You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.
Wall of Fire thrills at the second Central Coast AirFest

Wall of Fire thrills at the second Central Coast AirFest

From the Series: Central Coast AirFest series
101219 AirFest Saturday 02.jpg

An aerobatic plane goes upside down as pyrotechnics explode behind it Saturday during the second annual Central Coast AirFest at the Santa Maria Public Airport.

Toro was the one they came to see.

Air Force Maj. Garrett Smith, call sign Toro, and his F-16 Fighting Falcon, commonly known as the Viper, were the stars of Saturday’s second Central Coast AirFest at the Santa Maria Public Airport.

Thousands of people flocked to the airport to see Toro’s one-man aerial show that ended with the spectacular “Wall of Fire.”

“It’s great to watch, but flying this Viper in front of that wall of flame is just awesome,” said Smith, 34, a native of Price, Utah.

After Smith put his viper through its paces, he ended the show by racing over the runway, trying to beat the Wall of Fire.

101219 AirFest Saturday 03.jpg

An F-16 Fighting Falcon, part of the Viper Demonstration Team and piloted by Maj. Garrett Smith, takes off Saturday during the second annual Central Coast AirFest at the Santa Maria Public Airport.

“I do 620 knots (713 miles per hour). There’s a thousand feet of flames, about 200 feet high, chasing me,” said Smith. “I can’t really feel the heat inside the cockpit but the people lining the runway can sure feel it.”

Smith and his team came to the West Coast from South Carolina’s Shaw Air Force Base.

For his crew chief, Luis Lopez, it is a return home.

“I’m from San Bruno and it’s good to be home,” said Lopez. “We had a show up in Sacramento last weekend, and my parents came out.

“And everyone loves the show. It’s fast, it’s loud and it’s spectacular to watch.”

While the “Wall of Fire” was the main event, it was by no means the only attraction.

The day included several stunt flying demonstrations that were filled with noise and smoke from pilots like John Collver, Eric Tucker, Bill Stein, Vicky Benzing, Jason Somes and Sammy Mason.

101219 AirFest Saturday 01.jpg

Aerobatic pilots called "the two guys" cross at midfield Saturday during the second annual Central Coast AirFest at the Santa Maria Public Airport. AirFest wraps up its two-day show Sunday.

Orcutt’s Scott Place brought his 11-year-old son Aidan to the show.

“This is pretty cool seeing them take off and land and do tricks,” said Aidan Scott, a Boy Scout who began his day as a volunteer at the bounce house. “I love the smoke. It’s exciting and surprising because you don’t see it coming.”

Scott Place is a retired Navy pilot, a third-generation Navy pilot.

“I flew P-3 Orions, and my grandfather and father were Navy pilots before me,” said Scott Place. "Maybe Aidan will be a fourth-generation pilot.

“Growing up, I went to air shows all the time," he said. "I loved the Blue Angels. This is a very good air show, and I love sharing it with my son.”

The airport grounds were filled with military and law enforcement aircraft and crews, on hand to give people a look at the equipment and personnel who do such valuable work.

Also on hand, food vendors, souvenir stands, flying clubs, radio-controlled aircraft, bounce houses and games for young and old in the Kid Zone.

“It’s a little like a county fair but with military jets and other aircraft as the main attraction,” said event organizer Chris Kunkle. “We used to have the Golden State Air Fair and later Thunder in the Valley but that ended in 2015. We started reorganizing an air show in 2017 and were able to bring it back last year.”

The event also serves as a fundraiser. Last year’s AirFest earned $11,500 that was donated to local nonprofit organizations,

This year’s funds are earmarked for the Special Olympics.

“And it’s also a great community event,” Kunkle added. “The AirFest generates about $450,000 for the community — hotels, restaurants and stores."

City officials agreed.

“This is a fabulous event for our community,” said Santa Maria City Councilwoman Etta Waterfield. “It brings people to Santa Maria from all over.”

“They expect between 17,000 and 18,000 people to come to the show over the two days,” added Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino. “I’ll go count them at the gate.”

“We’re just having a great time enjoying the AirFest,” said Waterfield.

“And I was in charge of the weather. That’s why it’s so good,” said Patino.

“I want people to know that the aviation community is a welcoming community,” said Kunkle. “It’s not something that is impossible to get into.”

AirFest continues Sunday.

The day kicks off with the Special Olympics Plane Pull at 8 a.m.

The Wall of Fire pyro flight will be shortly after 3 p.m., with the weekend event wrapping up at 5 p.m.


Get local news delivered to your inbox!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Senior Sports Reporter

Elliott Stern has worked at Lee Central Coast Newspapers for the last 18 years after more than 30 years working in television and radio news and sports.

Related to this story

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News