An estimated 1,200 people, including many families with children, landed at Airport Day on Saturday to check out aircraft from pre-World War II radials to the latest high-tech designs parked on the tarmac at Santa Ynez Airport.
Robert “Captain Bob” Perry, the Airport Support Network volunteer for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and event planner, noted the crowd was larger than last year and enjoyed great weather. The 2017 event was held during a 100-plus-degree heat wave.
Everything from former military aircraft in their original livery to a sleek all-composite business commuter to an aerobatic biplane to a wide-wingspan sailplane and even the gondola of a racing hot air balloon were displayed at the event that focuses on stirring up interest in aviation among children and youths.
Kids ages 8 to 17 could go for free airplane rides through the Young Eagles program of the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 491.
With low clouds beginning the day, youngsters attended a preflight ground school conducted by local professional pilots and certified flight instructors Jeff Millard, Yves Bajulaz and Doug Bailey.
With clearing skies about 10 a.m., pilots began their tours of the Valley, with each Young Eagle getting an opportunity to sit in the front seat and observe the pilot maneuvering around Cachuma Lake and the surrounding towns, an event spokesman said.
In all, 116 youths signed up for rides, with 101 actually getting the opportunity to fly before afternoon turbulence made flying less than comfortable for the uninitiated, the spokesman said.
They were also treated to a free barbecued lunch prepared by the Rotary Club of Santa Ynez.
During a noon ceremony, Perry announced the names of three local students who will receive flight-training scholarships — Randy Szpak, Luke Borders and Ryan Casey — who can receive flight training at Santa Ynez Airport during the summer.
The scholarships are provided by grants from the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, the Rotary Club of Santa Ynez and the Santa Ynez Valley Airport Authority.
Most of the aircraft owners were on hand to talk about their planes, and many offered kids the opportunity to climb aboard and sit in the pilot’s seat, like Neil Cushman of Santa Barbara, who helped several Boy Scouts from Lompoc Troops 66 and 166 settle into the cockpit of his bright yellow 1946 Piper Cub.
“Wow, this is cool,” one said as he slipped into the seat.
Nearby, Scott Loepkey sat in the shade cast by the wing of his 1957 Cessna L-19 as he related the history of the orange-and-white plane with “U.S. Army” painted on wings and tail to curious visitors who stopped to peek inside.
“This is the ‘Bird Dog,’” he said. “It was Army search and rescue plane in Washington state, then it was turned over to the Civil Air Patrol to operate. It was decommissioned in 1978. That’s the original color scheme. They let us keep that, fortunately.
“It’s a lot of fun to fly,” he added, noting its engine produces 225 horsepower. “It’s a small airplane, it has a big wing, it’s light and it’s got a lot of power. It can fly at 55 to 60 and land at 40 miles per hour.”
Attractions especially popular with children included several vintage airplane riding toys for the kids to scoot around on and the county’s Search & Rescue helicopter, where Capt. Glen Dupont, a crew chief with the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, was standing by to boost them inside.
After several minutes, one mom asked her son, “Are you ready to get down now?” From the open helicopter door he just shook his head with an emphatic “no.”
Adults seemed especially attracted by the sleek silver, red and black Cirrus SR22T/GT3 owned by Jourdi de Werd of Los Olivos, who noted the body is made of composite materials, which accounted for the smooth fuselage unbroken by seams and rivets.
“This is the best-selling general aviation aircraft,” he told a couple of admirers, explaining it has a twin-turbo Continental engine cranking out 315 horsepower. “It can cruise at 177 knots at 85 percent power — that’s 200 miles per hour — and it has a service ceiling of 25,000 feet.”
But the big attraction for many owners is invisible. Behind the five-passenger cockpit is a parachute, deployed by a rocket, that can set the aircraft down if the engine fails or the pilot suffers a medical problem like a heart attack.
De Werd said everyone who has had to deploy the parachute within its operation parameters has walked away, including a friend of his.
But for those not into airplanes that much, there were plenty of other things to keep them busy, including firetrucks, bounce houses and food vendors.
Educational programs included first aid and emergency response techniques taught by trained first responders, facts about aviation education and careers as well as information provided by a representative of the U.S. Air Force Reserve.
Airport Day was sponsored by the Santa Ynez Valley Airport Authority, Rotary Club of Santa Ynez, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 491, Jim Vreeland Ford, The Berry Man Inc., Todd Pipe & Supply, Jon Payne, Dr. Angel Iscovich, Tony Moradian, John Poitras and Rabobank N.A.
This story was updated at 5:40 p.m. May 22 with additional details about the event.