Air show still a place of fascination

COAST CITIES — A convoy of a different sort rolled through Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, with hazard lights on all vehicles flashing in the pre-dawn hours under the haze of a marine layer, running red lights and stop signs so as not to fall behind and out of sight of the lead Marine van.
The convoy was rife with members of the media; the lead van taking us to an area just outside the base’s tarmac that had on it some of aviation history’s most iconic airplanes. The Marines had opened up their base for the 2011 MCAS Miramar Air Show media day.
“It’s an opportunity we give to our media partners to come out…and get up and actually fly with some of our civilian performers,” said Sgt. Sean P. McGinty, an MCAS spokesperson.
Before taking to the skies we all had to sign release waivers — what drew a nervous laugh from those selected few to fly the Russian AN-2 Colt, a rare, single-engine biplane, was the fact that they had to sign a second release waiver.
I was one of those who received the opportunity to fly on the Colt.
The plane is still in production today; new models can be purchased in China, but Colts can only be flown in the U.S. under the exhibition/experimental license. The Colt is the world’s largest single-engine biplane with a top speed of 100 miles per hour, carrying 1,000 horsepower. It does have the ability to take off and land on a very short runway, needing only 500 feet to take off.
“It is taking a MAC truck and putting wings on it and saying, ‘fly,’” said the Colt’s devil-may-care pilot Bob Cable. “It’s proof that if you put enough power behind anything, you’ll get it in the air.”
Cable went on to assure us passengers that smoke in the cockpit and fuselage was normal, even cool, at the beginning of each flight and that the loud noises and squealing brakes were perfectly fine.
“It is like a megaphone,” he said. “It’s actually louder inside the plane than outside the plane.”
The plane is a part of the Commemorative Air Force, an organization dedicated to restoring, preserving and flying aircraft to educate and to present to generations interested in aviation and its history.
Cable is the pilot sponsor of the plane. He and a crew are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the plane. Cable and his wife Suzanne do about 15 air shows per year with the plane; this is his fifth time at the MCAS air show.
Learning to fly this plane wasn’t difficult, Cable said, just different. It took him about 8 to 10 hours to get the handle of the plane, adding that there’s a lot of using your feet to fly this plane.
The inside of the plane spared no expense to retain its authenticity: A framed photo of Joseph Stalin was mounted near the cockpit and underneath, at the ready, was a replica AK-47 rifle.
A number of aircraft took off before us, including the exciting Red Bull Helo, but there was a feeling, ours being the biggest and brightest on the tarmac, that this was the one to watch.
As we prepared for takeoff aboard the Colt, the engine roared to life; the plane began to rattle and hum, it was all perfectly normal, Cable reassured.
In a matter of moments we were airborne. Each passenger was able to take a turn sitting in the co-pilot’s seat during the flight, which cruised at an altitude of 1,000 feet and hit top speeds of approximately 80 miles per hour. It wasn’t breaking the sound barrier, though it was still fascinating.
“The pilot’s a little loony, but it was a good flight,” said C.A. Brooks of the Del Mar Historical Society once back on the ground. “I’ve done an awful lot of flying and that’s quite a machine…It’s amazing the short take off, you feel like you’re going to fall out of the sky, you’re going so damn slow.”
Cable and his plane are on standby to fly in this year’s air show, but his Colt is always open to climb through and he’s more than happy to talk all about the unique plane before moving on to the next air show.
“People are fascinated with flying,” Cable said. “And really, if you can parallel park a station wagon, you have more than enough talent to fly an airplane. And that’s the honest-to-God truth. It’s not that difficult, it’s just one of those things that fascinates people because most people can’t imagine themselves flying.”
This year’s air show theme is the celebration of the centennial of Naval Aviation. “We’re highlighting the fact that San Diego is one of the crucial areas and has been for the past 100 years and it was…the birthplace of Naval Aviation with Naval Air Station North Island,” McGinty said.

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