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For Daredevils in Camarillo, Sky's the Limit

Thousands flock to an air show's aerobatics and exhibits ranging from WW II aircraft and sports planes to homemade creations.

August 24, 2003|Holly J. Wolcott | Times Staff Writer

Five-year-old Diego Gonzalez stood on the sun-drenched tarmac at Camarillo Airport on Saturday, pivoting and pointing in several directions while trying to decide on his favorite airplane.

An old P-51 and a newer C-130 were cool, but the aerobatics of the banana-yellow Zlin 50 that swooped by, leaving smoke trails and appearing to fall from the sky after flying straight up, awed the little boy.

"He wants to be a pilot, so we brought him to his first air show," said Diego's mom, 42-year-old Delia Gonzalez of Long Beach.

The Gonzalezes were part of an estimated crowd of more than 6,000 people who attended the first day of the Camarillo Air Show, which continues today from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

While a Hawker Hurricane and a Spitfire were popular -- together they dominated the "Battle of Britain" during World War II -- the 23rd annual event was drawing large crowds for performances honoring this year's 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' famous first flight in 1903.

Dozens of experimental aircraft -- those built at home or restored from original framing -- were on display. Some were in the air, being maneuvered by pilots who, even in the world of extreme sports, were considered gutsy because of the seemingly fragile nature of the planes.

Event spokesman Ed Burnham said the decision to include such aircraft was easy because the show was sponsored by the Camarillo chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Assn., and the planes represent the evolution of aircraft since the Wrights' 12-second flight near Kitty Hawk, N.C. "We are their extension, their evolution," Burnham said.

In addition to decorated World War II fighter pilots who shared their stories of harrowing missions, the show included tours and demonstrations of aircraft from every decade since 1903. Tours of the giant C-46 "China Doll" were popular, as was a series of displays providing a decade-by-decade history of flight.

"This is just one of the greatest shows out there," proclaimed an exhilarated Lynn Fogelman, who had just landed on both feet on the runway with his colleagues from the Lake Elsinore-based Just In Time Skydivers.

Decorative smoke poured out of Fogelman's boot as he drifted to earth, while skydiver Rich Piccirilli soared down with an American flag.

Kicking off the air show was a flyover by grand marshal Gordon Cooper, a 76-year-old retired Air Force colonel from Ventura who was one of the seven Mercury 7 astronauts on whom the book and movie "The Right Stuff" were based.

"It's still as much fun as ever," Cooper said after his flight in a Ford Tri-Motor, known as the "Tin Goose."

As for Diego, he plans to pilot a C-17 in about 15 years, said his mom. Probably a natural reaction for a boy whose parents work on that aircraft for a living at Boeing's facility in Long Beach.

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