Spreading Wings for Record Crowd

TIMES STAFF WRITER

America's fighters, bombers and cargo planes have protected the nation from foes the world over. On Sunday, the nation's air force served its countrymen best by protecting them from the sun.

In the shadows cast by the gray wings of some of history's most famous warplanes, many admirers of aircraft unfolded lawn chairs and enjoyed picnics. The rest of the tarmac at Van Nuys Airport baked during the closing day of Aviation Expo 2001.

Organizers of the annual air show estimated that Sunday's turnout was the largest ever--hovering around 175,000 spectators. Clear skies across the San Fernando Valley made for easy spotting of the show's planes and parachutists.

When an F-117A Stealth Fighter tilted toward the crowd, the announcer coaxed some cheers as the plane shot by.

"Ladies and gentlemen, get those hands up. That pilot's looking for you," he said.

This year's expo featured more military flyovers and fewer acrobatics by stunt pilots than last year's, organizers said. The Army's parachuting Golden Knights jumped from 14,000 feet above Van Nuys and trailed pink smoke as they swirled to the ground. Roaring jets made the airport's usual traffic of executives' planes and TV helicopters look like sputtering toys.

Tony Prince of Rancho Santa Margarita sat with his family in the shade of a World War II-era B-29. He remembered playing with toy planes as a boy, winding them up with rubber bands and letting go. For Prince's 4-year-old son, Tory, a video game that simulates flying is his exposure to aviation.

Pointing to his son, Prince said, "This guy here keeps me fascinated with it."

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