Taking a ride to remember

On eve of local air show, Times publisher Cynthia Schur, takes to the air as passenger in vintage WWII plane.

The sounds of early military aviation buzzed over the Santa Maria Valley on Thursday, thanks to a reconnection with a childhood friend and a pair of early arrivals for a weekend air show.

The vintage warbirds — a yellow T-6 Texan and a silver counterpart — landed at the Santa Maria Public Airport for this weekend’s annual Thunder Over the Valley air show.  Hours after returning from a mid-day flight in a T-6, Santa Maria Times publisher Cynthia Schur remained enthused about her first experience in a vintage warbird.  “Wow,” she said. “It was a yippee hour of my life. So much fun.”  

Capt. Jim Bergman piloted the plane Schur flew in for approximately 30 minutes. Bergman is the husband of Laurie Rybaczyk, an elementary school classmate of Schur at Holy Angels Catholic School in Arcadia.  The women reconnected in recent years and arranged the flight for Thursday since Bergman is in town for the annual air show.  The smooth flight, which reached speeds up to 212 mph, included two barrel rolls, she said Thursday afternoon.  “The landing was like landing on a cloud,” she said. 

The single-engine planes — called AT-6 Texan for the Army Air Forces or SNJ for the Navy — were built by North American Aviation as advanced trainers for military pilots during World War II and into the 1950s. British forces used the same aircraft, which they dubbed the Harvard.  In all, nearly 15,500 aircraft were built.

Bergman, a retired commercial airline pilot and former Air Force pilot, has been flying since 1968 and keeps his plane in Chino. That’s also home to a silver T-6 Texan that Capt. Dick Fields and his wife Carol have owned for 21 years.  “It’s hard to fly, and that makes flying it very gratifying,” Fields said. 

During World War II, new pilots would first learn to fly biplanes, then T-6s and ultimately be assigned P-51 Mustang or Corsair aircraft. But due to the complexity of the advanced trainer, pilots half-jokingly said that the schedule was backward.

Fields said his plane came from Mexico where it belonged to the nation’s Air Force fleet, but didn’t appear to have logged much time in the air.  “It’s really quite maintenance free. We’ve had very little problems with it,” he said.

He said he gets joy from showing off his aircraft and watching the reactions of those flying for the first time in the advanced trainer.  “That’s the most fun part of it — making people really enjoy it,” Fields said.

Both men have regularly attended the local event, which has gone on for more than two decades and is a key fundraiser for the Santa Maria Museum of Flight.  “We support the museum strongly,” Bergman said.

The T-6s were some of the early-bird arrivals. Most of the aircraft are expected to arrive today, likely in the afternoon after the fog lifts. 

The Santa Maria Museum of Flight event featuring vintage and modern-day warbirds occurs Saturday and Sunday. Entrance to the show area on the south side of the airport is accessible from Blosser Road near Foster Road.

Gates to Thunder Over the Valley open at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday, remaining open until 4 p.m. both days. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for senior citizens and $3 for children ages 7 to 13 and $15 for a family of four. Parking is free.

 Staff report Santa Maria Times | Posted: Friday, August 26, 2011

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