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Sky's No Limit

Final Day of Point Mugu Air Show Sets Another Attendance Record

April 26, 1999|ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

POINT MUGU — Performing aerobatic stunts nicknamed "avalanche," "blender," "hammerhead" and "tornado," dozens of planes zipped through the air at speeds of up to 500 mph Sunday during the final day of the 36th annual air show at Point Mugu Naval Air Station.

While pilots staged rescues, dropped fake bombs and did somersaults, crowds lounged on the lawn and craned their necks to see the daring demonstrations of speed and style.

The Point Mugu Air Show drew a record 156,000 people to the Navy base Sunday, despite the morning fog and wind. By early afternoon, the clouds disappeared and the headlining Blue Angels flew through the azure skies in perfect "V" formation like a flock of geese.

"They're pretty cool," said Kim Barnes of Sylmar, as she pointed to the sleek blue and yellow planes. "The skills they've got to have are amazing."

But the Blue Angels weren't the only crowd-pleasers during the six-hour airborne parade. Several other planes flew upside-down and circled through the sky, leaving trails of smoke behind them. Other performers at the show included the Navy's Leap Frog Parachute Team, an F-14 Tomcat, an FA-18 Hornet and some of the newest residents at Point Mugu, the E2-C Hawkeye radar planes.

A few teams, including an AV-8 Harrier jet squadron from China Lake, had to cancel their performances this weekend because of their duties in Yugoslavia. Point Mugu spokeswoman Cora Fields said she thinks the U.S. military activity in Europe prompted more people to attend this year's show.

"With what's going on in Kosovo, the community really wants to show their support for the military," Fields said. "That's part of the reason they came out."

Tony Pasternak of Sherman Oaks brought his 8-year-old son, James, to Point Mugu on Sunday to see the aircraft strut their stuff. While James watched a parachute team float to the ground, he played with a miniature plastic fighter plane.

"I think it would be cool to fly a plane," James said. "But I know I'd get a really bad headache."

Just watching the planes do their loop the loops made some spectators dizzy. But pilot Bill Cornick, who has performed in air shows for almost 20 of his 46 years of flying, said he doesn't feel sick when he's doing aerobatics in his Pitts Special, a civilian plane. What Cornick does feel, he said, is a "high."

"It's the greatest rush in the world," he said. "And it's totally drug free."

Cornick said flying Sunday morning was a little more difficult than normal, because the wind kept pulling him toward the crowd.

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While the Pitts Special performed, Steve McCartney of Camarillo watched closely, turning his head to follow the plane. Although McCartney flies corporate jets, he said he would never want to fly in air shows because of the time commitment. The Blue Angels often practice twice a day, and will be on the road 300 days this year for shows in 35 cities.

During one of the performances, an F-14 Tomcat used an empty runway to drop bogus bombs, which exploded into bursts of flame. The blast made 18-year-old Elena Barajas jump.

"That was loud!" Barajas said, as she covered her ears to lessen the plane's roar. "I get scared sometimes."

Some spectators wore earplugs and headphones to block out the deafening sound.

The air show had all the appearances of a carnival, military-style. Children could get their faces painted in camouflage, get their names printed on phony dog tags and touch model bombs, grenades and missiles. They could also have their photographs taken in the cockpit of a plane or play with a military robot.

Nine-year-old Kyle McInerney of Oxnard was dressed in full "cammies" Sunday, as he wandered through the crowds checking out old Air Force bombers and chomping on a hamburger. When he grows up, Kyle said he wants to be in the Marines' sniper unit.

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"I've been jumping through fireworks all my life," Kyle said. "I jumped off a building onto a trampoline and into freezing, ice-cold water."

So the idea of flying at 500 mph didn't scare him in the least, Kyle said.

Hundreds of other children took their turns climbing aboard a Humvee, where they spent a few minutes acting like young Marines. Once the children reached the top of the multipurpose vehicle, they donned camouflage helmets and vests and pretended to shoot machine guns.

"It seems to be a favorite among the kids," said Cpl. Raffi Bahadarian. "It's hands-on, and they can feel like GI Joe for a few minutes."

Meanwhile, spectators snacked on barbecued chicken, pizza and hamburgers and spread out on blankets in the tall grass.

This year marked the first time that the air show spanned three days instead of two.

About 30,000 spectators converged Friday on Point Mugu, and 135,000 came Saturday--which was the show's largest crowd ever, until Sunday.

Fields, the base spokeswoman, said this year was the most exciting show to date.

"It was good planning and great performing," Fields said. "It was absolutely the best air show we've had."

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