They came to relive a bit of their childhood. They came to show off their expertise about what some call a dying hobby. And they came to plant the seed of their love for flying in the hearts of the next generation.
They have been doing it for 20 years, but spectators at the Camarillo Air Show said it seems to get better each time. And they didn't seem to mind that for the first time, the event did not include professional aerobatic flying stunts.
"I think it's a really neat local event," said Thousand Oaks resident Michael Patlin, who has come to the show for the last 10 years and this year brought his two little boys. "This is history flying."
Patlin's son Danny, 4, clutched a tiny plastic version of a Blue Angels jet as he pointed and gasped at a Cobra helicopter doing some fancy flying above the runways of Camarillo Airport.
They were among thousands of aviation enthusiasts who marveled at everything from 1940s warplanes to machines that were built in the last few years in garages throughout Ventura County.
Put on by the Camarillo chapter of the Experimental Aviation Assn. and the Southern California wing of the Confederate Air Force, the two-day event will draw up to 40,000 people by the end of today, said Gary Stucker, who chaired the show this year. About three times the number of people who turned out Saturday are expected to come today.
Under clear skies and with mild breezes blowing, spectators spent much of the early morning and midafternoon milling around, taking tours of vintage airplanes such as the Curtiss C-46-F, otherwise known as the China Doll. At 76 feet long and with a 108-foot wingspan, it was the largest operational twin-engine aircraft in the American service during World War II.
A massive hunk of shiny aluminum with a 1940s-style pinup girl painted on the nose, the China Doll always gets a lot of attention. That is fine by volunteer and World War II Air Force veteran Charles Valentine, who spends about eight hours a day, three days a week looking after the 1945 war bird--one of only three left in the United States.
"One of our main objectives is to teach history," said Valentine, 75, who also served in the Korean and Vietnam wars. "Most of us are getting into an age where pretty soon we won't be able to do it anymore."
Valentine said the Confederate Air Force is trying to recruit new, younger members and is filming verbal histories of the veterans.
Their efforts are appreciated by the Underwood family of Camarillo, air show regulars who staked out a prime viewing spot early in the day. Kevin, 7, pointed out his favorite plane, the Japanese Zero, parked on the runway.
"I like the sound of the war birds," he said.
His dad, Glen, said the air show is a great way for the family to spend a day together and is refreshingly low-key.
"You don't have to be a pilot or a real aircraft enthusiast to enjoy it," he said.
But hard-core aviation lovers could be found across the tarmac, answering questions about their home-built airplanes that were on display either for show or for sale.
Jim Thompson just last week put the finishing touches on his Lancair 360, painted with a dazzling American flag-inspired design by his son, an art major. It was a good feeling.
"It took 9 1/2 years and about 4,000 hours," said Thompson, 53, a Thousand Oaks dentist who built the kit airplane in his garage during nights and weekends. "It's been a goal of mine for a long time."
Stucker, the show chairman, has three home-built planes, one of which is a real crowd pleaser. It resembles a canoe with wings and can be folded up and towed behind his tiny bicycle--which also is foldable.
"Sometimes people who see me riding on the street follow me to the airport just because they don't believe this thing can fly," he said.
But the show's main draw is the World War II-era planes that have been restored and maintained by the Confederate Air Force. That is why organizers decided to do without high-flying, professional aerobatic planes this year, spokeswoman Pat Brown said.
"We are trying to give people what they want," she said.
It seemed to have worked.
The war birds' formation flying and low fly-bys drew plenty of oohs and aahs from those on the ground.
"These planes are, more and more, ending up in museums, never to be flown again," Patlin, the Thousand Oaks resident, said. "People want to see it before it's too late."
What: The 20th EAA Camarillo Air Show
When: Festivities go from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today. The aircraft will be on display until 2 p.m. Flying demonstrations of war birds, ultralights and experimental aircraft will last from 2 to 4 p.m.
Admission: $5 donation for adults. Children 12 and younger admitted free.
Scheduled to appear in the demonstration are:
* Gary Hammond Parachute Team
* Ultralight fly-by
* MiG-17 jet fighter
* Experimental airplane fly-by
* War bird team fly-by
* Grumman Cats fly-by (F4F Wildcat, F6F Hellcat, F8F Bearcat)
* A-26 Invader
* Sea Fury
* AT-6/SNJ formation flight
* Cobra Gunship
* Fire Department Huey helicopter water drop