For people without ribbons on their chests or KGB connections, merely setting foot on the U. S. Navy's Pacific Missile Test Center at Point Mugu is an elaborate process involving security clearance, special passes and sharp-eyed escorts.
But, for two days each year, the headquarters for Navy missile testing lowers its guard. Gates swing open at the installation south of Oxnard on U.S. 1 and the wonder and grace of the flying machine is celebrated on a runway that normally hosts missile carriers.
Sky Divers, Stunts
This year's lapse in security, otherwise known as the Point Mugu Air Show, takes place Saturday and Sunday.
From 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, sky divers, stunt pilots and squadrons of aircraft as meticulously choreographed as a corps de ballet will spin, loop, roll and dive above the Pacific, sprawling farmlands and the Santa Monica Mountains. Aircraft, from model airplanes to supersonic jets will go on parade as tens of thousands of spectators gaze up from bleachers.
"The air show is one of the most exciting events in Ventura County," said Ed Robings, president of the Oxnard Chamber of Commerce, whose members profit from the annual show. "'Everybody looks forward to it."
200,000 People Expected
Oxnard radio station KDAR FM (98.3) will broadcast traffic advisories in anticipation of heavy traffic approaching the two U.S. 1 exits feeding into the station--Las Posas and Wood roads. In two days, an estimated 200,000 people will jostle for glimpses of planes and missiles.
Just when the air show became a part of fall in Ventura County seems to be a mystery. Navy spokesman Ray Lucasey once tried to compile a history of the event, but found that records had been destroyed either by flood or fire. He has determined that the show is at least 27 years old, but concedes it may date back to the base's founding in 1946.
For as long as anyone can remember, the Blue Angels--six of the Navy's top precision fliers--have headlined the event. This year's show will be no different except, possibly, in one respect.
The Blue Angels' new supersonic jet, the F/A-18 Hornet, has been cast as the show-stealer in its Ventura County debut. The Navy's latest jet is one of the military's fastest and most maneuverable fighter, said Lt. Cmdr. Don Lewis, chairman of preparations for the air show.
Navy officials say the F/A-18 Hornet makes 360-degree turns within a quarter of a mile without slowing, zooms straight up like a rocket and travels at speeds approaching 1,000 m.p.h.
The Hornet replaces the A-4 Skyhawk, which the Blue Angels flew for 13 years.
"At about 20 years old, it was a good little plane," he said, "but it didn't reflect the current capabilities of the Navy."
The Blue Angels have proven popular, Lewis said, because "they are the epitome of precision flying. They fly as close together as any team in the world--36 inches from the wing span of one aircraft to the canopy of another."
Activities begin both days at 8:30 a.m. with a display of missiles tested at the center--the Sidewinder, the Sparrow, the Harpoon and the Tomahawk--performances by the 35-member Air National Guard Band from Van Nuys and demonstrations of model airplanes, some of which are used as targets for missiles.
At noon, a parachutist holding the Stars and Stripes will jump from a C-130 transport in opening ceremonies, which include a performance of the 30-member Naval Aviation Training Command Choir from Pensacola, Fla.
Aircraft demonstrations follow, featuring a "micro-jet" with a 15-foot wing span and billed as the world's smallest jet; the F-14 Tomcat used in the filming of "Top Gun" and a Marine Corps Harrier jet that can take off and land like a helicopter.
Four civilian biplanes will perform stunts. The 14-member Navy Parachute Team will jump from planes with square parachutes designed for maneuverability. And Joann Osterud, a commercial pilot from Oxnard, will race against a dragster on the runway and demonstrate a stunt called lomcevak.
"That's Czechoslovakian for 'headache,' " Lewis said. "That means the airplane is out of control, flipping end-over-end."
The Blue Angels' performance begins at 2:15 p.m. and lasts until the show closes about 4 p.m.
Sandy Sanders, who is the announcer for the Reno Air Races, will describe the planes and stunts, Lewis said.
Sanders replaces Cmdr. Dick Schram, the air show's longtime announcer. This year's show is being dedicated to Schram and four members of a Point Mugu helicopter crew who were killed in July during a training mission near Ojai.
There is no charge for admission or parking, but seats in the bleachers beside the runway are $3. Proceeds benefit Navy Relief, a nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance and counseling to sailors and their families.
Gates will close at 12:35 p.m.