Sunday, February 15, 2015

Air Fiesta boasts top-flight aerobatic performers • Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport (KBRO), Brownsville, Texas

Air Fiesta Chairman David Hughston leans on the wing of a Fleet Finch aircraft produced between 1939-1941 at the Rio Grande Valley Wing of the Commemorative Air Force hangar at the Brownsville SPI International Airport.

Air Fiesta, Brownsville’s annual sky party, takes place Feb. 21-22 with a full complement of top-flight aerobatic talent, according to air show Chairman David Hughston.

This year’s performers will include Chet Kuhn in his Dallas-based Pitts Special aerobatic biplane; Mike “ Spanky” Galloway, also from Dallas, in a 300-horsepower, German-made Extra 300 monoplane; and retired King Ranch chief corporate pilot Paul Fiala in his vintage Great Lakes biplane.

“Paul has been to almost every air show we’ve ever done,” Hughston said. “He’s a good, good friend, and we just love having him. He is so precise in his routines. You’ll see high-end national aerobatic pilots that come to our show. They’ll stop what they’re doing and watch Paul Fiala’s routine.”

Aaron Taylor will also perform in his World War II-era North American AT6 Texan advanced trainer, and Randy Ball will return with his sleek, Soviet-era MiG-17F fighter — the bane of U.S. pilots during Vietnam.

“Randy’s been with us a couple of times, and he’s always a big crowd favorite,” Hughston said. “He comes across the field at 0.95 Mach, which is just under the speed of sound. You’ve got to be watching very carefully, because he’s here one second and gone the next. This year we’ve got some excellent aerobatic performers.”

Air Fiesta, in its 24th year, will also feature World War II-era aircraft, such as the B-25 Mitchell twin-engine bomber, the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter and the North American P-51 Mustang fighter.

These planes will take part in the air show’s “reenactment” of famous Pacific Theater air battles, as will four Japanese military aircraft replicas from the era. The CAF’s “ Blastards “ pyrotechnics unit will be doing its part as well.

“You can’t have an attack on Pearl Harbor without explosives, so we’ll have a lot of pyrotechnics,” Hughston said.

Also taking to the skies will be the Commemorative Air Force Rio Grande Valley Wing’s own stable of aircraft, including the Boeing Stearman PT-17, the Ryan PT-22, the Fairchild PT-26, and the CAF’s newly restored Fleet Finch biplane.

The CAF’s extremely rare Focke Wulf 44 Stieglitz biplane, a pre-World War II German primary trainer, will be on static display. “Stieglitz” is German for “goldfinch.”

Because of federal spending cutbacks due to sequestration, modern military aircraft have been virtually nonexistent at general aviation events such as Air Fiesta for the past few years, though two F-16s will be on static display at this year’s air show.

“They’ll fly when they get here and they’ll fly when they leave, but they will not participate in the air show itself,” Hughston said.

Air Fiesta, because it doesn’t rely solely on modern military, has survived sequestration while many other air shows around the country have not, he said.

The event will also feature a crop-dusting demonstration, a strong man plane-towing contest, a trade show, food and beverages and kids’ activities, including camel rides.

Hughston said Air Fiesta, which the CAF puts on every year, is run entirely by volunteers.

“We have no paid staff at all,” he said. “We organize it, we produce it, we take the financial risk. We think that means something in the community. When you go and talk to a potential corporate sponsor, they know that we’re the ones that are out there making it happen.”

Gates open at 9 a.m. and the flying starts at noon on both days of the air show. Because Air Fiesta is a family event, organizers are doing their best to hold the line on ticket prices, plus kids 12 and under get in free, Hughston said.

“We know how expensive it is for mom and dad to take the kids out to any kind of an event, whether it’s the circus or the air show or the zoo or whatever,” he said. “It gets real expensive.”

Hughston feels strongly that children’s lives are enriched by experiencing aviation up close.

“We hope that we can instill in them a love for and appreciation of aviation,” he said. “In our area, and we see it all the time when we have school kids come through the museum, a lot of these kids have never seen airplanes up close.

“All they’re seeing are maybe the airliners that fly over. They’ve never had a chance to get up close to an airplane, to talk to pilots.”

Advance tickets are $12 and can be purchased online or at any Cameron County Stripes, RGV Wing headquarters, 955 Minnesota Ave., Brownsville Convention and Visitors Bureau, and in McAllen at the Mail-Pak Your Box Store in the Town & Country Shopping Center at 5111 N. 10th St.

Tickets are $15 at the gate. Parking is $5. Reserved-seating, VIP tickets, Flight Line Club and Jetsetters Club tickets will be available at an additional cost.

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