Brian Stanley

Contributing Writer


The Canadian Forces Snowbirds will fill the skies over the Santa Maria Valley during the inaugural Central Coast AirFest Oct. 6-7 at the Santa Maria Public Airport.

Central Coast AirFest revives the tradition of showcasing military aircraft and aerobatic stunt demonstrations that began in the 1980s in Santa Maria.

“In the ’80s it was called Golden State Air Fair and then it transferred over to Thunder Over the Valley, which was ran by the Santa Maria Museum of Flight,” said Airshow Director Chris Kunkle.

It’s been three years since there has been an air show in Santa Maria, with the last Thunder Over the Valley taking place in August 2015.

“The military went through a sequestration period where they weren’t supporting air shows or any kind of extra activities,” Kunkle said. “It’s really hard on air shows if you don’t have that kind of support from the military.”

Kunkle said the process of reviving the Santa Maria air show began a year ago with a 14-member committee that includes Central Coast Jet Center President Jim Kunkle, Airport Manager Chris Hastert, and Suzanne Singh of the Santa Maria Chamber of Commerce.

“We sat down and brainstormed what everybody thought was needed,” Kunkle said.

With the armed forces supporting air shows once again, organizers compiled a list of military aircraft desired at the show.

“Overall, the support from the military, Canada and the United States, is great,” Kunkle said.


Flying Canadair CT-114 Tutor jets, the nine pilot Snowbirds air demonstration squadron’s 2018 performance celebrates the 60THanniversary of Canada’s and the United States’ partnership with the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

“We got very lucky because we didn’t have to go out and do a really big campaign to get a jet team here because the Snowbirds wanted to come here,” Kunkle said.

The Snowbirds appearance at Central Coast AirFest marks the squadron’s only California appearance on the team’s 2018 schedule. The involvement of the Canadian squadron has also garnered support from the Consulate General of Canada.

“Now we have the support of the Canadian Consulate out of Los Angeles,” Kunkle said. “They want to support any way they can.”

The Snowbirds are comparable to the United States’ air demonstration teams, the Air Force’s Thunderbirds and the Navy’s Blue Angels.

AirFest will feature Santa Paula aerobatics pilot Sammy Mason and Santa Cruz pilot Eric Tucker’s comedic flying act.

“Act wise, we have a lot of local talent,” Kunkle said. “We have a lot of people who wanted to be here just because of the history of aviation in Santa Maria.”

Sammy Mason performs a stunt in his Pitts Special.
Photo contributed

Flying a Pitts Special single-seat aerobatic biplane, Mason describes his act as a high-energy performance that will feature a lot of smoke, noise, tumbles, tail slides and snap rolls.

“It’s a real honor to be involved,” Mason said. “I’m looking forward to showing off my talent locally. I’m hoping the air show goes on for many years to come.”

With the flight in his biplane taking just an hour from Santa Paula to Santa Maria, Mason says he’s happy to be performing close to home.

“I’m excited to perform with the Snowbirds again. I performed with them a couple years ago,” Mason said.

Tucker is debuting a new aerobatic comedy act during the air show in his J-3 Cub, nicknamed My Little Tiger Kitten. Tucker’s act draws influence from the barnstorming era of the 1920s.

“This is the act I wanted to do since I was 12,” said Tucker, who grew up around the air show circuit. “It’s the counterpart to the air show, as a rodeo clown is to the rodeo.”

Featuring dead-stick aerobatics during his act, Tucker will also attempt to land his plane on the rooftop of a 1990 Ford ambulance traveling down the runway.

Tucker is a Cal Poly graduate and his father, Sean D. Tucker, was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame as an air show performer in 2008.

Organizers also incorporated Santa Maria’s history of being a training location for military pilots during World War II. Training was held at the G. Allan Hancock College of Aeronautics and the Santa Maria Army Air Field.

“There is a lot of history around here that goes along with the air show,” Kunkle said.

The Planes of Fame Museum will display a P-38 Lightning.
Photo contributed

The Hancock flight school, located on the current Hancock College campus, trained PT-13 Stearman pilots while the Army Air Field, now Santa Maria’s airport, trained pilots to fly P-38 Lightning bombers.

The air show will bring history to life with a P-38 Lightning being on display to allow for an up-close look of the vintage bomber.

“We’ll actually get to see it fly,” Kunkle added about the P-38. “It’s very iconic for this area, so we’re very excited about it.”

Other World War II-era military aircraft on display will be the P-51 Mustang and the F8F Bearcat.

The modern United States military aircraft scheduled include the F-15 Eagle and F-18 Hornet jet fighters along with the C-120 Hercules and MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft.

AirFest will also feature food vendors, a beer garden sponsored by Hangar 24 Craft Brewery, a kid activity zone hosted by McDonalds, John Deere and Case tractor displays, and live music from Santa Ynez country artist Dylan Ortega.

“There’s going to be something for everybody,” Kunkle said. “Whether you like the beer, whether you like the gourmet food or the tractors or the aircraft.”

For more information on Central Coast AirFest and to purchase tickets, visit