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EAA Experimenter

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Golden West Regional Fly-In

Ten years and still holding its own

Story and photos by Patrick Panzera, Editor – Experimenter, EAA 555743

Julie Clark
Julie Clark’s Beechcraft T-34 Mentor

California’s largest fly-in and air show just ended its tenth season, making a few changes but keeping most things the same. The turnout of the crowd, although down from previous years, and the enthusiasm of all who partook were very encouraging signs according to John Gibson, forums and workshop coordinator, who jokingly said that as a fly-in promoter, “attendance is never good enough.” John went on to say that although Friday and Sunday’s attendance was on the low side, Saturday’s attendance was especially good for both aircraft and foot traffic. Plans are in the works to boost traffic for Friday and Sunday of next year, John said, and while they're very pleased overall with this year's outcome, they're equally thankful that this year's event was a safe one.
Light Planes Abound
Of particular interest to this year’s event was the addition of an ultralight and light-sport traffic area (called the “light aircraft area”), like those found at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, Sun ’n Fun International Fly-In & Expo, COPPERSTATE Fly-In, and several other large fly-ins. Although only a few (maybe six) participants were on the new ultralight and light-sport runway – most of whom also camped out in the new ultralight and light-sport campground, many of which were N-numbered powered parachutes and powered paragliders – the venue has been dubbed a success, and plans are in the works to expand the area to include space for exhibitors to show off their wares.

Julie Clark
Julie Clark
Jacquie Warda
Jacquie Warda
Vicky Benzing
Vicky Benzing (photo by Tim Sowell)
Frank Donnelly
Dr. Frank Donnelly (photo by Tim Sowell)

Daily Air Show
This year being one of “firsts” saw Julie Clark pilot her silky smooth Beechcraft T-34 Mentor performance at this event for the first time. In addition to Julie, Jacquie Warda was back in style, piloting her Pitts S-1T Special. Jacquie retired from the legal profession and realized her dream of becoming an air show pilot, becoming the first female pilot to enter this business at 50 years young. The third female to perform at this year’s event was Vicky Benzing, who during last year’s Reno Air Races won her very first race ever and was awarded the honor of being chosen “Reno Air Race Rookie of the Year.” Vicky’s plane is the German-built Extra 300S, powered by an AEIO-540 custom-built by Ly-Con Aircraft Engines.

The only male on the team was Dr. Frank Donnelly of Dr. D’s Old-Time Aerobatics. He delivers a slow-motion, captivating aerial display, and does so in a 1946 clipped-wing Taylorcraft known as a Swick Clip-T. The Swick conversion turned the humble taildragger into a true aerobatic plane. N6588C has shorter wings (clipped-wing conversion); one seat rather than the original two seats; larger control surfaces; 120-hp Lycoming O-235 engine rather than the stock 65-hp Continental; and experimental rather than standard category licensing. This Taylorcraft also qualifies to be flown by a sport pilot.

Joe Horvath
Joe Horvath of Revmaster Aviation
Joe Horvath
Revmaster Aviation’s race vehicle
Joe Horvath
The Revmaster R-2300 engine on display outside the Alternative Engine Round-Up
Lee Apaka’s RV-7
Lee Apaka’s RV-7, Subaru with Bud Warren’s propeller speed reduction unit
CONTACT! Magazine’s Alternative Engine Round-Up

Alternative Engine Round-up
Another new addition to the event is the joining of CONTACT! Magazine’s Alternative Engine Round-Up, formerly held in Jean, Nevada. Combining the two events had been talked about for several years, but this year they decided to pull the trigger. Not less than eight planes flew in to specifically participate in this year’s event, with potentially more than 100 participants all together. Although the plane count was substantially down from previous years, the head count was about the same if not a little higher than in the past. The decision to join the two events was a last-minute call on the part of the CONTACT! Magazine team, but with good results, more effort will go into promoting the event for next year.

Dave Gall
David Gall with his Corby Starlet prepares to depart by calling the tower
Pat Panzera
EAA Experimenter Editor and CONTACT! Magazine Publisher Pat Panzera

Warbirds - WWII Reenactors
Of course with the vintage WWII aircraft on display, it only seemed fitting to host the WWII reenactors. With a little spot of grass set aside for their tents, foxholes, and equipment, they set up a small village that gave the feeling of going back in time nearly 70 years. Participating in the air show with an accompanying ground display, the reenactors shot their blank-loaded firearms (including machine guns) at the “attacking” aircraft during a mock battle held on both Saturday and Sunday. Of course video was shot during their display which will be used to entice other WWII reenactor groups to participate next year and is expected to grow the group’s attendance by two to three times. As participation grows, the WWII encampment will continue to be located adjacent to the warbirds.

TB-25N Mitchell
B-17G Flying Fortress
WWII reenactors

Standing out from among the WWII warbirds were the B-17G Flying Fortress Sentimental Journey and the North American Aviation TB-25N Mitchell Maid in the Shade, both belonging to the Arizona Wing of the Commemorative Air Force.

Wheels and Wings
Out of the ordinary this year, Golden West included a car show comprised of a select group of custom and restored vintage automobiles that were displayed along with the vintage aircraft, making for a very tasteful and cohesive display. The idea is designed to complement the aircraft as opposed to compete with them, and we can expect to see more of this in the years to follow. (Click here for the list of award winners.)


A barbeque cook-off that began early Saturday morning was included this year. Although more of an event hosted by the airfield’s restaurant, it was a tasty addition that may or may not be returning next year. There has been a discussion to fully endorse the event, including it in the awards ceremony, but it’s still too early to make the decision.

The awards banquet had an unusually high turnout this year, including the most winners to have ever stayed for the event. In past years, the majority of the attendees would leave en masse right after the air show ended Saturday afternoon, with the exodus including many of the award winners. This year it wasn’t the case. Only a couple of award plaques needed to be mailed, whereas in the past, the majority of them required mailing to the winners.

Rod Hightower Rod Hightower
Rod Hightower speaking with members inside the dinner hall, before giving his speech

Grassroots Pilot Tour
EAA President/CEO Rod Hightower was there for a short period the night before the opening of the 10th annual event. He was very well received, arriving early and spending a good amount of time speaking one-on-one with those who were in attendance. This was followed by a fun and very informative presentation about some of the exciting things that will come out of EAA in the very near future, as well as reminding some of us of the really cool stuff already in action by EAA. 

Rod Hightower Rod Hightower
Rod speaking with members outside the dinner hall, long after the meeting was over

At the end of his speech, Rod opened up the room to questions and answers, and even afterwards, when almost everyone was gone, he was outside the building conversing with all those who didn’t get enough. It was very impressive to see the president of EAA have the willingness to continue the conversation with any and everyone who was patient enough to politely wait his turn. This went on for well over an hour after the presentation was over.

With air show and fly-in attendance down throughout the country, it’s good to know that efforts are being taken in advancing these events to attract a more diversified group of attendees, if for nothing else than to help support the events. Although trying to attract nonaviators to a fly-in event might be seen as negative thing to many aircraft owners and pilots, just remember that it is, after all, a great way to introduce aviation to future pilots, future aircraft owners, and future aircraft builders.

Click here for the list of award winners

See the gallery for more photos.


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