With the heat of summer subsiding in California, a number of shows are taking place over cooler weekends. Rob Edgcumbe went to Sonoma County Airport to check out the second day of its Wings Over Wine Country show.
Sonoma County Airport is home to the Pacific Coast Air Museum, a fine collection of military aircraft of many vintages. It also hosts a two-day show in autumn which has been running since 1990. The Wings Over Wine Country Airshow combines a number of aerial performers with an impressive selection of static displays, many of which come from the museum’s collection. However, they are moved from the normal museum location to the main airport ramp for display. The museum is also happy to have the visitors climb into the aircraft so it provides a very interactive experience for the visitors.
Plenty of other aircraft also visit for the show including many vintage types. Sonoma and the surrounding area is not short of interesting aircraft so the organisers have plenty of options to choose from. This year, construction work was underway which limited the amount of ramp space available. Many of the static aircraft were kept further away from the flight line along the route that visitors took entering and leaving the show. This meant the area got pretty quiet when the flying started and some people may have missed out on seeing some of the aircraft as they hurried by.
The flying display ran for a number of hours although not at a brisk pace. Partly this was to space out the display aircraft and partly in order to accommodate some commercial movements. Sonoma County has regular service from Horizon, and Bombardier Q400s periodically showed up. The display was paused to allow the landings and departures, which included whatever taxiing time was required.
The flying kicked off with the local Sheriff’s department demonstrating its Bell 407. This was a combined display with some ground vehicles. The helicopter lifted an individual on a long line for part of the display and then hooked on a whole group of armed officers to carry them to the scene of an “incident” which also involved an armoured vehicle and some pyrotechnics; dramatic stuff which certainly got the crowd’s interest. Sonoma must be a perilous place to live!
Dan Buchanan performed a couple of times during the show. His display involves a hang glider that is towed aloft by a vehicle before he releases himself to fly his routine down to a landing. The tow vehicle can make several passes along the runway turning quickly at each with Dan losing little height in the process, allowing him to extend his display. Dan is a paraplegic so his support team quickly provide him his wheelchair on landing, towing him back to the flight line where he was popular, signing autographs for the crowd.
Part of his display included some “getting in the way” of one of the other performers. Jacquie Warda put together a nice sequence in her Extra 300 before joining in with part of Dan’s routine. Jacquie decided to take up aerobatics when she turned 50 and she has become a popular feature of air shows across the country.
A selection of older aircraft put together a series of flybys. A four-ship of Nanchang CJ6s started off the proceedings making a couple of passes in a box-four formation. They were then followed by a variety of other vintage types including a T-6 in RAF markings, a WACO and a Stearman. They were joined by Dr. D’s Old Time Aerobatics with a full aero sequence in a Taylorcraft re-engined with a Lycoming powerplant. The lower speed of the Taylorcraft allowed a nice tight display to stay in front of the crowd. The routine concluded with Dr. D setting up at altitude and crowd centre, and shutting down the engine. He then glided down, performing a series of loops and rolls before carrying out a deadstick landing and rolling onto the ramp still with the engine shut down.
Planes of Fame sent up some aircraft including its P-38 23 Skidoo and an F4U Corsair which flew with a pair of P-51D Mustangs, a Yak 9 and a B-25 Mitchell through a series of passes. On the Sunday, the Planes of Fame aircraft didn’t recover back to Sonoma and instead headed home. A DC-3 launched at the same time but orbited away from the field while the fighters did their thing before coming in for a couple of nice passes and landing.
The Red Bull Bo-105 made a welcome appearance in the hands of Chuck Aaron. Chuck throws the ‘105 around with great enthusiasm with a display that may put older airshow fans in mind of German Forces pilot Charlie Zimmerman and his 1980s routine. Backflips and rolls abound, with Aaron making use of the capabilities of the ‘105 combined with some modifications that Red Bull has made too.
Greg “Wired” Colyer brought his T-33 Ace Maker to the show to bring a bit of speed and noise. Despite its age, the T-33 can put on a nice flowing show, even if it lacks the grunt of a modern fighter. It certainly provided a good contrast to the piston aircraft that had preceded it. Greg has recently acquired a second T-33 which he is aiming to base further east to allow him to cover shows across the country without the need to ferry long distances.
The show closer, and the one that got everyone on their feet, was a USMC V-22 Osprey. The distinctive sound of the tilt rotor was clear as soon as it started up, and when it taxied out to the runway, everyone stood up and surged to the fence line. However, they were a little early as it was positioning prior to the arrival of one of the Q400 flights and sat for quite a while. Once the airliner was on stand, the display could begin.
The interest is mainly driven by the different nature of the aircraft with various hovering sequences mixed in with transition to wing-borne flight passing along the display line. The turns and transitions were very gentle affairs and the focus of the display was on demonstrating the unusual capabilities of the Osprey. It was good to watch but I suspect it isn’t something you want to see too regularly since it lacks the impact of other types. The different modes were demonstrated as was the significant downwash in the hover mode with lots of dust kicked up as it got closer to the ground.
Wings Over the Wine Country is a tricky show if photography is your interest. The crowd line is facing west, so the early displays have a side-on light but, as the day goes on, things get progressively backlit. September doesn’t have as harsh light as midsummer but, even so, it is still tricky to shoot.
The team put on a good show and the strong local attendance is a tribute to their efforts. While few will be traveling long distances to make this show, if you are in the region, it is certainly worth a look. Well done to all concerned.