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CAMARILLO : Air Show Displays WWII-Era Fighters

September 05, 1993|CONSTANCE SOMMER

The F8-F Bearcat rested on the Tarmac at Camarillo Airport on Saturday, its shiny new engine exposed under the open hood, a fresh coat of aqua paint smooth and unscratched across the body.

Men in mechanics' suits and pilots' gear swarmed over the Navy fighter plane, fixing this and tightening that, wiping a thin coat of dust off the tail.

The Confederate Air Force on Saturday held an air show for the public to see and experience the aging planes these retirees and aircraft history buffs hold so dear. The organization--whose name derives from an old joke and bears no connection to Southern politics--began 30 years ago in Texas and now claims 7,000 members in 25 countries.

"You hear those engines cackle?" asked Ed Thomas, the public-relations man for the all-volunteer group's Southern California Chapter. "They sound different than jet engines, don't they?"

Thomas, 68, is a retired insurance agent who once flew B-24 bombers as a "nose gunner." He may know more now about the different kinds of World War II fighter planes than he did when the war was on 50 years ago.

"See that C-64 over there," he said, pointing to a gray, hulking aircraft. "It costs $700 to get the China Doll (the plane's nickname) up and flying for an hour."

CAF members say the old planes now sell for $200,000 to $1 million.

"Back in the 1960s, we were buying them for $2,000 to $4,000," said Marvin (Lefty) Gardner of Austin, Tex., one of the organization's founding members who came out for the show. "But they're getting so much scarcer now than they were in the old days."

Many CAF volunteers estimate that they spend as much time at the airport working on the old planes as they would at a part-time job.

Steve Barber, 46, of Ventura, spends most weekday evenings at the Camarillo Airport, moonlighting as a World War II plane mechanic and flying ace after his job as a stockbroker ends for the day. "My dad flew in World War II, and I've loved them all my life," he said.

For Joe Peppito, 69, of Newbury Park, it is almost as though he never retired from his job as prop-plane mechanic for various large corporations. "I'm here almost every day," he said with a grin. "I just run around and shout orders and tell people what to do."

Visitors to the Saturday show said the effort paid off. "These planes are in great condition," said Ellen Turner, 29, of Glendale, who came to the airport with her son Cameron, 4, and husband Brendan, 30. "I'm amazed at the time they must've put into it."

Turner said she and her husband had never seen such old planes up close. "I think it's important for people who haven't lived through those wars to see what those men were up against," she said, motioning to the cockpits, located on the top of many of the planes. "They were so exposed--just a plastic shield between them and the environment."

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