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Warbirds and other aircraft will take to the skies or be on display at the Santa Maria Public Airport during the inaugural Central Coast AirFest Oct. 6-7, but one act in particular is generating a lot of buzz: the Canadian Snowbirds.

The Snowbirds, the Royal Canadian Air Force’s iconic 431 Air Demonstration and Military Aerobatics Squadron, will headline the event Saturday and Sunday.

As a top-tier team — comparable to the U.S. Navy Blue Angels or the Air Force Thunderbirds — the Snowbirds are expected to attract people to Santa Maria from all over California.

“We’re their only California air show this year, so we’re marketing as far as San Francisco, out to Fresno, Bakersfield and down to San Diego,” said coordinator Chris Kunkle. “It’s just a huge draw.”

In large part due to the Snowbirds team, the Central Coast AirFest is expecting to have between 20,000 and 25,000 people attend on each of its two days, he said.

“There’s a lot of these people that follow these jet teams, especially the Snowbirds — we’re getting calls from people coming down from Reno, the L.A.-area and Sacramento just because of them,” Kunkle said.

The Central Coast AirFest was organized to reestablish a local air show in Santa Maria after the Santa Maria Museum of Flight's Thunder Over the Valley went on hiatus in 2015.

The event will feature local restaurants, food trucks, wineries and breweries, along with a kids’ area and a VIP tent, where guests and performers can find some shade and refreshments.

In addition to the Snowbirds, prominent acts include Cal Poly alumni Eric Tucker’s comedy routine with a Piper J-3 Cub aircraft and Santa Paula resident Sammy Mason’s high-energy biplane routine.

The Snowbirds show team, which consists of 24 members of the Canadian armed forces and nine aircraft, is known for incredibly precise and intricate aerial maneuvers, often involving flying in formations that leave just several meters of space between each aircraft, Kunkle said.

“One of the reasons the Snowbirds are special is they fly with two more aircraft than the other teams. They fly with nine aircraft total and they fly a tight, precise show.”

The squadron was the first aerobatic team in the world to use music in its demonstrations and incorporates live commentary from the performing pilots during its routine.

Snowbirds leader Maj. Denis Bandet said they are excited to show the people of Santa Maria and the Central Coast how they work as a team.

“We’re very excited to be back in California,” he said.

“Our sole purpose is to demonstrate the skill, professionalism and teamwork of the Royal Canadian Air Force,” he added.

During the Snowbirds show, which is about 30 minutes, Bandet said attendees should expect to see intricate rolls and looping maneuvers.

“Over the evolution of the team, we’ve put together a series of sequences to highlight the cohesiveness of the nine airplanes,” he said. “There’s seven or eight formation changes in the first 10 minutes and we like to highlight those formation changes.”

“There’s no automation — it’s all hands and feet and coordination between the pilots,” Bandet continued.

“It’s pretty special for Santa Maria because they go through a review process to pick their shows — you just don’t get to have a jet team at every air show,” Kunkle said. “You have to submit to a committee in the military to request them. The fact that we got picked is pretty special, just in regards to that part of it.”

Having one of the elite military jet teams brings a level of legitimacy to an air show, Kunkle said.

“It guarantees ticket sales, participation and community connection.”

Once the Snowbirds signed on to the show, there remained a plethora of details that needed to be worked out.

“We had a 40-page document along with another 20- to 30-page checklist that we have to fill out and make sure everything’s done, as far as hotel rooms, booking rental cars, trucks that hold their equipment while they’re here, security for their aircraft,” Kunkle said. “It’s not just them coming out — there’s a lot of back-office type of things that have to be set up to be able to handle them.”

Kunkle said he’s been heartened by the supportive response he’s received from the local community toward the new show.

“It’s been really awesome to be part of an event that everybody has a place in their heart for,” he said. “It’s been a treat to bring back an event that is so accepted within the community.”

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Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @razisyed


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