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Celebration of Wright Stuff

Flyovers in Van Nuys and a new Earhart statue help mark 100 years of flight.

December 17, 2003|Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writer

To commemorate the centennial of powered flight, the San Fernando Valley -- a cradle for early aviation -- celebrated Tuesday with military aircraft demonstrations and the unveiling of a new Amelia Earhart statue.

The tribute continues today with a public festival at Los Angeles International Airport.

One hundred years ago today, brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first manned, powered flight, near Kitty Hawk, N.C.

With Orville as pilot, a homemade contraption -- no more than a rudimentary engine attached to a fabric-covered wood frame -- remained aloft for all of 12 seconds before dropping back to earth about 120 feet from where it lifted off.

On Tuesday, a squadron of vintage AT-6 Texans, followed by a low-flying C-130 Hercules, took off at Van Nuys Airport over about 60 officials and aviation professionals who were on hand to toast the airfield's 75th anniversary.

"In 100 years, aviation has progressed from Kitty Hawk to the space shuttle," said Stacy Geere, a spokeswoman for the airfield. "Van Nuys Airport has played a role in that history."

In the early days of flight, world records for speed and endurance were made at the airfield -- once known as "Metropolitan Airport" -- by such pilots as Earhart and Bobbi Trout.

Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cardenas said the airport -- now the largest general aviation airfield in the nation -- has also become "a great economic engine" for the region.

A few miles away at North Hollywood Park, about 100 officials, community members and schoolchildren applauded when a heavy veil was lifted from the new 8-foot-tall bronze figure of the most famous female pilot in the world.

Earhart, who lived in Toluca Lake, disappeared while flying over the Pacific Ocean nearly 70 years ago.

"She's our local Valley girl," said Guy Weddington McCreary, chairman of the Amelia Earhart Bronzing Project. "We honor her and all that she represents, her vision and courage."

The statue, made by sculptor Ernest Shelton, replaces a fiberglass likeness that stood at the same site, at the corner of Magnolia Boulevard and Tujunga Avenue, from 1971 until recently.

That statue was removed because it had deteriorated, McCreary said.

Today, LAX will host a festival from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Metered Parking Lot 6, next to Terminal 6 in the central terminal area.

The event will feature live music, display booths, films on the first century of powered flight, a children's play area and explosives-detecting dogs from the Los Angeles Police Department canine corps.

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