Salute to first responders punctuates aerial prowess

The annual Wings Over Wine Country airshow filled the skies with smoke, sound and fury over the weekend, with military and civilian planes — some restored, some heavily modified and some experimental.

Attendees of the event, held at the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Regional Airport, cheered when the event began with a parade of emergency vehicles representing agencies that responded to the firestorms of October, 2017.

Following an airshow theme of “Rising Together,” fire companies from Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Windsor, Cloverdale, Healdsburg and more were in the procession, along with Santa Rosa Police, CalFire and the county sheriff’s office.

A series of flyovers dominated the afternoon both days, starting with coordinated jumps from the U.S. Air Force Wings of Blue parachute team, which trailed smoke and a large U.S. flag.

Vicky Benzing put her red 1940 Boeing Stearman biplane through a series of aerobatics, trailing decorative smoke from the wings. The plane is fully restored and retains much of its original equipment, with the addition of smoke machines and a 450 horsepower engine.

A trio of CJ-6 Chinese trainers, the Red Star Pilots Association, flew in close formation, executing a “missing man” formation to commemorate pilots lost in battle.

Brad Wursten flew his custom-made MXS stunt plane in loops and rolls, trailing more smoke and executing tight turns and dives.

More coordinated parachute jumps, more “warbird” flybys and more aerobatics completed the program, held Saturday and Sun day.

In addition to the aerial show, booths offered food, beverages and paraphernalia that included pint-sized flight jackets for children.

A collection of planes and helicopters dotted the grounds, offering visitors a chance to climb into cockpits, peer at engines and ask questions.

The largest aircraft on the grounds was a C-17, “The Spirit of Los Angeles,” a working cargo and troop transport, that took VIPs and the media on a flight to San Francisco Bay and back on Friday.

The massive plane was built in 1997, has more than 17,000 flying hours and is used for stateside missions when it’s in service. It has a 171,000-pound cargo capacity.

The airshow was sponsored by the Pacific Coast Air Museum, which is located at the airport.

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