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The lure of wings

  • A bevy of P-51 Mustang fighters, including the “Lady Jo,” above, will dominate the skies during the annual Wings Over Wine Country air show at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport on Aug. 17-18. (COURTESY PHOTO)

You may have noticed that local airports normally don't draw large crowds of spectators. So why do 20,000 people turn out every year for the Wings Over Wine Country air show?

It's because these planes aren't everyday passenger carriers. These aircraft come soaring out of history and into the present, roaring right over your head. In fact, you might see them in the Sonoma County skies from nearby even if you don't go to the air show.

“You'll see up to 17 P-51s flying overhead,” said Wayne Seamans, the event's chairman this year, “and it's going to be an amazing sight. People turn out to see the P-51s. It's a unique aircraft.”

The P-51 Mustang, a fighter plane introduced in 1942 and used in World War II and the Korean War, will be the star of the show Aug. 17-18 at the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport.

“The P-51 is a beautiful airplane. It had a vast superiority in combat,” said pilot Lynn Hunt, who will fly a P-51 in the air show.

“It had an extremely long range, which endeared it to bomber pilots, because the Mustang fighter escort would stick with the bombers all the way to Germany and back,” he said.

Plans call for a B-25 Mitchell bomber to fly with the P-51s at Wings Over Wine Country, Seamans said.

“The B-25 is a medium-sized bomber, not as big as the B-17 or the B-24, but it's obviously much bigger than the fighters, and it's fun to watch it fly,” he added.

Aeronautics fans find the “war birds” fascinating, not for their destructive capacity, but for the rapid technological advancement they represented at the time, spurred by the pressure of war, Hunt explained.

“These airplanes, when they were first introduced, were on the cutting edge of technology,” Hunt said. “And I don't have an issue with their military past. I look at the incredible job they did to keep this country free.”

In all, there will be about 30 different planes flying during the two-day Wings Over Wing Country show, as well as exhibits, demonstrations, children's activities, food and wine.

“We'll have the Pratt & Whitney R-4360, largest piston engine ever made, on display,” Seamans said. “It's 20 times the size of a car engine, and it was used in bombers from the '50s to '80s. It's mounted on a stand, but it runs. It's a little loud.”

Enthusiasts find that the vintage aircraft fire their imaginations, Seamans said.

“Airplanes allow you to go places you couldn't go otherwise,” he said. “Humans don't have wings.”

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. See his ARTS blog at http://arts.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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