Stunt pilot Tim Decker soars above Watsonville in his Pitts S-2B in the 2008 Fly-In and Air Show. (File photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)
WATSONVILLE — What happens when a well-known car guy is put in charge of Watsonville’s long-running aviation event?
Find out this Labor Day weekend at the 49th annual Watsonville Fly-In & Airshow, “Planes, Trains & Automobiles,” at the municipal airport.
Award-winning cable television host and organizer of the biggest classic car show in the South Bay, Hot San Jose Nights, Mike Hennessy took over as air show director in December after previous director Theo Wierdsma resigned just three weeks after last year’s event.
At the time, Wierdsma, who led the airshow for five years, called his departure “strategic” and said he felt the organization needed “some fresh ideas.”
Fast forward a year and the Watsonville Fly-In & Airshow is about to “test drive” some of those new ideas championed by the new director, including a Dollar Night drive-in movie on Friday, DJ music to accompany the air show performers on Saturday and Sunday, a roller derby match on Sunday and an expanded car show right on the tarmac.
Hennessey admitted that some of the ideas were a “hard sell” to the event’s all-volunteer board of directors, but in the end, he was hired to promote the event and “bring in more bodies” and that is what he aims to do.
Part of that strategy is an expanded car show — for the first time ever, cars will be able to park inside the airport in a special area next to the planes. Classic cars, street rods, wild horsepower and vintage cars will share the tarmac with aircraft, and a no-hassle entry policy means that cars can be registered on the day.
Yet, while cars may have a bigger showing this year, aircraft are still the focus of the three-day event.
On display will be an array of antique and experimental aircraft, while on Saturday and Sunday, the air show program will feature demonstration formations, two types of aerobatics — classic and high energy, model aircraft demonstrations, an air jump demonstration and the always popular Warbirds.
New this year, Dr. D’s Old-Time Aerobatics, will take the audience back to the 50s and 60s with their “old time” aerobatics routine.
“Dr.D,” otherwise known as Dr. Frank Donnelly, is a retired psychology professor with over 45 years of flight experience. Having flown in 90 shows in the past 10 years, Donnelly performs classic tricks including the “engine-off landing” in his 1946 Taylorcraft with a Swick conversion to improve aerobatic performance.
Air show favorite Vicky Benzing will return to Watsonville in her Extra 300 S and Jerod Flohr in his Extra 300L, with both delivering high-energy aerobatic routines.
Leaving the audience to ask themselves, “How close can they possibly get?” two formation demonstration teams will take to the air: The Beech Boys and West Coast Ravens.
The Beech Boys will fly their Beechcraft Bonanzas and the West Coast Ravens will take to the sky in their Van’s RV Aircraft — the most popular kit planes at the moment, according to Watsonville Municipal Airport Air Boss, Mark Kadrich. The all metal, fast and safe aircraft reach 180 mph, he said.
The airshow will also feature an assortment of Warbirds, including the P-51 Mustang, Hawker Sea Fury and P-40 Warhawk.
Kadrich said the Sea Fury is the only one of its kind on this side of the country — and it will be at the air show this weekend, along with other unusual or rare aircraft, including the WACO, vintage DC-3 N34 and Globe Swift, the first all metal retractible airplane built after World War 2.
There will also be a gyrocopter (part helicopter, part airplane).
“There will be something for everyone,” Kadrich said, while stressing the importance of safety above all else.
“The first three things are all safety,” he said.
Festivities kick-off with the first ever Dollar Night Drive-In Movie on Friday, starting at 5 p.m. For just a dollar a person, folks can watch the family-friendly version (no swear words) of “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” from the comfort of their car or bring lawn chairs to watch underneath the stars.
A traditional spaghetti dinner will also be held on Friday at Ocean Air, starting at 5 p.m.
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