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OUTINGS AIRPORT DAY : High-Flying Fun : Santa Barbara event will feature free flights, appearances by Snoopy and a special tribute to Amelia Earhart.

October 10, 1991|CARLY MARY CADY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Controllers in the tower at Santa Barbara Municipal Airport got quite a jolt last week when they looked out onto the runway and saw--Snoopy, in the open cockpit of a 1941 biplane.

I'm not making this up. You can call and ask.

He'll be there again, along with a special Amelia Earhart tribute, Saturday at the Fourth Annual Santa Barbara Airport Day.

This year's theme is "Where Dreams Fly" and the day's festivities will include food, music, and flyby exhibitions featuring some of the 66 aircraft, from antique to state of the art, that will be on display. The Condor Squadron, a group of top pilots from Operation Desert Storm, will participate for the first time. (Maybe earplugs wouldn't be a bad idea.) And there will be free flights in the very same open-cockpit biplane Snoopy took out for a spin last week.

Among the special guests will be Bob Hoover--Chuck Yeager's wingman--and members of the Ninety-Nines, the association of women pilots founded by Earhart.

And Snoopy. He will personally greet all youngsters at a special exhibit in the Young Aviators Hangar.

For the Earhart exhibit, pictures of her will be on display and the man who photographed her will attend the event.

Albert Bresnik was 18 when Earhart chose him to be her personal photographer.

After Earhart's death, Bresnik sealed his photographs of her for 50 years, and only reopened his files in 1987. Today, he sells copies of the photos, made from the original negatives, and he will autograph them upon request. They will be available for purchase at the Santa Barbara airport gala.

Now an admitted "77 3/4," Bresnik is a spry, dapper man who greets even new acquaintances with a hug. Recently, he talked about the life and career of the famed aviatrix.

Earhart flew from 1932 until she climbed into her Lockheed 10E Electra in 1937 and took to the skies for the last time in a flight many tried to persuade her to postpone. Bresnik has his own theory as to why Earhart took the ill-fated flight at that time, based on what he said was his last conversation with her.

"Amelia's last words to me were, 'This is going to be the last trip I'm going to make. From now on, I'm going to be a regular woman,' " he said.

" 'Regular woman?' I asked.

" 'Yes, I want to start a family,' was her response."

Bresnik believes that Earhart might have been pregnant when she went on the oft-delayed flight and could postpone it no longer. Soon the trip would not be possible.

Originally, Bresnik was scheduled to be aboard the flight with one of Earhart's navigators, Harry Manning.

"I was supposed to go because I would take the pictures to document the book she planned to write when she returned, 'World Flight: A Woman's Achievement,' " he said.

"During the last leg, I was to fly ahead by Clipper Ship and wait for her in Oakland in order to photograph her arrival."

The trip was postponed several months and Bresnik, who also was working for Columbia Studios, couldn't fit it into his schedule. Manning, her second navigator, also had to bow out.

Recently, two theories about her disappearance have gained prominence.

One, put forth by members of The International Group of Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), is that Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan landed on the tiny island of Nikumaroro, 1,600 miles south of Hawaii, and eventually died of thirst.

In 1989, a search of the island by TIGHAR produced an aluminum box that an FBI examination later identified as a navigator's bookcase used in aircraft similar to Earhart's plane.

In June, a photograph surfaced that showed Earhart and Noonan standing in front of the plane's open cockpit door. Visible in the picture is what appears to be a box like one found on Nikumaroro.

"I've been living with that box for two years," said Richard Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR. "I know a picture of it when I see it."

This fall, an East Coast exploration team will spend three weeks combing Nikumaroro searching for vestiges of Earhart's plane.

Of even more possible significance is a photograph that was presented at a news conference in Hawaii in September. It is purportedly of Earhart--alive, but not well--in Japanese custody on Saipan. Eastman Kodak has reportedly authenticated the photograph.

Bresnik, however, is skeptical.

He believes that the answer is simple: Earhart ran out of gas and plummeted into the sea.

And for fans of the supernatural out there, Bresnik offers the following story.

A man walked into Bresnik's Hollywood studio in 1937 and identified himself as a doctor. He stared at one of Bresnik's black-and-white blowups of Earhart and said, "The light force in the picture is gone, she's crashed and drowned."

Bresnik immediately called Earhart's husband, publisher George Putnam. " 'George,' I said, 'what's happened (to Amelia)?' And he said, 'She's fine. I talked to her yesterday.' "

Several hours later, Bresnik heard that Earhart's plane was lost.

How does he feel about this?

"Honored," he said simply. "Amelia chose me to tell that something had happened to her. I will always treasure that."

* WHERE AND WHEN

If "free" is your favorite four-letter word and you love extravaganzas, airplanes, an event both you and your kids will enjoy and just plain fun, then you might want to head out to the Santa Barbara airport from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday for the fourth annual Santa Barbara Airport Day. There will be free parking, free admission, free flights and door prizes. Also included will be food, music, exhibitions and Snoopy. Take Highway 101 to Goleta, exit at Los Carneros and follow the Airport Day signs. For more information call 967-7111.

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