2012 Air Shows
Watsonville Fly-in and Air Show, August 31 - September 2 , 2012
Location: Watsonville Municipal Airport, Watsonville, CA.
Admission: $15 for adults $10 for children (13-17) FREE for Military and Veterans. Free admission for fly-in pilots and their passengers!
Parking: $5 on site.
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The 48th annual Watsonville Fly-in and Air Show was held on Labor Day Weekend, August 31 - September 2, 2012. The weather was spectacular, with clear skies and temperatures in the mid-70s. The marine-layer fog which has plagued the show in years past stayed beyond the coastal range all day. The gates opened at 0900, but early birds had the option of attending the EAA Breakfast at 0700. A Spaghetti Dinner Friday night and the Pilots’ Dinner Saturday night provided ample opportunity to meet and mingle with the pilots and performers. Being a fly-in, many pilots camp out with their planes, and RV camping is allowed on-site. Parking was close-in on the 8/26 runway and very efficiently handled by the volunteers, so no time was wasted getting in to the show. The hot ramp was on the remaining stretch of closed runway, and was filled with a long line of warbird trainers and fighters. Two Vultee BT-13 Valiants and five North American AT-6 / SNJ Texans formed the trainer lineup. Next came four North American P-51D Mustangs and a Curtiss P-40E Warhawk. Across the way was Eddie Andreini’s Yak-9U “Ottobre Rosso.”
The Marines were represented in their centennial year by two CH-46E Sea Knights from HMM-268, the "Red Dragons" from Camp Pendleton. The 129th Rescue Wing of the California Air National Guard sent an MC-130P Shadow Hawk from Moffett Federal Field. It’s not often one gets to explore all the nooks and crannies of a special operations Hercules. It was called back for duty during Sunday’s air show, requiring quite a bit of work to move all the display aircraft out of the way. It departed shortly after the show ended, leaving long spirals of condensation from the prop-tips. Much like Oshkosh, this fly-in is an opportunity for homebuilders, owners, pilots and enthusiasts to gather and show off their aircraft. Not surprisingly, the airport apron was filled with a large number of civil aviation aircraft. The judging takes place on Friday and Saturday morning and the awards are presented during Saturday night’s dinner. Also filling up a good fraction of the ramp were the classic cars taking part in the automotive display. The mornings began with informal flights, including a nice Autogyro demonstration from a Givans Predator. There were also flour drop (target bombing) and spot landing competitions.
The formal flying began at noon, with Garth Harley parachuting from a hovering Robinson Raven II helicopter. As he brought in the American flag he was circled by Vicky Benzing, Bill Stein and Eddie Andreini, who each performed a short teaser before landing. The show featured a number of aerobatic performances, most of them being local talent. Performing in his first air show ever, Jerod Flohr started it off with a very nice exhibition in his Extra 300L. I look forward to seeing him develop in the years ahead.

The warbird flights started with the parade of trainers. A Primary Trainer, the Stearman PT-17, had flown during the morning warmups. Now it was time for the Basic Trainer, the BT-13 Valiant, and the Advanced Trainers, five AT-6/SNJ Texans and a T-34B Mentor, to put on a display. They performed several very nice passes, both in formation and solo, banking hard to display the beautiful bright paint schemes and bare metal finishes. No sooner had they landed than the fighters took to the skies. Four P-51D Mustangs, “Comfortably Numb”, “Kimberly Kaye”, “Merlin’s Magic”, and “Grim Reaper”, a Yak-9U “Ottobre Rosso” and a P-40E Warhawk made many spirited passes before the crowd. High-speed, low-level strafing runs were the order of the day, with beautiful banks to show off the topsides and get a peek into the cockpit. The action was so close that a 400mm lens was filling the photographic frame and required good panning skills to keep from cropping any of the aircraft. The intimate nature of the show, and the closeness to the action, make it perfect for photographers.

