Imaginations Soar in Van Nuys

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eight-year-old Chris Binggeli darted out from the shade beneath the giant wing of a U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules Cargo aircraft, an airplane that can haul up to 42,000 pounds.

It was the moment he had been waiting for: The F-117A Stealth Fighter glided gracefully across the sky above Van Nuys Airport on Saturday afternoon.

"Cool!" Binggeli said, as he clutched his miniature toy stealth fighter and angled it in the air to mimic the real one. "Vroom," he said, imitating the plane's roar.

He was one of thousands of people who turned out in the sizzling heat for the Van Nuys Airport Aviation Expo, a two-day event that features breathtaking flyovers and ground displays of military and vintage aircraft.

Chris' mother, Marilyn Binggeli, 43, of Simi Valley, brings her two sons to the show every year to remind them of their grandfather, who died four years ago.

"My dad used to make planes. He was a machinist," she said. "He helped make some of these planes. He always used to tell me about it. But when you're a kid you really don't appreciate it."

Her feelings have changed. Now she tries to teach her sons what her father used to try to teach her.

The air show "reminds me of him," Binggeli said, as she lounged in one of the four lawn chairs the family brought to the event. "It feels like he's here."

More than 300,000 people are expected to attend the expo this weekend, according to coordinators. The event, which continues today from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., features flyovers by military jets, and demonstrations by the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team.

Cheyenne Estrada, 8, of Van Nuys enjoyed watching the parachuter almost as much as collecting autographs from pilots.

She glanced up toward the sky after two pilots signed her program. Five thousand feet above, a jumper freefalls until his parachute opened. Cheyenne watched the man swivel in the air, as a trail of pink smoke billowed behind him. "He could have had an accident if the parachute didn't open," she said.

Ben Clark, 30, an Air Force pilot from Whidbey Island, Wash., who displayed his plane at the expo, said he feels appreciated when he comes to air shows.

"They ask us: 'What kind of airplane is this? What does it do?' " said Clark, who once lived in Oxnard, pointing to the electronic warfare plane he flies, which is designed to disrupt radar. "We get kids asking for autographs. We get veterans from World War II or Vietnam. Sometimes they talk to us about their old times, and you get a history lesson."

Terry Pernell, 21, a Naval pilot from San Diego, who was stationed at a display, felt grateful to see all of the support for the military.

"People kind of look up to us," he said. "It feels good to be in the U.S. Navy."

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