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Central Coast AirFest to fill the skies over Santa Maria with aviation's graceful past, thunderous present

From the Series: Central Coast AirFest series
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As old warbirds, fighter jets and other aircraft ready to take to the skies during this weekend’s Central Coast AirFest, organizers have been finalizing stepped-up preparations for the airshow.

Slated for Oct. 12-13, the AirFest is expected to bring thousands of spectators to the Santa Maria Public Airport to celebrate the region’s aviation history, eat good food and watch electrifying routines performed by skilled pilots.

The event will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with four hours of flying each afternoon.

Last year's inaugural show, the first airshow in Santa Maria since 2015, drew around 17,000 people from all over the state, officials said.

AirFest planning committee chair Chris Kunkle said show organizers, crew and volunteers were working hard on final preparations for the two-day show.

The headlining act for this year’s show is the F-16 Viper Demonstration Team from Shaw Air Force Base.

“We’re really excited about the Viper team,” Kunkle said. “It’s high-intensity routine and it features one of our military's premier fighter jets. It’s loud, fast and super exciting.”

Kunkle said the Viper team’s act will feature stunning pyrotechnics, including a large “wall of fire” that ends the routine.

“The wall of fire is 1,000 feet long and 100 feet tall,” he said. “The pyrotechnics will be about 1,500 feet away from the audience, but you’ll be able to feel the heat of it.”

The F-16 Viper Demonstration Team will perform at the Central Coast AirFest set for Oct. 12 and 13 at the Santa Maria Public Airport.

The planned pyrotechnics necessitated a controlled burning of roughly 45 acres of dry brush on airport grounds last month to stave off the threat of sparking a vegetation fire.

In addition to the Viper team, other planned acts include veteran airshow pilots like Vicky Benzing, Sammy Mason, Bill Stein and Rob Holland.

“I do stunts similar to what the cadets would have done when they were learning aerial maneuvers, things like loops and rolls and hammerheads,” Vicky Benzing said. “I perform right [in] show center, right in front of the audience, down low, with lots of noise and smoke.”

While the different types of aircraft remain at the core of AirFest, Kunkle said he and other committee members wanted to put on an event that would appeal to those beyond the aviation community.

This year’s AirFest will feature not only amazing pilots and breathtaking aerobatics, but honored guest Capt. Charles Plumb, a Vietnam War veteran, accomplished pilot and motivational speaker.

Now 66 years-old, Plumb splits his time between his home in Westlake Village and traveling around the world to speak at various conferences and events. If he has time in his busy schedule, he’ll also make it over to the Santa Ynez Airport a couple times a month, where he stays in his airplane hangar.

The show will have plenty for everyone; beer garden, food trucks with local food, displays of new equipment from John Deere and Caterpillar and a kids’ zone with bounce houses and other activities.

This year’s airshow will also include a plane-pull on Saturday to benefit the Special Olympics of Northern Santa Barbara County, raising money to support roughly 300 athletes in the North County area.

During the plane-pull, teams will compete to see which of them can pull a 30,000-pound F-4 Phantom fighter jet 12 feet.

“For me, it’s all about giving back to the community,” Kunkle said. “We gave $11,500 last year to different nonprofits that helped us with volunteers.

"We’ve made an effort to use all local groups and businesses because we want to support the community here.”

Kunkle said the organizers have hired San Luis Obispo-based Miller Event Management to assist with parking this year — a problem on the first day of last year’s show as spectators arrived earlier than anticipated, causing delays for cars trying to get into the parking lot.

“There were some upgrades we realized we needed to do after last year,” Kunkle said. “We know what to expect now and we have a plan to make sure cars can get in quickly.”

Get Ready for this year's Central Coast AirFest by taking a look back at the inaugural event

Despite a few hiccups, the inaugural Central Coast AirFest was a roaring success, with 15,000 people turning out Saturday and Sunday to see aircraft of all types perform thrilling routines in the Santa Maria sky.

Organizers were able to score the sole 2018 season California stop for the Snowbirds, a top-tier military jet team, comparable to the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds or Navy’s Blue Angels. The Snowbirds -- the Royal Canadian Air Force’s iconic 431 Air Demonstration and Military Aerobatics Squadron -- was the show’s headlining act.

The Snowbirds’ performance was the first time a military jet team had performed in Santa Maria in over two decades.

Central Coast AirFest 2019 Schedule of Events

Saturday, Oct. 12:

9:00 am Gates Open

10:30-11:30 am Radio Control Aircraft Demonstration

11:50 am Red Bull Flag Drop

12:00 pm Opening Ceremony- Airshow starts

12:11 pm 9th Recon Flybys

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12:17 pm John Collver

12:30 pm Eric Tucker Dead Stick

12:41 pm Bill Stein

12:54 pm Smoke and Thunder/Pyro

1:10 pm Santa Barbara County Demo

1:21 pm CAF SoCal P-51 Demo

1:32 pm VFA-151

1:38 pm Eric Tucker Veh Land/Pyro

1:54 pm Vicky Benzing

2:05 pm Red Bull Jump Demo

2:11 pm Red Bull Heli Aero

2:22 pm Rob Holland/Pyro

2:43 pm Ace Maker

2:44 pm Jason Somes

2:50 pm Sammy Mason

3:01 pm Eric Tucker Vehicle Take Off

3:07 pm ACC F-16 Viper Demo/Pyro

3:38 pm USFS Heritage Flight

5:00 pm Gates Close

Sunday, October 13:

8:00-10:30 am Special Olympics Plane-Pull

9:00 am Gates Open

10:30-11:30 am Radio Control Aircraft Demonstration

11:50 am Red Bull Flag Drop

12:00 pm Opening Ceremony- Airshow starts

12:11 pm 9th Recon Flybys

12:17 pm John Collver

12:30 pm Eric Tucker Dead Stick

12:41 pm Bill Stein

12:54 pm Smoke and Thunder/Pyro

1:10 pm Santa Barbara County Demo

1:21 pm CAF SoCal P-51 Demo

1:32 pm VFA-151

1:38 pm Eric Tucker Veh Land/Pyro

1:54 pm Vicky Benzing

2:05 pm Red Bull Jump Demo

2:11 pm Red Bull Heli Aero

2:22 pm Rob Holland/Pyro

2:43 pm Ace Maker

2:44 pm Jason Somes

2:50 pm Sammy Mason

3:01 pm Eric Tucker Vehicle Take Off

3:07 pm ACC F-16 Viper Demo/Pyro

3:38 pm USFS Heritage Flight

5:00 pm Gates Close

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