Modern and vintage warbirds landed at the Santa Maria Public Airport on Friday to help tout the return to this fall’s Central Coast AirFest, which will feature aircraft from a flying museum looking to set up shop locally.
The air show is scheduled to return Oct. 15-16 after a two-year break because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the artwork for the event poster revealed during Friday’s luncheon.
“It’s going to be exciting,” said Chris Kunkle, who served as air show director in 2018 and 2019 for the first two events organized by a committee made up of a cross section of the community.
This year’s event will include the return of the Canadian Forces Snowbirds, the nation’s version of the military aerial demonstration teams akin to the U.S. military’s Thunderbirds and Blue Angels. The Snowbirds visited Santa Maria for the inaugural Central Coast AirFest in 2018.
“They were a huge hit for us the first year, and we definitely welcome them back,” said Chris Hastert, airport general manager.
Organizers also have lined up an Air Force F-35 Lightning II Demonstration Team to perform.
Civilian acts will include Eric Tucker, who performs a comedy routine while landing on an ambulance, a P-51 Mustang, a jet-powered biplane and the Red Bull Air Force.
“We have a lot of good things on the lineup,” Hastert said.
This year’s event will feature aircraft from the Planes of Fame Air Museum, a Chino-based museum looking to locate in Santa Maria.
A P-51 Mustang and P-40 sat on display Friday afternoon courtesy of Planes of Fame, the oldest nongovernment aviation museum.
“They fell in love with our community based on the hospitality that we had at the air show,” Hastert said.
While the lease between the airport district and Planes of Fame was finalized last year, the deal has remained low-key as museum leaders have conducted additional due diligence.
“We’re committed to make it work, and an announcement will be coming soon,” said Steve Hinton, Planes of Fame president.
The land lease for the museum’s hangar covers an area near the Santa Maria Radisson.
Air shows and museums like Planes of Fame help spur interest in aviation, which can generate a new generation of pilots, Hastert said, noting that airlines have reduced flight schedules because of an aviator shortage.
“There’s a lack of pilots out there, so you have to get people interested in this stuff,” he said.
The airport district provides support for the air show, which organizers say eventually will be self-sustaining. Organizers hope a successful air show will grow to allow regular donations to various high school sports teams, youth groups and aviation organizations that provide vital assistance.
Friday’s event also launched the campaign to line up sponsors for this year to help defray various expenses involved in hosting an air show.
“The air show does not run on dreams. It runs on money,” Kunkle said.
The kickoff luncheon took place at the hangar for the Central Coast Jet Center, founded and operated by the Kunkle family.
The Kunkles, with Chris being the third generation of aviators, built the original Planes of Fame hangar in Chino, Hinton added.
The Santa Maria Valley saw Central Coast AirFest begin after a few years without an air show in the community that boasts a rich history in aviation.
In 1929, Capt. G. Allan Hancock built a flight school that gained importance as a training facility for the military with the start of World War II. Between July 1, 1939, and June 30, 1944, more than 8,400 aviation cadets and student officers underwent training at the Hancock College of Aeronautics.
For a time after the war, the University of Southern California leased the site for students to earn a four-year degree in aeronautical engineering at Hancock’s aviation school.
The land later became home to the local community college named after Hancock.
Meanwhile, the site of today’s airport operated as the Santa Maria Army Air Field, home initially to the B-25 Mitchell training and later for P-38 Lightning crews.
After the war, the facility eventually became the Santa Maria Public Airport, which is operated by a special district.
— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.