The Snowbirds are coming!
As pleased as Sonoma County is to host retirees who flock here in motorhomes and in search of relief from frigid weather, they are not the Snowbirds that will thrill tens of thousands of us on the last weekend of September.
These Snowbirds are the nine sleek, red-and-white jets of the Canadian armed forces’ aerobatic, tight-formation flight team. It’s a huge deal that the Pacific Coast Air Museum persuaded the Snowbirds to perform at its Sept. 26 and 27 air show at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.
“This was several years in the making,” said Nancy Heath, the museum member in charge of the Wings Over Wine Country air show. “It’s like nothing we’ve ever had before.”
The Snowbirds will be the first military flight demonstration squadron to perform at the annual show. For the Canadians to agree to demonstrate their aerial ballet and spectacle is just one reason that Heath and her fellow 800-plus members of PCAM are especially excited this year.
For a number of years, military cutbacks caused the air show to suffer from a dearth of combat jets. This year, the roar is back.
In addition to the CT-114 Tutor jets flown by the Snowbirds, the show will feature flights by an F-16 Fighting Falcon and, from the Korean conflict, both an F-86 Sabre and its rival, a Russian-made MiG-15.
Heath said that on both days of the air show, members of the U.S. Air Force “Wings of Blue” skydiving team will drop in and invite kids to come help them pack their parachutes.
The air show is the largest public event put on by a volunteer museum that was born in Sonoma County 26 years ago and aims to expand from its current, modest home at the public airport between Santa Rosa and Windsor.
PCAM occupies an old Quonset hut on the airport’s eastern edge and displays its collection of vintage aircraft, most of them warbirds, on a two-acre plot of dirt. Museum members yearn to move onto a paved four acres just to the north, a section of the airport that includes both the offices and small hangar of the former Dragonfly flight school and the World War II-era Butler hangar.
The open-ended Butler hangar once had a cameo role in a major motion picture: a stunt pilot flew a Beech airplane through it in 1963’s “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”
PCAM members anticipate hearing soon whether the county will lease them the Butler hangar and the former home of the Dragonfly school, thus allowing them to usher their museum into an expansive new phase.
“It’s like we’re waiting any day to get the word,” said Christina Olds, the organization’s director of museum operations.
The Butler hangar, built in 1944 as part of the Santa Rosa Army Airfield — a fighter training base — and the pavement around it are central to PCAM’s plans for the future.
“This move is huge for us,” said Lynn Hunt, an aircraft restorer, pilot and mechanic who’s been a leader of the museum since its inception.
“Our intention is, first of all, to preserve the hangar,” Hunt said. “It needs a new roof. It needs a lot of love.”
He envisions the hangar becoming an airy museum and event space where aircraft, artifacts and interpretive exhibits will tell the stories of aviation in Sonoma County as they’ve never been told before.