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Dreams Take Flight : At 8, Katrina Marie Mumaw was considered the youngest person to fly even make-believe dogfights. Now she's 10, and her passion for planes soars.

August 20, 1993|JEFF PRUGH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What's more, he has crammed the front room and back yard of the Mumaws' modest Lancaster house with so much aviation memorabilia--jumpsuits (many on mannequins), helmets, goggles, engines, propellers, tires, fuselage carcasses, documents signed by Orville Wright and Charles Lindbergh--that some call it "Smithsonian West."

"After the divorce, the table went out, and the storage and china cabinets went out--to make room for some good stuff," says Mumaw, now a single parent rearing Katrina and her brother, Nick, 7, an achiever, too, with a spate of ribbons he has earned in gymnastics.

As Mumaw and Katrina show off their home-turned museum to a visitor, their colloquy fittingly takes on the glib, rapid cadence of a pilot talking by radio to an air-traffic controller.

"Oh, tell him about your Barbie house," he says to Katrina. "Where did that go?"

"In the garage," Katrina replies, as if on cue.

"Her idea, not mine," her father says. "She wanted a place for the B-70 tire."

Katrina's hobby took root in 1986 when, at 3, she accompanied her father to watch test flights of the Voyager, the first airplane to fly around the world without stopping or refueling. "I met the pilots," she says, referring to Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, "and I just wanted to be a pilot."

Her father adds, "I thought that would last only 'til bedtime. The first thing she had asked was, 'What do they do?' And I told her.

"Then she asked, 'Do they go to the moon?' 'No,' I said, 'those are astronauts.' She said, 'I'm going to be an astro-nut.' And I said, 'Well, by golly, if you want to, you can. You can do anything you want.' Who knew it would mushroom into this?"

Katrina took her first airplane ride at age 5--with her father in a 1929 open-cockpit biplane, just west of Lancaster, the pilot performing mild aerobatics. Afterward, she asked the pilot why he hadn't flown "upside-down." The pilot explained that Katrina had no parachute, whereupon she said she saw no problem because "Daddy would catch me."

From there, she took her first hot-air balloon ride at 5, her first glider ride at 7 (over the Tehachapi Mountains), her first para-sailing flight at 7 (twice over Catalina Island's Avalon harbor) and her first inverted flight at 8 (in a World War II P-51 Mustang fighter, modified with a second seat), even videotaping the flight herself.

Along the way, she watched space shuttle landings at Edwards Air Force Base, cultivated friendships with Chuck Yeager and other aviators, and meshed her hobby with honor-roll success at school. When Katrina and her classmates were assigned to write papers on "famous women" not long ago, she wrote about Joann Osterud, a veteran pilot and air-show performer she met when she was 6. Three of Katrina's classmates turned in papers about their famous classmate, Katrina.

At home, inspiration clearly plots Katrina's flight plan to her tomorrows, the walls (and part of the ceiling) emblazoned with autographed photos of achievers--astronauts, pilots and Presidents, among others.

One photograph of late Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay is inscribed appropriately: "My dream was for the sky. Yours can be for the stars."

For now, it's all enough to crowd boyfriends out of Katrina's busy life, she tells a visitor who asks.

Again, her father chimes in: "The way I figure it, when she gets old enough, if a guy wants to take her out, he's going to have to afford to take her up in a plane and beat her in competition."

Katrina grins coyly. "I might let 'em," she says, "if they're cute."

Where and When What: "A Tribute to Women in Aviation," honoring Katrina Mumaw and others. Aviation Expo '93. Location: Van Nuys Airport. Pedestrian entrance at 8050 Balboa Blvd. Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Opening ceremonies, 10:30 a.m. Saturday. Price: Free. Shuttle to and from parking areas also free. Call: (818) 773-3293.

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