Skies were clear and the wind was in our favor Thursday afternoon as I climbed into the rear seat of Capt. Jim Bergman’s AT-6 Texan, a single-engine advanced aircraft used to train military pilots in the 1940s and ’50s.

After locking my harness, and pointing out the escape lever and the parachute release, “Capt. Jim,” climbed into the cockpit, got a signoff from the tower at the Santa Maria Public Airport, and we were airborne for a 30-minute cruise up the coast line.   And yes, we did rolls.

Bergman, who lives in Huntington Beach, is in town for the Thunder Over the Valley Air Show this weekend in Santa Maria.  He’ll be the one making “banana passes,” or curved flybys, over the flight line in his bright yellow warbird with the red tail.  Bergman flew C-130s for the U.S. Air Force for six years, and then flew commercially before retiring from Delta Airlines as an A-330 captain in 2009.  “There will be a lot of veterans who flew these things for real,” he said. “It’s a community outreach.”  Bergman has been participating in the airshow for about 12 years and served on the board of the Santa Maria Museum of Flight for several years.  “I became kind of like the warbird liaison,” he said. “Being retired, it gave me more opportunities to work with the museum.”

The air show, which is back after a year’s hiatus due to sequestration and budget challenges, has attracted some 7,000 to 8,000 visitors each year for 25 years, according to officials. 

This year’s featured attraction, in addition to Capt. Jim, of course, is the Army’s Golden Knight Parachuting Team that will make three to four jumps daily.

Thunder Over the Valley runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Santa Maria Public Airport.  Admission is $12 for adults, $3 for children ages 7 to 12, or $25 for a family of four. Children 6 and younger and members of the military are admitted free of charge.  For more information about the event or the Santa Maria Museum of Flight, visit

August 21, 2014  •  Santa Maria Times – Marga K. Cooley