Napa Airport

Sunday, August 14, 2005
Airplane enthusiasts of all ages celebrate Airport Day
By PAT STANLEY
The Napa Valley (CA) Register

Skyrocketing fuel costs and uncooperative weather failed to put a damper on the 13th annual Airport Day held at the Napa Valley Airport Saturday. Wide-eyed kids said it was worth the wait for the overcast to lift, allowing them to take their first-ever small-airplane rides, courtesy of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA).

“I expected it to be creepy, but it ended up being really fun,” said 13-year-old Robert Hammer as he clutched his “Young Eagles” certificate awarded on completion of his flight over Napa.

Like dozens of other young passengers, he had to wait until about noon before the overcast cleared enough to allow flights to begin.

He said the ride was smoother than he expected.

A “veteran” of commercial airline flight, Hammer said the single-engine plane allowed him to watch take-off and landings, but conceded he felt “more protected” in a jumbo jet.

Hammer said he might want to take flying lessons when he gets older. “You can see stuff people on boats and in cars can’t see,” he said. “And you see it faster.”

Thirteen-year-old Emilee Sullivan of Fairfield admitted, “It was scary at first.”

She said she got to “drive” an airplane and got a little nervous, and a little queasy at first. Most of the EAA pilots let the older children in the front seat momentarily handle the yoke, controlling the plane’s attitude and turns under the watchful eyes of the experienced fliers.

Sullivan said she’d like to go flying again soon, and would consider learning how to fly so that when she becomes a parent she could take her own children flying. “And you’d have a lot of stories to tell everybody,” she added.

Ricardo Vivanco, 9, said the best part of his flight was “getting off the ground.”

He said the small aircraft was different than large commercial planes because “the big ones don’t have headsets.” Vivanco explained he was able to eavesdrop on radio traffic between his pilot and the Napa Airport control tower.

His 10-year-old sister, Maria, said she would like to become a pilot because “you get into the air all the time.” She added she spotted her Napa home while airborne.

Estefania Aviles, on vacation from Mexico City, said it was her first small plane flight. “You can see,” she exclaimed. “In a big plane you don’t see very well.”

Thirteen-year-old Skyler Pearson, who will attend Harvest Middle School when the semester begins next week, spotted his house from the air. “It’s fun to see the whole city in five minutes,” he said.

The Napa Airport tarmac was filled with dozens of aircraft, ranging from Department of Forestry fire bombers to a sleek chopper from the fleet of Wine Country Helicopters.

One of the big attractions was a huge, canary yellow North American T-18 B, a warbird built in 1955. Its co-owner, Gary Koverman, 72, of Mill Valley, traded another WW II vintage aircraft for the T-18 while attending one of the world’s largest airshows in Oshkosh, Wis.

Asked how the soaring cost of aviation fuel affected his flying he replied: “I’m not dead yet, but I’m approaching supine. It’s been expensive.”

Koverman said aviation fuel costs up to $4.25 a gallon, and his plane burns up to 55 gallons per hour.

The plane, he said, was designed to transition Air Force cadets from propeller craft to jets. It features a huge 1,425 horse power engine.

Koverman, a retired United Airlines pilot, trained in a T-28 as a Navy pilot in the mid 1950s.

Two other retired UAL pilots stood nearby, showing off their twin RV-8 R airplanes, built from kits.

Jim Clark and Jerry Gustafson, who built the planes over a seven-year period in the garages of their Napa homes and at the Sonoma Skypark, where they share a hangar, agreed the price of gas limits their flying. But they said 92 octane gas used in cars can be pumped into their planes.

The only difference in the two small aircraft is their paint. Clark’s is two-toned blue, honoring the British RAF fliers who piloted the Spitfire, the most famous British fighter aircraft in history. The Napans’ planes are fashioned after the Spitfire, he explained.

Gustafson’s airplane is green and brown camouflage.

Both are “tail draggers,” with a rear wheel as part of the landing gear. Both can reach speeds up to 225 mph.

Koverman, 64, flew the friendly skies for more than 37 years before retiring in 2002. Gustafson is 66 and flew 31 years with United and five with the U.S. Air Force.

In addition to aircraft, vintage cars from the Napa Valley Cruisers were on display. Kelly Winrod, whose 1969 442 Oldsmobile turned heads, said the club has 135 members. Other cars on display ranged from a 1947 Mercury to a ’41 Ford.

“They are a lot of fun to drive,” she said.

A specially-equipped Cessna flown solo around the world by 79-year-old Dean Stahr of Napa was a central attraction. His 23,218-mile fete last month made Stahr the oldest American to circumnavigate the globe solo in a small plane.

Dick Bridgeford, author of “Living the High Life” and a co-founder of Napa’s Bridgeford Flying Service, autographs copies of his book.

Scouts from local Troop 51 served up breakfasts and lunches to flying buffs at the day-long event.

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