The Wings Over Wine Country airshow has been a fairly regular staple in California’s Sonoma County for close to two decades. Declining attendance in recent years had organizers questioning continuing the event, which is a major fundraiser for the Pacific Coast Air Museum (PCAM).
Efforts related to moving the museum collection drove the decision to not have a 2017 show. Being my hometown, I welcomed the news of the airshow returning in 2018 to Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport (KSTS).
This year’s theme was “Rising Together,” paying tribute to the first responders who fought the devastating wildfires that ravaged the county last October. There was a parade of emergency vehicles representing two dozen police and firefighting agencies, along with fire apparatus on static display alongside the aircraft.
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office inaugurated its new Bell 407 “Henry One,” replacing the older Bell 407 that had been in service since 2008. Henry One, with a SWAT team dangling underneath on a long line, sprang into action as part of an air/ground demonstration to rescue a school bus held hostage by bad guys.
As in previous years, the U.S. Air Force Wings of Blue Parachute Team had the privilege of bringing the flag to show center.
The Red Stars were on hand with their Chinese CJ-6 Nanchangs, and one Italian SF.260, to execute a Missing Man formation flight demonstration.
Filling out the flight schedule, flight exhibitions were conducted with general aviation aircraft. The first group was comprised of a Cessna 195 Businessliner, a Piper Cub, and a stunningly gorgeous Waco UPF-7. Later on a second group with a Lancair Legacy, Glasair III, and RV-6 represented contemporary kitplanes.
Aerobatic performances included Vicki Benzing and Brad Wursten. Vicki is familiar with local airshow fans, performing in her classic 1940 Stearman for this event.
Brad is a Utah-based pilot that pushed his MXS to the limits during his performance that included a unique aerial “thumbs-up” for the crowd.
Another local favorite, Greg Colyer, wrapped things up with the only jet performance of the day with his trademark Lockheed T-33 “Ace Maker II.” Greg is such a fan of the plane that he founded the non-profit T-33 Heritage Foundation to help in the preservation of the type.
Warbirds took to the sky for flight demonstrations, starting with a pair of T-6 Texan trainers, finishing with two P-51 Mustangs, a P-47 Thunderbolt, and a A-26 Invader bomber taking to the air.
A Grumman C-1 Trader carrier onboard delivery aircraft unfolded its wings and rumbled into the air to join the World War II veterans.
Dennis Sanders executed one of his trademark aesthetic warbird performances with the powerful Hawker Sea Fury. His high-definition smoke trails made the others appear crayon-like in comparison.
Unlike previous years, which had a nice variety of active duty military demonstrations and fly-bys, the sole guest appearance was a Coast Guard HC-27 that made a few fly-bys before returning home to Sacramento.
Disappointingly, only one current military aircraft was on static exhibit, a C-17 Globemaster III from the 452nd Air Mobility Wing based at March ARB.
Some aircraft, like a Lemoore-based F/A-18F Super Hornet and a Civil Air Patrol Cessna 172 were present but parked away from public access. Previous years had included C-17 and F/A-18 flight demonstrations.
Of the 30 or so planes on static display, military jets, old and older, dominated the area.
PCAM owns a large, impressive collection of jet fighters, and many were set up for open cockpit display. Vietnam veterans could appreciate classics such as the F-105 Thunderchief, F-106 Delta Dart, A-6 Intruder, A-4 Skyhawk, and F-4 Phantom. Relatively newer jets included the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-14 Tomcat, and AV-8 Harrier. These, and many others, had their cockpits open for the public to clamber into and pretend to be a jet pilot for a few minutes.
As a whole, the show was smaller than previous years, which was also reflected in the lower turnout. It felt like they had returned to their airshow roots, showcasing local performers and having static displays of aircraft already onsite.
The increase in scheduled airline traffic at this airport undoubtedly is a constraint for airshow organizers. I certainly hope the airshow can regain its fanbase and grow in the process.