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Aircraft Buffs in 7th Heaven Over Fly-In Meeting

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Airplanes were everywhere. Big planes and small planes. Old planes and new. Metal planes and wood planes. Some off the assembly line and some made at home.

About 1,500 people and 300 planes descended on the small Camarillo Airport Saturday to attend the annual Camarillo Fly-in, Swap Meet and Aircraft Display of the Experimental Aircraft Assn.

“It’s so pilots can get together and talk and show off their planes,” said Larry Hayes, president of the association’s Camarillo chapter.

What began 10 years ago as a small get-together of about 20 pilots and their planes has grown to a group of about 300 aircraft owners, said Ken Clunis, vice president of the chapter.

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The two-day event, which continues today, is primarily for people who build or restore planes, Clunis said. Hobbyists can attend seminars about flying and building aircraft, see home-built aircraft projects under construction and attend a swap meet to buy parts for their planes.

Compared with many hobbies, aircraft building is extremely time-consuming and expensive, Clunis said. A do-it-yourself kit can cost anywhere from $8,000 to $60,000 and require 1,000 to 3,000 hours to construct, he said.

“If my husband spent half as much time and money on me as he does this plane, I’d look this good too,” said Pat Clearman, 52, of Long Beach.

Clearman and her husband spent about $40,000 to repaint, reupholster and upgrade their 1953 Cessna 195, which they often use for short trips. “We spend every weekend at the airport, flying it or polishing it,” she said.

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Building his wooden plane from scratch took three years and $7,000, said Fred Machado, 66, of Culver City. His “Boredom Fighter” is not a replica of any particular model, but it does closely resemble the type of plane flown by Capt. Edward Vernon Rickenbacker in World War I, Machado said.

His plane is painted in camouflage with a fierce-looking American Indian logo on the side and has a machine gun on the top wing, complete with gun sight. Machado said he built his plane from wood because it was modeled after the World War I fighter planes.

“They used metal for fittings but the basic aircraft was built from wood, covered with fabric,” he said.

Machado, who has logged about 260 hours in his plane, stores it in a hangar at Camarillo Airport. He used to fly from Santa Monica Airport but switched to Camarillo 10 years ago because the traffic is not as heavy and the scenery is more pleasing.

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“Can you imagine taking off from Santa Monica Airport and seeing all those houses below you?” he asked. “When you come to Camarillo, you see nothing but big, beautiful, green fields.”

Although many of the aircraft on display are handmade like Machado’s and experimental in nature, accidents rarely happen because of mechanical failure, said Vance Jaqua, a 62-year-old aerospace engineer from Camarillo.

“The safety record of experimental aircraft is about the same as general aviation. The experimental part of the plane is not the high risk,” he said. “Most accidents that happen are the same kind of accidents that happen in store-bought planes.”


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