Vicky Benzing and Bill Stein then put on back-to-back aerobatic performances. They both have similar styles, so it was a good opportunity to compare Vicky’s Extra 300 with Bill’s Edge 540. Both have amazing paint schemes, but Bill’s really has to be seen to be believed, and the blue skies and bright sunshine showed it off perfectly. The Beech Boys put on a series of formation fly-bys. The group is composed of Beechcraft enthusiasts, although not all of the aircraft being flown were Beech. Soon another AT-6 Texan took off, this time it was John Collver in “War Dog” performing his graceful aerobatic routine. Then, for the 47th consecutive year at Watsonville, Eddie Andreini took off in his highly-modified Stearman, performing his signature roll on takeoff. In addition to the usual aerobatic maneuvers, Eddie performs a ribbon cut. But before actually cutting it he dives beneath it, climbs high into a loop and passes underneath it once again, his tires only inches above the tarmac. Once again he lines up with the ribbon poles and at the last minute he rolls inverted to cut the ribbon. Streaming the scraps of ribbon from his wings and tail he performs a victory roll before sliding in for a wheel landing. But even here Eddie has a surprise in store as he performs a one-wheel landing. The final flight of the air show was a series of formation flybys by the West Coast RaVens, composed of RV homebuilt aircraft, from RV-4 through RV-8. The six aircraft flew a series of extremely tight formations. Even their landings and rollout were close and highly synchronized: all six aircraft spun in unison at show center after landing.
With the show over and the fog beginning to roll in, the ramp soon filled with departing aircraft. The airboss moved them out very efficiently, and after all the planes had left, the cars from the auto show paraded down the runway on their way home.
There was a small number of exhibits and booths from various local organizations. Portable toilets were well distributed and provided in sufficient quantity that lines were short to nonexistent. There was a nice assortment of food vendors all at reasonable prices (although missing the strawberry shortcake and deep-fried artichoke hearts that were staples of the Memorial Day shows). Beer and wine were for sale at reasonable prices. A dedicated Kid’s Zone featured the usual bounce houses, slides and other amusements. The flight line featured a Flight Deck Lounge, but otherwise it was wide open for spectators. Hay bales are provided for seating, in keeping with the informal nature of the event. The quality of the sound system was excellent, and in addition, the speakers were mounted behind the audience.

Jon "Huggy" Huggins, in his second year at Watsonville, did an excellent job of announcing the show, with just the right mix of information, history and trivia. And he also knew when the best sound of the air show was the aircraft themselves. All in all another terrific Fly-In and Air Show, “established to educate and publicize aviation history, to provide benefits to local charities and non-profit organizations, to promote the Watsonville Airport.”

Performers included: Aerobatics
    John Collver, AT-6 “War Dog” Vicky Benzing, FESTO Extra 300 Bill Stein, Übokia.com Edge 540 Eddie Andreini, Stearman Jerod Flohr, Extra 300
Fighter Flybys
    Curtiss P-40E Warhawk Yakovlev Yak-9U "Ottobre Rosso"
North American P-51D Mustangs
    “Comfortably Numb” “Kimberly Kaye” “Merlin’s Magic” “Grim Reaper”
Trainer Fly-bys
    Stearman PT-17 Kaydet Vultee BT-13 Valiant North American AT-6/SNJ (x5) Beech T-34B Mentor
West Coast RaVens (RV aircraft formation flights) The Beech Boys (Beechcraft formation flights) Givans Predator Autogyro Static displays included: MC-130P Shadow Hawk, CA ANG, Moffett Federal Airfield CH-46E Sea Knight, USMC HMM-268, "Red Dragons", Camp Pendleton (x2) P-51D Mustang “Primo Branco” Large number of Civil Aviation aircraft participating in the Fly-in

Rating: 9 out of 10

Jon "Huggy" Huggins
Report and photography by Norman A. Graf for AIRSHOWSREVIEW LLC
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