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Record-Setting Wings Over Wine Country

By Hayman Tam

The Chinese-designed Nanchang CJ-6 first flew in 1958. (Hayman Tam)More than 24,000 airshow fans helped to make this year’s Wings Over Wine Country Airshow the best one put together by the Pacific Coast Air Museum (PCAM) in Santa Rosa, Calif.  This two-day show takes place at Charles Schulz - Sonoma County Airport (STS) and has been the museum’s major fundraiser for 14 years.  The cloudy skies cleared and the temperature was perfect, just right to put in earplugs and sunscreen and enjoy the festivities.

The flying got off to a small-scale start with exhibition flights of radio-control planes by local modelers. One memorable creation was a flying doghouse complete with Snoopy perched on top, gunning for the Red Baron.

A S-2F Tracker and A-26 Invader treads water in a sea of airshow fans. (Hayman Tam)The full-scale flying kicked off with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Bell 407 with their SWAT team dangling underneath like garlic bulbs on a string. Kent Pietsch followed that with his part-shedding aerial antics in his Jelly Belly Interstate Cadet.

On Saturday, Aug. 20, a U-2R Dragon Lady from Beale AFB made a stealthy flyby over the field while the morning cloud cover obscured any visual sightings.  Aerobatic performances featured Vicki Benzing, Spencer Suderman, and Bill Cornick.

Warbirds also got center stage with flybys of a quartet of Nanchang CJ-6’s.  These Chinese basic trainers continue to gain more popularity as an entry-level warbird.  The heavy iron took turns performing, starting with trainers such as the T-6 Texan and T-28 Trojans and finishing with A vapor cone is formed as this F/A-18F Super Hornet closes on Mach 1. (Hayman Tam)the fighters taking to the air with a herd of P-51 Mustangs, multiple P-40 Warhawks, a Yak-3U and a Hawker Sea Fury to round out the group.

Greg Colyer represented aviation’s early jet age as he made several circuits of the field in his immaculate T-33 Shooting Star Ace Maker.

Afterwards more modern aircraft thundered through the skies as the F/A-18F Super Hornet and F-15E Strike Eagle executed their demonstrations performances.  The humidity was perfect for vapor formation as these aircraft pulled through tight turns and climbs.  The Super Hornet flirted with the sound barrier as it hurtled down the runway for a transonic pass, trailing a perfect vapor cone from its wing.

The nimble C-17 Globemaster III did not disappoint the crowd, starting This Romanian-built Yak-3U “Steadfast” was newly built in 2005, and competes at Reno. (Hayman Tam)off with a short field takeoff and a series of maneuvers to show just what this plane is capable of.  After landing the C-17 demonstrated its unique ability to back up the plane using the reverse thrust.  Many thanks to Uncle Sam and the men and women of the 452nd Air Mobility Wing (AKA the West Coast Demonstration Team) based at March Joint Air Reserve Base in Southern California.

Of the dozens of planes on static display, military jets, old and older, dominated the area.  PCAM owns a large, impressive collection of jet fighters, and many were set up for open cockpit display.  Vietnam veterans could appreciate classics such as the F-105 Thunderchief, F-106 Delta Dart, A-6 Intruder, A-4 Skyhawk, and F-4 Phantom.  Relatively newer jets included the F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-14 Tomcat, and AV-8 Harrier.  These, and many others, had their cockpits open for the public to clamber into and pretend to be a jet pilot for a few minutes.  

A few current military aircraft were on static exhibit, including an F-5 Aggressor from Fallon NAS, and a MH-60 Seahawk from North Island NAS San Diego and the C-17.

This was the second year that the airshow was held in its new location at the Kaiser Air- Santa Rosa Jet Center.  The show was paused several times to facilitate arrivals and departures of Horizon Air scheduled flights and Cal Fire firefighting aircraft.

Charles M. Schulz - Sonoma County Airport is located just north of Santa Rosa, approximately 65 miles north of San Francisco.  Constructed in 1939, operations in and out of STS include air cargo, private and corporate flights, military, search and rescue, fire fighting, law enforcement and training.  The name was changed to Charles M. Schulz - Sonoma County Airport in March 2000 to honor Santa Rosa’s most famous resident.

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