Friday, July 11, 2014

Piper Cub pilots celebrate 30th fly-in

More than 100 World War II-era aircraft will descend upon Lompoc today to kick off one of the longest-running events of its kind.

The West Coast Cub Fly-In will celebrate its 30th anniversary in Lompoc with what is expected to be its largest event yet. The fly-in, which will be based at the Lompoc Airport and is scheduled to last through Sunday, has become one of the Central Coast’s more popular events. Most of the participating pilots will arrive in Piper Cubs, a light aircraft model that was manufactured between 1937 and ’47 and used extensively during the Second World War.

Last year’s Lompoc fly-in drew about 85 pilots, which was the most in the event’s history. This year, organizers are anticipating anywhere from 100 to 120.

“We’re planning for this to be our biggest ever,” said Greg Janke, the event’s media coordinator. “We’ve already got a great event and we’re just gonna do more of what people like.”

The various activities related to the fly-in are free to spectators, who will have the opportunity to walk among the aircraft and interact with the pilots. Organizers do ask, however, that dogs be on leashes and that parents closely watch their children on the tarmac. T-shirts, souvenirs, food and drinks will be on sale.

The event will begin with pilot registration today, followed by a traditional spaghetti dinner at 6 p.m.

The most popular events will take place Saturday, with the start of the flour bombing and spot landing contests at 1:30 p.m., and the mass scenic flight at 4 p.m.

In the flour bombing contest, pilots will attempt to drop a 1-pound flour “bomb” into a marked barrel from an altitude of 200 feet. Spectators can bring lawn chairs and watch the action from the ground. A cash prize is up for grabs for any pilot who can land a flour bomb — each pilot gets two attempts — but so far, after 29 years, no one has claimed the money.

In the spot landing contest, pilots will attempt to land on a marked line on the runway.

Following that action on Saturday, there will be a tri-tip barbecue dinner beginning at 5 p.m., and an award ceremony at 7 p.m. Awards will be given to the oldest and youngest pilots, farthest distance flown, and best Cub, among other categories, and there will be a raffle for donated gifts.

The theme for this year’s event is World War II, which is fitting since Cubs served in wartime as artillery spotters and air ambulances. Still, the planes are best known as trainers for the thousands of student pilots who learned to fly between the late 1930s and ’50s.

The Lompoc fly-in is the brainchild of Bruce Fall, who is still involved in the event, and the late Monty Findley. Findley and Fall, who were Piper Cub owners in Lompoc, wanted a fly-in closer than the annual event that takes place at the Cub factory in Lock Haven, Pa. The West Coast Cub Fly-In grew in prominence and has become one of the best attended Piper Cub fly-ins in the nation. It is also the longest consecutively running Cub fly-in in the U.S.

“It started with very inauspicious beginnings,” Janke said. “A couple of guys just thought, ‘Why don’t we have our own fly-in?’ It just got bigger and bigger. This year we’re expecting to be the big kahuna on the West Coast.”

The camaraderie between the pilots, as well as among many of the regular spectators, is a big draw for the event, according to Janke.

“There’s a lot of friendship that goes on,” he said. “For a lot of these Cub guys, this is the only chance they get to see each other. It’s kind of a homecoming, and it’s also a Lompoc tradition. It’s really a great thing for the community.”

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