A year after being grounded due to military cutbacks, the Thunder Over the Valley air show has returned to the Santa Maria Public Airport with the Army’s elite parachute team, the Golden Knights, as the headline act.
While the show runs Saturday and Sunday, activity filled the sky Friday afternoon as the Golden Knights conducted a practice skydive, and pilots of vintage warbirds gave preview performances.
Gates are open from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with the entrance off Blosser Road near Foster Road on the south side of the airport.
The opening ceremony starts at 10 a.m. both days.
Landing the Army’s aerial demonstration team was a big coup for the small show put on as the Santa Maria Museum of Flight’s annual fundraiser.
“What an opportunity for everyone to see them jump,” said Grover Cox, the museum’s spokesman. “It’s so terrific.”
The Golden Knights, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., are expected to make two drops each day, one in the morning to open the show and another in the afternoon.
“We’ve been trying to get them for years, and we got lucky on the draw,” Cox said, crediting Mike Geddry Sr., museum president, with the local show ending up on the Golden Knights Black Team’s schedule.
The Golden Knights date back to 1959, when a general created the team to compete in the then-Soviet Union dominated sport of skydiving.
Today the unit, made up up 89 soldiers and civilians, is divided into the Black Demonstration Team, Gold Demonstration Team, Tandem Team and Competition Team. The Black and Gold teams perform around the globe to promote the Army.
After Friday afternoon’s jump, the soldiers gathered to repack their parachutes, battling wind that made the task more difficult.
“It’s not so bad when there’s not wind, but they’re designed to catch the wind so …” said Spc. Luke Olk, his voice trailing off as a gust again interfered with his efforts.
Olk became hooked on skydiving while in high school, and also long had a goal of joining the Army. He has 800 jumps.
“Every jump is different,” he said.
Thunder Over The Valley didn’t occur in 2013 after military budget woes led to cancelations of demonstration teams and air show participation by modern-day warbirds.
Organizers are thrilled to be back.
“I’m starting to feel like a human again,” Geddry said.
Cox noted that many volunteers once served in the military so working to make the event happen helps them along with entertaining local aviation enthusiasts.
“For some it’s just more of a therapy than it is anything else so last year when we didn’t have it, it really affected a lot of the people,” Cox said of the volunteers.
“It’s like having a family reunion,” Geddry added.
This year, the Santa Maria show, which typically takes place the fourth weekend in August, is occurring at the same time as the Wings Over Camarillo air show in Ventura County. The Camarillo event also attracts vintage warbirds.
And tight defense budgets mean the availability of military aircraft remains limited.
But privately owned vintage aircraft will perform, including John Collver in his Wardog. The Torrance resident first performed in Santa Maria in 1988 at the former Golden State Air Fair.
“I enjoy coming back ever year,” he said, calling the local show “a big family.”
He has been flying for 40 years and been on the air show circuit for more than 33 years.
In Wardog, his AT-6/SNJ aircraft, Collver performs with the theme of “Salute to the Military Veteran,” demonstrating various maneuvers taught to U.S. pilots during World War II combat training.
“It’s a good piece of flying history,” added Collver, who has logged 15,000 flight hours.
In addition to the air show, a car show, sponsored by Santa Maria Ford, Nissan and Mazda, also is planned at the site along with a beer garden sponsored by Budweiser.
Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for senior citizens and veterans and $3 for children ages 7 to 12. Kids 6 years old and younger will be admitted for free.
A family pack for two adults and two children is $25.
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