Thursday, September 30, 2010
There’s a question that comes when an up-and-coming pilot tries to secure a big-time sponsorship: “Have you flown Salinas?”
That is according to Sean D. Tucker, Salinas’ own resident National Aviation Hall of Famer and aerobatic pilot. Having flown in 16 of the previous 29 California International Airshows, Tucker knows a thing or two about what he calls “a rite of passage” in the industry.
“Salinas is a show that you have to check off your bucket list,” Tucker says. “It’s like being asked what movies have you been in for an actor.”
Entering its 30th year, Salinas will reaffirm that cred by stacking another loaded lineup of performers – and adding never-before promotions that make this year’s event as exciting and accessible as any in three decades.
According to Airshow Executive Director Harry Wardwell, the show will have civilian and military planes including the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, Red Bull Air Racer Michael Goulian, World War II fighter planes, a C-17 transport plane (the largest U.S. transport plane in existence), a Smoke-n-Thunder Jet Car, three monster trucks and more.
Word of special 30th anniversary ticket packages – and, for the first time, two-for-one tickets available at Costco – might be just as exciting for an audience pinched by the tight economy. The understanding that revenues are routed back into the community helps too.
“There are 450 airshows in North America and no other show has raised the kind of money for local charities that this one has,” Wardwell says. In fact, the Salinas airshow has raised over $7 million for local charities since its inception in 1981.
To suitably commemorate 30 years, organizers secured arguably the biggest draw in the air: the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.
According to the Public Affairs Superintendent for the Thunderbirds, Master Sgt. Pamela Anderson, the Thunderbirds will have eight planes at the airshow – six scheduled for demonstration and two providing backup. “The Thunderbirds will be representing 700,000 men and women in the Air Force and 40,000 of those men and women around the world serving downrange [in harm’s way],” says Anderson.
When asked why the Thunderbirds keep coming back to Salinas, Anderson gets animated: “The crowd is amazing, the support staff is amazing and the fans are phenomenal.”
The Thunderbirds’ trademark soaring and swooping in both aerobatic formations and as part of solo flying maneuvers make it easy to forget they are big F-16 jets with the capacity to reach a mind-boggling 1,500 mph.
“[Salinas] doesn’t get a team like the Thunderbirds unless they’ve got their act together,” says Ed Shipley, founder of The Horsemen, who will be flying along with his partners Jim Beasley and Dan Fredkin. The Horsemen are the world’s only P-51 Mustang aerobatic team in original planes that flew in World War II. As impressive as that is, what they do in the planes is even more arresting, as they complete challenging and dazzling aerobatic stunts in tight formation that allows only a few feet of space.
Shipley, who’s spent 30 years flying World War II fighter planes, is succinct about why he’s been into this as long as he can remember. “[I] escape life’s gravity,” he says, “forget about everything and soar through the sky.”
Although Tucker won’t be flying in the Salinas show this year, his flight team will be giving aerobatic rides to the enlisted Air Force men and women who maintain the Thuderbirds’ jets – totaling about 20 heart-thumping rides.
He also offers a boost for airshow first-timers in the form of advice: “Come early, wear sunscreen, put a smile on your face and be ready to be mesmerized by the magic of flight.”
The airshow features other local products: U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Mark Brophy, a 1992 Carmel High graduate, will be piloting an E-6 Mercury aircraft, and U.S. Air Force Major Scott Downey, a 1984 Monterey High graduate, will be bringing an A-10 Thunderbolt II. Major Downey has been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq and his parents, Libby and Wayne, still reside in Monterey, where Libby serves on the Monterey City Council.
Red Bull Air Racer Mike Goulian will be returning to Salinas flying an Extra 330 single-seat plane, which he calls “an Indy Car with wings.” The Red Bull Air Racing series features planes navigating a series of air-filled pylons, flying at speeds reaching 230 mph.
The velocity means racers have to perform with exacting precision. But nailing ambitious maneuvers is something Goulian – who Tucker jokingly calls “the second best pilot in the world” – has seen modeled for years.
“Salinas just gets it right,” Goulian says.