers engaged at touchdown. The crew calmly announced that it would be the equivalent of shifting your car into reverse while going 100 mph. The C-17 then demonstrated its unique ability to back up using the reverse thrust.
The show wrapped up with a demonstration by an F/A-18 Super Hornet, followed by a legacy flight in which the Hornet flew in formation with a Grumman F4F Wildcat. The Commemorative Air Force Wildcat burst a main tire after landing, and to the crowd’s dismay, was unable to leave the taxiway.
Of the more than 75 planes on static display, military jets dominated the area. PCAM owns a large, impressive collection of jet fighters, and this year’s centerpiece was its newly painted Republic F-105 Thunderchief of Vietnam vintage. Aircraft parked nearby included an A-6 Intruder, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-14 Tomcat, A-4 Skyhawk, AV-8 Harrier and F-4 Phantom. These, and many others, had their cockpits open to allow the public to clamber in and pretend to be a jet pilot for a few minutes.
Parked together was a trio of Lockheed T-33 Shooting Stars. Two flew in for the show; one, belonging to PCAM, was rescued from a desert boneyard in Tucson. A few current military aircraft were on static exhibit, including an MH-60 Seahawk from North Island NAS San Diego and the C-17.
Covered areas provided welcome shelter from the sun for the many food and vendor booths and their patrons. Along with the standard hot dogs and hamburgers, offerings included wines, gourmet sausages and gelato.
Charles M. Schulz—Sonoma County Airport is located just north of Santa Rosa, approximately 65 miles north of San Francisco. Constructed in 1939, operations in and out of STS include air cargo, private and corporate flights, military, search and rescue, fire fighting, law enforcement and training. In March 2000, the airport’s name was changed to Charles M. Schulz – Sonoma County Airport to honor Santa Rosa’s most famous resident.