Air Expo to Celebrate Wright Brothers’ Flight

Times Staff Writer

Just in time to celebrate the centennial of powered flight, a free air show will return to the San Fernando Valley this weekend after a yearlong hiatus.

The aviation expo at Van Nuys Airport, a tradition since 1963, was canceled last year in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But the military fighter planes will come roaring back on Saturday and Sunday over an expected crowd of 300,000.

“People are in love with the notion of what flight represents,” said Sean D. Tucker, an aerobatics pilot who will perform an “air dance” of tumbles and cartwheels in his tangerine-colored Oracle Challenger.

In honor of the first sustained, powered flight in 1903, this year’s event will display a full-scale replica of the Wright brothers’ history-making aircraft.

The replica biplane was built by about 100 volunteers over 18 years, said Marilyn Ramsey, a member of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.


About 40 feet wide and 21 feet long, the contraption has a wooden frame of spruce and ash. Muslin cotton fabric -- popularly used for women’s underwear in the early 1900s and preferred by the Wrights for its lightness and tight weave -- covers the biplane’s droopy wings. Rusty piano wire holds various parts together.

“It’s just like the original one,” said Walt Watson, the wind tunnel engineer for the replica, explaining why it won’t be flown for the air show. “It’s very aeronautically unstable.”

The original craft kept Orville Wright aloft, as brother Wilbur watched from the ground, for all of 12 seconds.

This weekend, the public can relive the same thrills in a flight simulator.

Riders maneuver the flight with a canard control in one hand and can pretend to hang on for dear life with the other, while lying belly down, just as Orville did.

Other highlights of the show, which also celebrates the 75th anniversaries of Los Angeles International and Van Nuys airports, include flyovers by an F-117A stealth fighter, an F-15E Strike Eagle, an F/A-18E Super Hornet and a World War II Corsair fighter.

Sky divers will also parachute from the sky. And the Los Angeles Fire Department’s helicopter team will give a water-dropping demonstration.

Organizers warn that, for security reasons, bringing picnic baskets, ice coolers and other large containers to the event is prohibited. Food and refreshments will be available for purchase and free water will be provided.

The San Fernando Valley chapter of the Ninety-Nines, a female pilots’ organization, is also playing host to the expo, which will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.