“Go see some different airshows.” With that encouragement from my better half, I found myself driving to Southern California for my first visit to the Wings Over Camarillo airshow.
2017 marked the 37th year for this event, which means they have figured out how to do it right and keep folks coming back. Sponsored by California Aeronautical University (CAU), the theme for this year’s show was honoring Vietnam veterans.
As the years roll by, I’ve come to appreciate the unmistakable charm of smaller scale airshows.
Without the overwhelming presence of a big headline performance team, local talent gets their day in the sun. Very few barriers were employed here, allowing airshow fans to get up close to the many aircraft on display.
There were only four aerobatic performers in the lineup. First to fly was local aerobatic pilot Judy Phelps in her Pitts Special.
Fellow Pitts pilot Sammy Mason followed. Sammy, now 23, holds the distinction of becoming the youngest airshow pilot in the world when he was 16.
John Collver put his SNJ Texan “War Dog” through her paces in a show to honor active duty military and veterans alike.
Vicky Benzing, sponsored by CAU, took to the sky in her star-spangled Extra 300 for a demonstration of precision aerobatics.
The flying schedule was dominated by fly-bys, many of them formations of the same type. The first group taking flight were early World War II trainers: A Fairchild PT-19 Cornell and a gorgeous trio of polished Ryan PT-22s.
Formation flights of North American Navions and Beechcraft T-34 Mentors also occurred. Besides the three Navions that flew, there were three others among the display aircraft, making this the largest gathering I’ve seen of this postwar classic.
The largest formations were provided by the West Coast Ravens, with their assortment of Van’s RV aircraft.
The last formation team to fly was the Condor Squadron, a group of T-6 pilots that perform aerial tributes to veterans.
I enjoyed seeing this many formation fly-bys, especially with some of the classic aircraft.This year’s grand marshal was retired Army Lt. Col. Bob Friend, who served in World War II as a Tuskegee Airman. Visitors had a chance to see the P-51 Mustang “Miss Bunny” in Friend’s “Red Tail” markings and pose for pictures with the veteran. He flew 142 combat missions in World War II and continued his service during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. At the age of 97, he is one of the oldest surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Camarillo Airport is also the home of the Southern California chapter of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), so there was no shortage of warbirds in the sky. The CAF’s C-53 Skytrooper carried a load of World War II re-enactors that performed a static-line jump over the show, using classic round chutes.
Bomber fans were rewarded by the sight of two B-25 Mitchells flying separately and in formation. Both are based at Camarillo. One, “Executive Sweet,” has been an airshow staple for 37 years, while the second is actually a U.S. Navy version designated PBJ-1 that returned to airworthiness only last year after 23 years of restoration.
Fighter fly-bys included P-51 Mustangs, a Yak-3, and a rare Bell P-63 KingCobra to represent the air war in Europe. The corresponding Pacific tribute had Grumman’s F6F Hellcat, F8F Bearcat and TBM Avenger, and an even-rarer Mitsubishi Zero. The Planes of Fame Lockheed T-33 provided the only jet noise of the day.
One item of interest in the show schedule were fly-bys of general aviation aircraft. This included a Stoddard-Hamilton Glasair III, a super-sleek Lancair Legacy, and a brand new Socata TBM 900.
Speaking of Socata, a cool-looking ex-military Epsilon basic trainer aircraft was seen on the ramp with a For Sale sign in it.
Military aircraft on static display included a C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft dominating the ramp, a pair of F/A-18D Super Hornets, another pair of A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, and an E-2C Hawkeye carrier based early warning aircraft.
Military helicopters were represented with a Marine AH-1 Super Cobra gunship and a Marine UH-1 Venom on display. The Ventura County Sheriffs brought their Bell 212. A restored early model AH-1 Cobra gunship was also on display and giving rides before and after the show.
The weekend airshow not only featured skydivers and aerial demonstrations, but there were also science, technology, engineering and math exhibits from California Lutheran University, as well as a classic car show and a World War II re-enactment camp, among the many displays and activities.
The airshow was hosted by the Camarillo Wings Association, an all-volunteer nonprofit corporation, in collaboration with the Commemorative Air Force SoCal Wing, Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 723 and Ventura County Ninety-Nines. The event benefits local non-profits involved in youth science and aviation programs.
Camarillo Airport (CMA) was originally established in 1942 when the California State Highway Department constructed an auxiliary landing field, which later evolved into Oxnard Air Force Base. Following the closure of Oxnard AFB in January 1970, Ventura County actively pursued the acquisition of the former military base property for commercial airport use, obtaining it in 1976.