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Curiosity in the Air : Aviation: Military aircraft, a sky-diving exhibition and an awards ceremony for female pilots highlight the annual event at Van Nuys Airport.


It was like the days when the whole town turned out to see a fast new train. A boy in a brilliant yellow T-shirt bounced forward to catch up with his dad, a bicyclist edged through the crowd to get closer, people walked from nearly half a mile away.

The annual air show is on at Van Nuys Airport.

With the arrival of the stealth fighter scheduled for the afternoon, air show officials predicted that by the end of the day Saturday, 95,000 people would have trudged through the airport entrance, braving the August heat for a glimpse of military might and lightning speed.

Three-year-old Juan Ceniceros, perched atop the shoulders of a family friend, seemed particularly taken with a firefighting display. The Los Angeles Fire Department flew an auto in, hanging from a helicopter. They deposited the car, set it ablaze and proceeded to put the fire out.

"I want to get in a plane," declared Juan, his face a study in concentration as he stared at the helicopters. "I want to be one of the ones who fly down."

Juan's father, Edward Ceniceros, is a project director for Project Gangs in Pacoima. He lives and works in the Blythe Street neighborhood, which has been plagued with gang problems.

At the direction of City Councilman Richard Alarcon, Ceniceros and others in his anti-gang program brought 35 children from poor neighborhoods in the east San Fernando Valley to the air show.

"They do have dreams and aspirations of flying," said Ceniceros, who has his wife's name tattooed on his neck. "It's good to show them something new."

Throughout the airport grounds, dozens of military aircraft were on display, including the B-52 and B-1 bombers, the AC-13OU Spectre Gunship and the Cobra and Apache helicopters. The stealth fighter flew in from an appearance at an air expo in Reno.

Also on the program were some twists and turns by the Coast Guard Dolphin helicopter team, a series of fast passes by a camouflage-green Apache helicopter and an appearance by the Misty Blues All Women Sky Diving Team, which began its 30-minute display by floating to the ground, bearing with them an American flag.

The sky divers, along with an awards show for pioneering female aviators, underscored the theme of this year's show, "Women in Aviation." Barbara and Bruce Cameron of Sherman Oaks treated their twin daughters, Megan and Caitlin, to a day at the air show, their father said, because their great-aunt was part of a World War II women's test pilot squad known as the WASPs, Women Air Force Service Pilots.

The aunt, Le Zimmer, and her comrades received an award at the show for their pioneering efforts. Cameron said he wants to instill his aunt's love of airplanes in his daughters. "She was always the adventurous one in the family," he said.

Cameron said when Zimmer complained that one of her nieces was living too dangerously, he said to her, "But Le, when you were 22 years old, you were out crashing airplanes."

Bobbi Trout, an 87-year-old aviation pioneer who first flew out of Van Nuys Airport during its inaugural year of 1928, received the first award of the day. Wearing a white straw fedora with a feather in it cocked over one ear, she recalled her first flight here--back when she was 22 years old.

"When women did something in those days it was quite extraordinary," said Trout, who saw her first airplane at age 12 and vowed to fly someday. "People thought they were either crazy or doing something wonderful."

She set the women's record for altitude at 15,200 feet in 1929, and another record for endurance flying when she and a group of friends kept their plane in the air for more than 12 hours.

During the ceremony, the scream of a private jet ripped the air, interrupting City Councilman Joel Wachs as he presented Trout with her award. He paused, and for the first time during the day's proceedings mentioned the concerns of residents who live near the airport.

"People who don't like that kind of noise make a lot of noise themselves," said Wachs, who was wearing a blue-and-yellow Hawaiian shirt.

"Fifty-one weeks of the year I side with the homeowners," he added, referring to the time when there is no air show going on, "but one week of the year, I side with the airport."

Trout, who stepped up to the microphone to accept her prize, had some words of her own for the airport's neighbors.

"If too many people complain about the noise," she said, "then let them sell their houses to people who can't hear."

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