2015 Event Review

Wings Over Wine Country Air Show, September 26-27, 2015
Location: Pacific Coast Air Museum, Santa Rosa, California
Admission: $20 adults, $10 students (11-17), museum members free, advance discounts.
Parking: $10 with free shuttle buses
Value: Very Good
Rating out of 10: 9

The Pacific Coast Air Museum's annual air show took place September 26-27, 2015 at the Charles M. Schulz – Sonoma County Airport under mostly clear skies and near-record temperatures and once again "Wings Over Wine Country" featured a stellar lineup of aerial performers. The highlight of the show was the Canadian Forces Snowbirds Demonstration Team, but the list of aerial performers also included the US Air Force's F-16 Viper Demonstration Team, the USAF Academy's Wings of Blue Parachute Team, multiple aerobatic performers and a large collection of vintage warbirds, many of them locally based.

The air show had been held in August for many years and was often plagued with fog or overcast skies. The date was moved into September last year and it seems to be working weather-wise. The location was once again changed. Last year's venue, closer to the museum's grounds, was very cramped and not well laid out. This year's show was moved back to the northern end of the airport and was much improved. On Friday evening, the airshow held a performers' reception in the historic Redwood Hangar at Sonoma Jet Center. It featured a buffet dinner, swing music, and a silent auction and provided the public a terrific opportunity to meet and greet most of the performers in a social setting.

The gates opened at 9AM, with parking, ticketing and security handled very efficiently. Almost all of the participating aircraft were on static display so visitors could see them up close. Unfortunately, the continuing effects of the budget sequestration process limited the US military aircraft to a single C-17 Globemaster III from March ARB. In addition to the Snowbirds' CT-114 Tutors, the Canadian Forces Air Force also brought a CC-115 Buffalo which was opened to the public. Many of the museum's aircraft had been towed over and spectators were invited to climb aboard. During the morning, aerial entertainment was provided by the local Radio Control club, after which the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office SWAT team demonstrated its capabilities during a simulated hostage rescue situation. Although a Cal Fire base is co-located at the airport, their aircraft were not on display as they were standing by on ready alert due to the wildfires raging throughout northern California at the time. Sure enough, they were called to fight a fire later in the afternoon during the show.

Opening ceremonies began at 11:15, with the Wings Of Blue Parachute team bringing in the US and Canadian flags. They would return later in the afternoon to put on their full skydiving demonstration. On Saturday a swearing-in ceremony took place for a number of Air Force recruits, with a member of the F-16 Viper Team administering the oath of enlistment. For many years, aircraft such as T-38s and U-2s from nearby Beale AFB would fly over to open the show, but sadly the federal budget cuts have put an end to that long tradition. However, a brightly-colored Coast Guard C-130 from Sacramento stood in this year.
The Red Stars Formation Flying Team started off the afternoon's flying with several passes in their Nanchang CJ-6s, ending with a very moving missing man flight. Fresh from competing in the gold races in both the Sport and Jet classes at the Reno Air Races (see our coverage here), Vicky Benzing put on a very impressive aerobatic performance in her Stearman biplane. This was followed by a Korean War jet dogfight, staged by the North American F-86 Sabrejet and Mig-15 Fagot from the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino, California. (Our review of their airshow earlier this year can be found here.) Spencer Suderman, world record holder in consecutive flat spins, put on another high-energy aerobatic performance in his Pitts biplane. Even if he didn't come close to matching his record 81 spins, he still wowed the crowd. He was followed by Frank "Dr. D" Donnelly performing "Old Time Aerobatics" in his clipped-wing Taylorcraft, after which Bill Cornick showed off his skills in his Pitts biplane "Big Bad Green." The Beechcraft Bonanza is seldom thought of as an aerobatic platform, but Jim Peitz later showed the spectators how it's done in a general aviation aircraft.

Then it got loud. Real loud! Sneaking up on the audience from behind, Major Craig Baker, the pilot of Air Combat Command’s F-16 Viper Demonstration team, applied full afterburner and roared low and fast over the heads of the spectators. Staging out of nearby Travis AFB due to runway length restrictions, he caught most of the audience by surprise. His high-speed passes and minimum-radius turns coaxed quite a bit of vapor out of the blue northern California skies, despite the near-triple-digit temperatures. Following his full tactical demonstration “Rocket” joined up with Steve Hinton, piloting the F-86 Sabrejet, for an all-jet Heritage Flight.

“Wings Over Wine Country” is well-known for the historic aircraft that participate and although the numbers and variety of vintage fighters were down this year, the historic warbird flight was still impressive for an airshow of this size. Four North American P-51D Mustangs, two Hawker Sea Furies, a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk and a Yakovlev Yak-11 made many passes in front of the crowd. This was followed by solo aerobatic demonstrations by the Sea Fury and P-51.

For the first time ever the Canadian Forces 431 Air Demonstration Squadron appeared at "Wings Over Wine Country." The Snowbirds closed the show in dramatic fashion, taking to the sky in section takeoffs and impressing the spectators with their graceful nine-ship formation flybys and thrilling crosses. Afterwards, they came forward to the flightline to answer questions and sign autographs.
Announcer Matt Jolley did a great job of keeping the audience informed and entertained and Air Boss Ralph Royce kept the action moving, expertly working around interruptions caused by the Cal Fire and commercial aircraft arrivals and departures. We'd like to thank the show organizers, staff, sponsors, performers and the many volunteers for making this year's show such as success. We'd also like to thank Doug Clay, Marketing Director, for arranging the media access.
The participiants:

Canadian Forces Snowbirds Demonstration Team

USAF General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, Viper East Tactical Demonstration

USCG Lockheed HC-130H Hercules

Heritage Flight: F-86F "Jolley Roger", F-16C

U.S. Air Force Academy "Wings Of Blue" Parachute Demonstration Team

Vicky Benzing, Stearman Biplane Aerobatics

Bill Cornick, Pitts Biplane Aerobatics

Spencer Suderman, Pitts Biplane Aerobatics

Jim Peitz, Beechcraft Bonanza Aerobatics
Frank "Dr. D" Donnelly, Old Time Aerobatics, Taylorcraft
The Red Stars Nanchang CJ-6 Formation Flying Team

North American P-51D Mustangs

“Kimberly Kaye’
“Lady Alice”     
“Lady Jo”
“Speedball Alice”

Hawker Sea Fury FB.11 “Argonaut”

Hawker Sea Fury Mk 20 “924”

Yakovlev Yak-11 “Blyak”

Curtiss P-40E Warhawk

North American F-86F Sabrejet “Jolley Roger”

Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-15 Fagot

Report and photography by Norman A. Graf for

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