Monday, September 29, 2014

Catalina air show going all out under new organizers

Souped-up airplanes will perform jaw-dropping daredevil moves over the water at Catalina Island on Saturday when a fledgling air show returns under new management and to help other island fliers.

The Scheyden Catalina Air Show will take place at the picturesque Avalon Bay with high-flying excitement coming from a group of skilled pilots in agile planes performing aerobatic maneuvers like rolls, spins, loops and close-formation flying at speeds that will reach hundreds of miles per hour.

Proceeds from the show will benefit the Catalina Island Conservancy’s efforts to maintain the island’s Airport in the Sky and nesting grounds for bald eagles.

The air show lineup includes aviators like the 11-member Tiger Squadron formation flying team, and Capt. Adam “Manik” Runge, a member of the 409 “Nighthawks” Tactical Fighter Squadron, who will be flying a CF-18 Hornet.

Also set to fly that day is retired Lt. Cmdr. Doug Matthews, who pilots a P-51 Mustang; freestyle pilot Jon Melby spinning through the air in a modified biplane and Dave Mathieson, who is known as “Super Dave.”

Mathieson will start the flying action in a customized MX2, an advanced aerobatic plane capable of high-speed dizzying rolls and extremely tight turns and loops.

“The MX2 is the highest performance aircraft ever known to man. It’s incredibly lightweight, he’ll do inverted flat spins and stuff that you can’t even believe,” said Jeff Herold, founder of Scheyden Precision Eyewear, which makes and distributes lenses and frames for aviation, among other activities.

Herold first attended the Catalina air show a couple of years ago as a spectator and stepped in last year as a main sponsor when the show was facing financial difficulties and an unsure future.

This year, he’s taken over the show with hopes of securing a long-term future on the island.

“I thought this was the coolest little air show in the world and I couldn’t watch it die,” he said.

 Since the action will be up in the air and visible to anyone on the island, Herold, who is also a pilot, will be trying to raise money for the Conservancy by selling tax-deductible VIP tickets. The tickets will give people a spot in a waterside viewing area that will include hors d’oeuvres, beer and wine tasting and a concert by Jim Morrison impersonator Dave Crock and actual Doors guitarist Robby Krieger.

“Many of the local sponsors have been wonderful and everyone has been pitching in but it’s still coming up quite a bit short, it’s not inexpensive to put on an air show,” Herold said.

“It’ll be the best, closest place to watch the air show. It’ll be like a private party out there,” he said, referring to the ticketed area.

Before the planes zip across the air a skydiver carrying an American flag will land on a platform to signify the start of the air show. Then, Mathieson will fly out for a “teaser” show where he’ll pull off a few moves before landing and returning to the air later.

Mathieson’s starting flight will be followed by other pilots like Melby.

“I’m going to put the hammer down and fly it like it’s stolen,” said Melby, who will be flying his 1997 Pitts S-1-11B biplane.

Melby will start his routine by climbing high in the sky in a straight vertical rise to about 2,500 feet before letting gravity take the controls and quickly falling back down in a dizzying spin.

Melby later will join Mathieson in a sky dance that will have them performing maneuvers in the air together while talking to each other over their headsets. The conversation will be public since their on-air verbal antics will be heard on the ground through speakers.

“We’ll be flying in formation, joking with each other like ‘Hey, don’t hit me,’ it’s pretty funny,” Melby said.

Also flying in formation, real close formation, will be the members of the Tiger Squadron.

“We’ll be displaying the skills of flying in a very, very close formation,” said Gil Lipaz, administrative coordinator and one of the lead pilots of the Tiger Squadron. “It’s just a lot of fun to show these skills to the crowd.”

The show will finish with Runge’s CF-18 Hornet, a Canadian military fighter aircraft.

“He will do a full demo, which will mean you are going to see full aerobatics in an F-18. You will see him come almost to the surface of the water in an F-18, it’s something no one has seen in the history of Catalina Island,” Herold said.

“He might get down to 100 feet (above the water). He might even go upside down at 100 feet, that’s the ways these guys are.”

Scheyden Catalina Air Show 

When: 1-4 p.m. Saturday for air show; concert and other activities throughout the day until 9:30 p.m. 

 Where: Avalon Bay on Catalina Island. 

Admission: Free; VIP ticket packages $149-$1,995.


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