On the central coast of California, north of Santa Barbara, lies the city of Santa Maria. While residents are accustomed to the occasional rocket launches from neighboring Vandenberg Air Force Base, they were clearly pleased for the launch of a new local airshow.
The inaugural two-day Central Coast Airfest went off fairly smoothly at the Santa Maria Airport (KSMX), drawing thousands of airshow fans.
Held Oct. 12-13, 2018, this was the region’s first airshow since 2015, when the annual “Thunder Over the Valley,” organized by the Santa Maria Museum of Flight, went on hiatus after more than two decades.
The freshman airshow started strong, securing the Canadian Forces Snowbirds as the headliner for the show. This was the Snowbirds only California appearance in their 10 scheduled U.S. performances. Besides the Snowbirds, the Royal Canadian Air Force also brought one of its Lockheed CP-140 Aurora maritime patrol aircraft for static display.
Flying started off with a demonstration by a Hawaii-based P-3C Orion from VPU-2 “The Wizards.”
John Collver was next, flying an aerial tribute to veterans in his SNJ-5 Texan “War Dog.”
Corporate pilot Eric Tucker brought his Method Seven J-3 Cub to the AirFest, starting with a demonstration of the Cub’s deadstick handling. Eric would return to the air later to land on top of a moving vehicle.
If Eric’s name seems familiar, it could be the fact that he is the son of airshow legend Sean Tucker. Eric is enamored with airshow comedy acts and was thrilled to finally perform one of his own.
Southern California pilot Sammy Mason was next in his high-energy Scheyden Pitts Special routine. Sammy also got to pit his Pitts against the 10,000-hp Coinforce JetCar — good thing they weren’t racing for pink slips.
Jon Melby rounded out the aerobatics with a dynamic display in his Hangar 24 Aviat Pitts.
Warbird fans got a good dose of high performance flight starting with a late-model Spitfire Mk XIV and F8F Bearcat from the Commemorative Air Force, followed by a P-38 Lightning and P-40 Warhawk from the Planes of Fame.
The Snowbirds capped off the AirFest with their elegant nine-ship team, although a rapidly encroaching marine layer would terminate their performance minutes after it began. Sunday attendees were rewarded with a full routine.
There was a nice variety of static aircraft to see up close. Mostly current military types, such as an F/A-18 Super Hornet along with its electronics warfare cousin, the E/A-18 Growler. A pair of F-5N Aggressor aircraft from Fallon Naval Air Station, an A-10 Thunderbolt II, and a stealthy T-38 Talon rounded out the active duty displays.
A few civil agency aircraft were on display, including a UH-1 Huey from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff and a Turbo Stationair from the California Highway Patrol.
Besides the warbirds on the hot ramp, there was a trio of immaculate T-6/SNJ-6 Texans, a beautiful DC-3 in postwar Chinese Civil Air Transport livery, and a very cool, privately owned Soviet era MiG-21 fighter jet. A very unique Givans Predator gyroplane also flew in for the show.
The AirFest paid homage to Santa Maria’s aviation history with the flight demonstration by the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. During the war, Santa Maria Army Air Field, located at the site of the current airport, was the home for hundreds of P-38 Lightning pilots undergoing final training before heading to their overseas combat assignments.
This was an airshow with a friendly small town vibe punctuated with a top tier jet team. I had a good time and hope the show materializes into an annual event for West coast airshow fans.