By Brian Stanley
Central Coast AirFest returns fast and loud to the Santa Maria Valley skies Oct. 12-13 at the Santa Maria Public Airport.
The second annual airshow’s main attraction is the high-energy, speed-driven performance of the United State Air Force’s F-16 Viper. Airshow Director Chris Kunkle said pyrotechnics have also been added to this year’s performance to help accentuate the act.
“The U.S. Air Force Viper demo team is very exciting for us to get. It’s very noisy, which everyone likes. The afterburner is always a hit,” Kunkle said. “The F-16 will have a 1,000-foot wall of fire, and it’s about 100 feet tall.”
Kunkle said that on the Viper’s last pass in front of the grand stands, the wall of fire will be used to simulate a military strafing run, the practice of attacking ground targets.
“It will be this huge ball of fire and you will feel it in the crowd,” Kunkle said.
The F-16 Viper will share center stage with the World War II era P-38 Lightning, which was seen at the inaugural AirFest, for an Air Force heritage flight.
“Showing the new version of what we are using today in modern military and what we started our life with in World War II,” Kunkle said. “It’s a really cool thing to close out that demo at the end of the days, both aircraft in formations.”
Other featured performers include five-time world freestyle aerobatic champion Rob Holland, flying an MXS-RH single-propeller monoplane, and aerobatic pilot Bill Stein, in a Zivko Edge 540.
“They will fly together at one point during the show,” Kunkle said. “They are also the ones who are racing the jet truck, so the jet truck is coming back. We’ll have that combination, which will be really exciting to watch.”
Also included in the lineup is the Red Bull Air Force jump team, the Red Bull aerobatic helicopter, Southern California aerial display artist Vicky Benzing piloting her 1940 Boeing Stearman, and third-generation military pilot Rob “Scratch” Mitchell in a T-33 Shooting Star.
Returning for their second year are Santa Cruz pilot Eric Tucker with his comedic flying act and Santa Paula aerobatics pilot Sammy Mason.
“(Tucker) has upgraded his act,” Kunkle said. “I think he’s going to have smoke on his wing tips, and they’ve updated the comedy routine.”
Kunkle has incorporated a local charity fundraiser into this year’s show with the Special Olympics Northern Santa Barbara’s Plane Pull fundraiser. Teams of 15 will test their strength and stamina to see who can pull an F-4 Phantom 12 feet in two attempts for the fastest time.
“My biggest thing is giving back to the community; 100 percent of the proceeds go back to Special Olympics to helping their athletes,” Kunkle said.
Event organizers have also made upgrades to guest parking and admittance into the airshow this year after an unexpected turnout during the inaugural event.
“We had a lot of issues with parking and getting people in the gate last year because we didn’t expect the numbers,” Kunkle said. “This year we have taken it as our prerogative to make it an exceptional situation for our guests.”
After hiring Miller Event Management to control parking, Kunkle said, this year guests will have a six-lane-wide entrance into the parking lots to increase flow.
The airshow will feature two entrances, the original entrance south of the Radisson Hotel and a new north gate near Santa Maria Fire Station No. 6.
“It should be bang, bang, bang,” Kunkle said “We’re going to get people in, get them seated, having fun already and not waiting in lines. I think that will make the experience that much better for our guests.”
For more information about Central Coast AirFest, visit www.centralcoastairfest.com.