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Aviation’s Past, Future Meet at Camarillo Show : Aircraft: Old war birds and experimental planes are displayed at airport. Crowd of 5,000 also sees aerobatic show.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

High-tech aviation ran headlong into old-guard aluminum, rivets and spit polish Saturday during the 14th annual Fly-in/Air Show staged by the Ventura County chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Assn. at Camarillo Airport.

An estimated 5,000 people braved early morning low clouds and cool temperatures to walk among experimental airplanes boasting radical new designs and old war birds that enjoyed fame more than 50 years ago when the country was embroiled in war.

Later in the day, as the clouds parted and blue skies appeared, the crowd was treated to a two-hour aerobatic show involving aircraft old and new.

“This event is designed to get people, especially kids, interested in sport aviation,” event spokesman Bob Switzer said. “People who take in our show have the chance to look back into history and forward into our future.”

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Meteorologist Steve Pryor said today’s air show audience should expect morning low clouds and fog with temperatures in the low 50s and the sun burning through by midafternoon.

Saturday’s events concluded with a dinner talk by NASA astronaut Col. Carl J. Meade. Meade, who recently flew aboard the space shuttle Columbia, said he is preparing to fly again this September as a mission specialist in the shuttle Discovery. His job during the 10-day space flight will be to test a jet pack that, if successful, will allow astronauts to maneuver more easily in space outside the shuttle cabin.

Meade, a Houston native, said he builds and flies experimental aircraft as a hobby.

“NASA has us do a lot of air shows, but I chose this one because I can learn some things and trade some information with others that are constructing home-builts too,” Meade said. “Plus, any time I can help support sport aviation, I’m happy to lend a hand.”

Scattered throughout the show compound were vendor tents offering everything from aircraft parts to kits to make whole airplanes. The airplane kits were selling for $30,000 and up, depending on the type of design, equipment and finish selected.

Other tents held seminars on the latest techniques in handling aluminum, wood or composite material used in the construction of home-built aircraft.

Pat Miller, 63, of Oxnard said he came out Saturday to take in the aerobatic show and to do some airplane-kit browsing.

“I thought I would do a little shopping,” Miller said. “I come to the show every year, but I think this is the year I might take the plunge.”

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One of the biggest attention-getters at the show was the Berkut I, a sleek two-seat aircraft featuring a canard design--a configuration where a plane’s horizontal stabilizers are located in front of its main wings, instead of in back of them in the tail section.

Richard Riley, a spokesman for the company marketing Berkuts, said the airplane kits--which cost from $29,000 to $75,000--have been selling steadily since the prototype was built in 1991.

“At first, people typically ask if the plane isn’t something off the set of ‘Star Wars,’ ” Riley said. “But once they take a demonstration flight, they like it so much that we have to practically pry them out of the cockpit.”

Sitting less than 30 yards from the high-tech Berkut was a collection of antique war birds that had been lovingly restored in tribute to pre-jet military aviation.

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A Navy SN-J trainer, a Beechcraft AT-7 and a Marine Corps T28-C attracted scores of old veterans and younger curiosity-seekers. But perhaps the biggest draw was the hulking C-121C Super Constellation military transport.

The 1950s-era Constellation, the Boeing 747 of its day, recently received permission from Ventura County officials to operate out of the Camarillo Airport after fears were raised by some county employees that the giant four-engine plane was too heavy for the airport’s runway.

At noon, a dozen or so aerobatic aircraft took to the skies in front of the crowd and performed a multitude of high-precision stunts. One of those airplanes was a shiny black Pitts Special biplane, made from a kit and flown by Alyson Behr of Pacific Palisades.

“We love this show,” Behr said. “It’s a great way to show off the airplane. It’s a lot of fun and the folks up here seem really interested and knowledgeable about what we’re doing.”

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For Dan Higginbotham, 30, of Ojai, the show whetted his appetite for aviation.

“I work across the freeway from the airport and see the planes flying over all the time,” Higginbotham said. “But being at a show like this, seeing the planes up close and watching the aerobatics has got me seriously considering taking flight lessons. I think it’d be a lot of fun.”

FYI

Gates will open at 7 a.m. today for the second day of the 14th Ventura County Experimental Aircraft Association’s Fly-in/Air Show at the Camarillo Airport. A two-hour aerobatic program featuring several stunt aircraft will start at noon. The fly-in/air show will close at 2:30 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults. Children under 12 will be admitted free if accompanied by an adult.

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