YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Aviation Show Lures Thousands : Van Nuys: This year, most of the planes at the expo stay firmly anchored to the runway. But fans don't mind.


Eight-year-old Kelly Reynolds scrambled aboard a massive KC-10 fuel tanker, buckled himself in, and pretended he was flying. Trying to imitate the sound of a jet engine, he roared and gurgled until his voice went hoarse.

A few feet away, 36-year-old Frances Whitten was also fixated on loud noise--but she didn't have to dream up the sound of airplane engines. By her reckoning, she knows it all too well.

"So this is what has been keeping me up the last two nights," she said, surveying the Gargantuan Air Force plane. "That noise has driven me crazy."

She did not have much company though, among the thousands who flocked to the 32nd Van Nuys Airport Aviation Expo on Saturday. Most of them appeared to relish the sound of airplanes.

"You hear that sound?" Scott Livingston asked his 6-year-old son over the roar of a deafeningly loud C-130 cargo plane. "Huh? That noise? That noise is freedom. It's a treat to hear that sound."

Unlike Whitten, Livingston doesn't live in the neighborhood around the Van Nuys Airport. He lives in Big Bear. "I guess it's easier to like the noise if you don't live with it all the time," he admitted, glancing at his son, whose index fingers were jammed firmly in his ears.

Airport officials said because of complaints from neighbors such as Whitten in past years, this year's expo was actually much quieter than previous ones when not so supersonic jets performed aerobatic stunts over the neighborhood.

On Saturday, most of the planes stayed firmly anchored to the runway, and the only in-air performances were a drop-in by the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team and a simulated rescue by a city of Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter.

Most of the aviation buffs didn't seem to mind.

"The thing is, that you can't see (the planes) so well when they're in the air anyway," Felicity Cantrell said. But at the expo, with many planes open for visitors on the airport's runway, civilians were able to talk to pilots, climb aboard, and sometimes sit in the pilot seats of military aircraft including the B-1 bomber, AWACS Sentry, F-111 Aardvark, F-14 Tomcat and various other fighters, bombers and helicopters.

The most popular planes were the huge fuel tankers and the star of the Persian Gulf War, the F-117A Stealth Fighter--which people had to view from about 15 feet away because the high-tech fighter-bomber was roped off and guarded by an airman carrying an M-16. Asked if the weapon was loaded, the guard smiled and said: "Yup."

The Golden Knights, who leap out of planes from upward of 5,000 feet, sent the crowd into paroxysms of joy, as most of the jumpers managed to land on the target they were aiming for.

"Wow, those dudes are bad," said 13-year-old Caren Saunders of North Hollywood.

By midday, as the temperature climbed past 90 degrees, Angie Diaz, 34, joined a crowd of others sitting under the wings of an F-15E Strike Eagle. The fighter travels up to 1,700 m.p.h., can fly at heights up to 60,000 feet, and carries missiles, 20-millimeter cannon, and either conventional or nuclear bombs.

But Diaz wasn't interested in all that. "What's the name of this one?" her daughter asked.

"This one," she responded wearily, "is called the shade plane."

Meanwhile, vendors sold a variety of military-themed products, ranging from T-shirts ("Mess With the Best, Die Like the Rest," said one, in praise of the Marine Corps), to military-style dog tags made to order.

Down the runway, the Optimist club sold beer, and pilots--wearing aviator glasses and flight suits--sat outside their aircraft, watching people watch them.

"This is fun, just watching the girls go by," said one bomber pilot. "Thank God for summer."

The day began with Los Angeles city officials honoring several people for courageous deeds during the Northridge earthquake, all in keeping with the air expo's theme, "The spirit of Los Angeles."

Among the honorees were residents of Wolfskill Street in Mission Hills who were praised by Councilman Richard Alarcon as "neighborhood heroes" for helping and comforting each other after an underground oil pipeline exploded and burned several houses on their street.

Also honored were Barry Pascal of Northridge, Police Department Lt. Stan Embry of the Van Nuys station, Paula Elefante of Reseda, Andy Epand of Studio City, Hank Fardel of Sherman Oaks, Van Nuys Airport air traffic controllers, California National Guard, and the California Air National Guard's 146th Tactical Airlift Wing, based at Channel Islands.

Los Angeles Times Articles