PLANE AND SIMPLE : Unlike the El Toro Air Show, Fullerton’s Airport Day Only Aims to Be Fun and Homey

<i> Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for the Times Orange County Edition. </i>

“Will it be the place on this moonlit morn

Where a pilot will solo, an aviator is born

For the record:

12:00 a.m. March 24, 1994 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 24, 1994 Orange County Edition OC Live! Page 6 OC Live Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Airport Day--The first Fullerton Airport Day was in 1987. Due to incorrect information supplied to The Times, a story in the March 17 issue of OC Live! had the year wrong.

Sensing the delight of the first solo flight

Knowing the thrills, the untellable delight?”


--From “Fullerton Airport,” by Bill W. Griggs Sr.


From crop-dusters to private commuter planes to surplus B-18s, the 80-acre Fullerton Municipal Airport has hosted a dizzying array of aircraft since barnstormers first used the site as a makeshift landing strip in 1913.

But controversy has also been flying over the city-owned site, which officially opened in 1928 and is now hemmed in by residential and commercial development. Supporters such as aviator/poet Bill Griggs, a longtime owner of a flight training and rental facility there, say the airport is a vital economic asset to the county. Others, including city officials of neighboring Buena Park, have called it a safety risk, pointing to the more than 20 crashes at or near the facility since 1985.

Somewhere between lie the rest of us: residents who, if we even knew it existed in the first place, regard the airport as something of a local curiosity, a point of interest that, gosh darn it, we really ought to take the kids out to see.

Mark this Saturday on your calendar.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the facility hosts Airport Day ’94, a free, family-oriented tribute to aviation and its place in Orange County history. The event will include displays of vintage and modern aircraft, a parachute jump, an air show of radio-controlled aircraft, food and music; County Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez will unveil a plaque designating the field as an Orange County historical site. For a fee, visitors can take wing aboard private planes and helicopters.

Airport Day events, held every other year since the mid-1970s, typically attract 10,000 to 12,000 visitors, most of them from the immediate area and almost all of them non-fliers, said airport director Roland Elder. With no screaming fighter planes or spectacular stunts, the event isn’t nearly as flashy as the annual El Toro Air Show, admits Elder, but it’s homier, and he’d like to see more families take advantage of it.


“The idea is that this is one day on which any citizen in the area can come out and see us up close, (and) just be a part of our experience.”

Former military pilot George Normington got his first taste of flying at age 11, piloting model airplanes near his home in San Diego. On Saturday, he and other members of the California Air Show Team will stage a half-hour show with radio-controlled aircraft that include vintage biplanes, jets, gliders and World War II fighters, most of them with wingspans of nine feet or more. Members will also host demonstrations throughout the day and answer questions about the hobby, which Normington said is more challenging than it looks.

Models are “harder to fly than a full-sized airplane because you’re not physically up there in the plane to make decisions,” he explained. “You have to learn to (mentally) put yourself up in the air.”

Those who prefer larger aircraft won’t be left out. According to volunteer Al Pregler, an open invitation has been issued to plane owners and collectors from all over the Southland, including members of the Experimental Aircraft Assn. and the War Bird Society. Although Pregler can’t predict the turnout, he expects visitors may see anything from World War II reconnaissance planes to pre-1940 antiques.


One of the more unique modern aircraft at the event will be a Polish-built Wilga, a large utility plane that Elder compares to a “flying grasshopper.” At about 11:15 a.m., the red, white and blue Wilga will climb 7,500 feet to drop three members of the Freedom Parachute Team. The jumpers will hang around after to answer questions and give kids a close-up view of their chutes.

Later in the day, visitors can also come within shouting distance of the Goodyear blimp, which will descend to 50 feet during a 3 p.m. flyby, said Elder. And those willing to plunk down $10 or $15 can take 20-minute rides in private planes piloted by members of the Fullerton Airport Pilots Assn. and the Fullerton chapter of The 99s, a women’s pilot organization founded by Amelia Earhart. Helicopter rides will be available for a similar charge. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. for the flights, which will take place between 2 and 4 p.m.

Although he says he isn’t expecting a rush of new flying students there, Griggs says he hopes Airport Day will at least spark an interest in flying among families, an interest that he says can be passed on from generation to generation.

“Flying is just a really unique experience,” said Griggs, who has seen eight of his children and grandchildren take their first solo flight out of Fullerton. “It changes the whole aspect of what you do. . . . Those who fly just have a different view of the world.”


What: Airport Day ’94.

When: Saturday, March 19, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Where: Fullerton Municipal Airport, 4011 W. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton.

Whereabouts: Exit the Santa Ana (5) Freeway at Magnolia Avenue. Go north on Magnolia, then left onto Commonwealth Avenue. Lot parking is available on Commonwealth, east of Dale Avenue and along Artesia Avenue, which runs behind the airport. Free shuttle service is available.


Wherewithal: Admission is free. Plane and helicopter rides are $10 for children, $15 for adults.

Where to call: (714) 738-6323.