Despite some very unseasonable and uncooperative weather, the Commemorative Air Force put on a great airshow at Gillespie Field in El Cajon, CA.  The show was the ninth annual event, and those who came out in the cloudy, windy, and sometimes rainy weather were treated to the quality displays that have become a tradition.

            The airshow, which is billed as being “static”, started out with a Friday publicity flight of six vintage warbirds.  “Sentimental Journey”, the popular B-17 Flying Fortress from the CAF Mesa, AZ squadron, led the pack which also included the CAF’s C-46 Commando “China Doll” from Camarillo, CA; John Collver’s SNJ-5 Texan “War Dog”; Dave Lane’s A-26 Invader; Bob Grondzik’s Skyraider; and an F8F Bearcat, also from the CAF at Camarillo.

            The B-17 took to the air carrying two former Flying Fortress crewmen—John Asmussen who was a tail gunner with 50 missions during 1942 and 1943, and Don Stull, a navigator with 32 missions before being shot down.  Both were excited to be back in a B-17, but their enthusiasm died down as the weather provided a lot of turbulence.

            The A-1H Skyraider with its powerful, deep-engine roar, always gets a lot of attention at airshows.  Grondzik has owned it for three years and keeps it at Ramona.  The Skyraider was a Vietnam War veteran aircraft, having been based there from 1967-1972 as a search and rescue plane.  The aircraft may also be familiar to some from its days at the old Museum of Flying in Santa Monica.

            Many other aircraft also put on flying displays throughout the three-day event, including the famed “Flying Wing” from Chino, a replica Ford Trimotor from Fullerton, Travelaire biplanes, a Mig-15, T-34 Mentors, a T-28 Trojan, L-19 and O-1 vintage military observation planes, PT-17 trainers from World War II, a Yak-3, and Chinese CJ-6.

            The Thunder Delphins flight of four ex-Soviet Air Force L-29’s really caught the crowd’s attention as the roar of the four jets in formation was hard to ignore.  Led by Doug Gillis, the team also included Cas Casillas, Zach McNeill, and Bob Chamberlain.

            The military even provided a 1960’s vintage UH-3H Sea King helicopter, which is still in service as a VIP transport at North Island.  A replica of the 1903 Wright glider that is under construction was on disply for the 100th anniversary of flight.  This model of glider was the last built by the Wrights just before they started powered flight.

            The replica Ford Trimotor is actually a 1985 Bushmaster 2000, one of a handful built from original Ford plans.  Owned by R.R. “Capt. Bud” Fuchs, the plane is known as “TAT”—short for TriMotor Air Tours.  Based in Fullerton, they offer rides at many Southern California airshows.

            Vintage civilian aircraft at the show included a pristine 1937 Stinson Reliant, which was actually Coca Cola’s first corporate aircraft.  The plane was pressed into military transport service in 1943 and is now owned by Les and Nancy DeLine of San Diego.

            Posing in polished metal finish was a Cessna 195 that belongs to Swede Gamble of Ramona.  He has owned it for two years and loves to go to airshows such as Miramar, Ramona, Gillespie, and even as far away as Midland and Oshkosh.

            A plane of smaller stature was a replica Culver Cadet built by Neal LaFrance in 1997.  He utilized original plans fromWorld War II, but made a few changes—most noticable is that the once retractable landing gear has given way, making the plane a ttail-dragger.  LaFrance has named his plane the “Spirit of Wichita” since 90% of the original Cadets were built there.

            Culver Cadets were used for a very unusual purpose during the war—some could be trainers, but most were aerial targets.  They were flown off the coast for stationary anti-aircraft gunnery training.  LaFrance bases his aircraft at Gillespie and has put about 300 hours on it.  Two SMALL people can fit in side-by-side.

            As usual, the CAF is to be congratulated for putting on a great event, leaving everyone eagerly anticipating the 10th annual show next year.

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