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50,000 Attend 1st Day of Air Show

Times Staff Writer

Pilots looped and circled their vintage propeller-driven planes over Van Nuys Airport while young children playfully inspected multimillion-dollar jet fighters and bombers on the ground at the Aviation Expo ’89 air show Saturday.

Los Angeles police estimated that 50,000 people attended the first day of the two-day event, which included a tribute to flyers and engineers who have contributed to San Fernando Valley aviation history, including a pioneer female aviator who performed at the opening of the airport in 1928.

“This is great. You don’t have to spend money, it’s good for the family, and it’s educational,” said Alejandro Miranda of San Fernando, who brought his son, Alex Jr., 4, and his wife, Esperanza.

For Alex Jr., the highlight of the show was his tour of the huge KC-10 tanker, a modified DC-10. “They let me go in the cockpit,” he said, holding a plastic model of the plane.

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Many in the crowd were military veterans who came to show their families the planes and helicopters that they had seen or flown during the Vietnam and Korean wars. Others worked in Southern California’s aerospace industry and wanted to admire the fruits of their labor.

Joe Nungary inspected the sleek B-1B bomber, the most technically advanced in the U. S. arsenal. He said he worked on the plane when he was a research machinist at Rockwell International.

“I think it’s the most beautiful thing that’s ever flown,” Nungary said. The retired machinist said he didn’t know that the plane would be at the air show until he saw it fly over his Van Nuys home Friday afternoon. “I’d never seen it fly before. I saw it landing, and I came over here.” Soldiers at the California Air National Guard told him about the show, he said.

Navy veteran Jack Fisher, 46, was also impressed by the B-1B, which he admired as he drank a few beers. “I walked around it for five beers,” he said. Fisher bought a B-1B cap, decorating it with a pin depicting the Navy P-3 Orion aircraft that he flew in Vietnam.

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The B-1B was only one of 50 aircraft displayed at the show. At the other end of the airfield, Navy Lt. Gary (Lefty) Gomez gladly fielded questions from a dozen people gathered around the F-14 Tomcat jet fighter that he pilots. “They ask me, ‘How fast does it go? How much does it cost?’ They’re good taxpayers,” he said.

The jet fighter costs $32 million, give or take a million, Gomez said.

Just before the flying exhibition began, Van Nuys Airport spokesman Robert Hayes presented Aces in Aviation awards to half a dozen distinguished flyers and engineers.

Bud Walen, “the oldest flight instructor at Van Nuys Airport,” received an award for having trained “most of the pilots in the Valley,” Hayes said.

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“The best advantage of teaching flying is meeting pretty ladies,” Walen, 83, said after receiving his certificate. “It goes with the job.”

Bobbi Trout, also 83, received the Historical Achievement Award. Trout flew a Golden Eagle monoplane during an exhibition when Van Nuys Airport opened in 1928. She also completed a 12-hour solo endurance flight at the airport in 1929.

“What a difference 61 years makes,” she said. “Back then, there was nothing but walnut and peach groves here.”

Another honoree, Air Force Capt. Steve Ritchie, accepted his award in the name of the “hundreds and hundreds” of support personnel--mechanics and air traffic controllers--he worked with as a fighter pilot in Vietnam. Ritchie was the only pilot declared an ace during the war, a distinction that he won for shooting down five MIG-21 fighters.

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“To have survived and been victorious is a credit to their work,” he said.

Trout and Ritchie later joined the crowd in watching “Top Guns of Yesteryear,” a flying exhibition of World War II-era fighter planes.

“Those are pretty neat,” Jimmy Rosenfeld, 8, of Thousand Oaks, said as he watched two P-51 Mustangs buzz the airfield.

Still, some were disappointed by the show, which included a water drop by a C-130 transport plane used to fight fires.

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“Are they going to fly any planes from my war?” asked Lou Dafner of Tarzana, a Vietnam veteran. “Everything here is from World War II. That’s way before my time.”

Police Sgt. Ted Hanson said crowds Saturday were half the size of last year’s show, which attracted about 100,000 people each day. Some may have been kept away by the heat, which was more than 90 degrees in the shade. By late afternoon, three people had fainted from exposure, Hanson said.

The free show continues today from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


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