17th AirFest soars into Grass Valley | TheUnion.com

17th AirFest soars into Grass Valley

Photo submitted to The Union by Tim O'Brien

Know & Go

WHAT: Nevada County AirFest

WHEN: 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Dinner and dance today from 5:30-10:30 p.m.

WHERE: Nevada County Airport, 13083 John Bauer Ave., Grass Valley, CA 95945

Attendees of the Nevada County AirFest have lofty expectations for the airplane enthusiasts’ event that has drawn thousands annually for nearly two decades.

AirFest chairman Tim O’Brien expects this year’s event won’t ground those expectations.

“It takes the most rare and exotic vintage airplanes and puts them on display at a very little airport and flies them in a photogenic and personal way that is different from other air shows,” O’Brien said. “It’s rare to get this kind of close and intimate experience.”

Since its 1996 inception, the annual AirFest has paraded fly-bys and demonstrations of Cal Fire air tankers, racing craft, military, antique and classic crafts, jets, hand-made planes and radio-controlled model airplanes.

One highlight at this year’s event will be a Douglas C-54 Skymaster, the military version of a D-C4, which are four-engine flying behemoths, O’Brien said.

“The airplane is very rare to be flown,” said one of the C-54’s pilots, Jim Ricketts, 39, an Alta Sierra resident.

Beyond its staggering 71,500-pound weight and more than 100-foot wingspan, the C-54 is also notable as the aircraft employed in the Berlin Airlift, where United States forces supplied West Berlin using aircraft in the face of a Soviet blockade.

“Veterans who operated these planes in the various theaters are very enthusiastic to see it,” Ricketts said.

The C-54s were capable of hauling 10 tons each, and that capacity was put to use in Berlin, where nearly 3,500 tons of food, water and various sources of energy were needed daily to keep the more than 2 million people alive in the western portion of the divided city, according to http://spiritof freedom.org.

“They had planes flying in every 30 seconds at the height of the day,” Ricketts said. “It was an incredible effort.”

This year’s AirFest will also feature The Patriots Jet Team, a fast formation flying squadron of six L-39 jets that have dazzled spectators at air shows around the country with their aerial acrobatic maneuvers, accented with red, white and blue smoke trails.

Some of the most famous attractions are the P-51 Mustangs, which O’Brien said are the most famous fighter planes of World War II. Four will appear at this year’s AirFest, he said.

But more happens at AirFest than just airplanes. The event boasts an assortment of rare and classic cars, foods, a flight simulator, bounce house and face-painting.

“It’s a full aviation-related day for the whole family,” O’Brien said.

After an afternoon of arriving aircraft, the weekend begins with a dinner and big-band swing dance party from 5:30-10:30 p.m. today at Alpine Aviation and Sierra Mountain Aviation hangars, off Nevada City Avenue, on the far west end of the airport.

This event features music by Moonlight Swing Living History Big Band led by Grant Pyle, a retired brigadier general and son of famous war correspondent Ernie Pyle, O’Brien said.

Advance tickets to the dance party are $35 for the dinner and dance and $15 for the dance only, and can be purchased at SPD Markets, the Beam Center, Raley’s Supermarket and, of course, at the airport.

Saturday kicks off at 7 a.m. with a pancake breakfast lasting until 11 a.m., concurrent with a full day of AirFest activities that start at 8 a.m.

Tickets are available at SPD Markets in Grass Valley and Nevada City, Beam Easy Living Center in Grass Valley and the Nevada County Airport office.

The event, organized by the Golden Empire Flying Association, raises funds for airport improvements and scholarships given to people interested in aviation. Over the years, the association has given out more than $50,000 in aviation scholarships and purchased new signs, paint, landscaping and computers for the airport, according to O’Brien.

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email crosacker@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.

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