I recently journeyed to Southern California for a return visit to the Wings Over Camarillo Airshow. Sponsored by California Aeronautical University, 2019 marked the 39th year for this event, which means they have figured out how to do it right and keep folks coming back.
I like the ambience of these smaller 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 dozens of aircraft on display.
I knew something would be different this year after spotting crews with T-shirts proclaiming “An airshow without pyro is just another fly-in.” There would be three separate pyrotechnic events during the show each day, undoubtedly alarming the drivers on nearby Highway 101.
The USAF Academy Wings of Blue parachute team delivered the Stars and Stripes, jumping from “D-Day Doll,” a veteran C-53 Skytrooper operated by the Commemorative Air Force.
Helicopters were next, starting with a fly-by by a pair of the Los Angeles Fire Department’s newest firefighting assets. Five of these Augusta Westland AW139s replaced an aging Bell 412 fleet. The Ventura County Sheriff brought one of its Hueys for a water drop demonstration, followed by the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation with its distinctive Bell AH-1F Cobra gunship.
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 later on. Sammy’s performance was quite memorable thanks to a pyro fireball that created a massive rolling ring of smoke which Sammy proceeded to zoom through, execute a hammerhead, and come back down before the ring disspated.
Wrapping up the lineup was John Collver in his SNJ Texan “War Dog” and Vicky Benzing in a classic 1940 Stearman.
The flying schedule was dominated by fly-bys, formations of the same type or era.
The first group taking flight were light aircraft, represented by a Piper Cub, Viking Dragonfly, and a rare Champion 402 training aircraft.
World War II trainers were up next with a Fairchild PT-19 Cornell, Ryan PT-22 and PT-20, Fairchild 24R Argus, and a brightly attired Royal Air Force de Havilland Chipmunk.
Formation flyovers of a quartet of Beechcraft T-34 Mentors took place, their colorful liveries memorializing their service with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force.
The largest formations were provided by the recently formed Lightning Formation Airshows Team, sponsored by Lightspeed, with its eight 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.
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 European Theater of Operations was represented by fly-bys of a B-25 Mitchell, P-51 Mustang, a rare Bell P-63 KingCobra, P-47 Thunderbolt, and P-38 Lightning.
The corresponding Pacific tribute had Grumman’s F6F Hellcat, F8F Bearcat, F4U Corsair, P-51 Mustang, a rare PBJ-1 Mitchell, and an even–rarer Mitsubishi Zero. The completion of the Pacific warbird segment was marked thunderously with the much-anticipated Wall of Fire.
Bomber fans enjoyed the sight of the two B-25 Mitchells. Both are based at Camarillo. One, “Executive Sweet,” has been an airshow staple for 37 years, while the second aircraft is actually a U.S. Navy version designated PBJ-1 that returned to airworthiness in 2016 after 23 years of restoration. Executive Sweet’s demonstration was punctuated by one of the day’s pyrotechnics during a simulated bomb run.
The only jet noise of the day would be provided by Jason Somes and his scarlet MiG-17F (actually a Polish-built variant). Jason recently acquired this former Red Bull performer and enjoyed demonstrating the capabilities of this Cold War fighter jet.
This MiG-17F was built in 1959 and served in the Polish Air Force for 25 years before it was parked in a Polish “boneyard” and acquired in 1994 by Bill Reesman.
One item of interest in the show schedule were flybys of general aviation kitplanes. This included a super-sleek Lancair Propjet, futuristic Velocity V-Twin, a cool F1 Rocket, and a flag-wearing Lancair 360.
Military aircraft on static display included a C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft dominating the ramp, and a pair of F/A-18E Super Hornets. Military helicopters were represented with a Marine AH-1 Super Cobra gunship, and a Marine UH-1 Venom on display.
The airshow was hosted by the Camarillo Wings Association, an all-volunteer non-profit corporation, in collaboration with the Commemorative Air Force Southern California Wing, Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 723, and Ventura County Ninety-Nines and Department of Airports. The event benefits local non-profits involved in youth science and aviation programs.