Attending the Central Coast Airfest at Santa Maria, California, in 2022 was quite a surprise. Rather unknown in the circuit of established (warbird) airshow, the event is set to be the new home for upcoming shows of the world-famous “Planes of Fame” warbird collection.
Looking back at recent years, it got quiet around the airshow at the famous “Planes of Fame” Museum in Chino, California. While it has always been a guarantee to see the jewels of this famous warbird collection in the sky around late spring, it was canceled for the third time in a row in 2022. It did not take place in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, and this year too it suddenly disappeared from the museum’s event calendar. The date in July, which had already been postponed to October, was canceled on rather short notice. Due to extensive construction work on the main roads around the airfield in Chino, the show was unable to go ahead as planned. “A practical solution for traffic and parking could not be found,” the museum management announced, almost certainly saving the usual 150,000 visitors during the two days and also the city of Chino itself from traffic chaos. Instead, the museum participated in the Central Coast AirFest, which took place October 15-16, 2022 at the Santa Maria Airport: “The museum plans to bring over a dozen aircraft to the event and perform several acts during the two-day AirFest!”. That was, so to speak, the compensation for the cancellation.
Santa Maria is about a 2.5 hours drive north of Los Angels, right on the scenic Highway No.1 between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. With its scenic landscape and in the middle of many vineyards, it is certainly an attractive alternative to Chino for tourists. But it does not have such a guarantee of good weather and the bright sunshine and splendid blue skies of the Mojave Desert. The cool Pacific is not far away and the low-hanging clouds of the “Marine Layer” often persists at this part of California until late in the day.
Here we were welcomed with open arms, the airfield is not too far from Chino, and this is were we are now planning the new building for our (Planes of Fame) museum
This was also the case for the 2022 edition, when some parts of the flight program had to be canceled on Saturday, and on Sunday morning the “Marine Layer” of the nearby Pacific lived up to its bad reputation. But still, it turned out to become a stunning airshow!
The long term plan: A new home for the “Planes of Fame”
At the beginning of the event I had a brief opportunity to chat with Steven Hinton. He clearly expressed his opinion about the changes around Chino airport: “We are now clearly within the influence of the greater Los Angeles area. The city is growing and getting closer and closer to us. There is construction going on all around the airfield. There haven’t been any free fields for a long time. Residential areas and huge warehouses are built all around.” And it has been clear to Hinton for some time now that free landing areas outside the airport area will be an important factor for the first flights after the extensive restoration projects carried out for those precious warbirds at the Planes of Fame : “I can no longer guarantee safe operation of our aircraft in Chino in the long term. That’s why we were looking for a new location.”
They now seem to have agreed on the airfield in Santa Maria: “Here we were welcomed with open arms, the airfield is not too far from Chino, and this is were we are now planning the new building for our museum“. Hinton pointed unmistakably to the large green area that was still used as a parking lot for this year’s show. “We’re talking about a long-term plan here,” he adds, “maybe five or six years, and we’re not going to completely withdraw from Chino.” Diplomacy clearly resonates in the PoF president’s words. But the decision has been made, the days of the traditional air show in Chino are probably numbered and the future seems to belong to Santa Maria.
This also became clear on the introductory tour of the show. “The future home of the Planes of Fame Museum” proclaimed a large poster on the airport fence. The announcement was clear to visitors, and actual construction could begin soon.
Regardless of the plans of the Planes of Fame, the Central Coast Airfest is still a very young event with only a short history. It took place for the first time in 2018, followed by a „Covid-break“ in the following years. And it still is small and familiar today. It is attractive for visitors, offering cheap entry prices and, in addition to a varied flight program, also even a mini-Oktoberfest and beer garden.
Lightings and Thunderbolts – an impressive Warbird line-up
All the more surprising, at least for visitors from Europe, was the impressive view of the lined up aircraft waiting to be deployed on the taxiway.
No fewer than two P-38 Lightnings, two P-51 Mustangs, a P-47 Thunderbolt and also a B-25 Mitchell were parked there. In the dark blue colours of the US Navy there was a huge assembly of an F8F Bearcat, F4U Corsair, TBM Avenger, SBD Dauntless and on the opposite side of the airfield you could see an F-86 Sabre and MiG 15 Fagot.
In addition to the USAF and US Navy fast jets, which were joined by the warbirds for the famous Heritage and Legacy Flights, the Planes of Fames fleet covered a total of three large thematic blocks. The journey went from the early years of the US Air Force and Navy during World War II to the first jets in Korea.
For the most part, the warbirds’ demonstrations did not involve any acrobatic displays; instead, they flew in circles around the audience. During the maneuvers, often referred to as “Banana Pass” due to the curvature of the flight path, they beautifully presented the topside of their machines. And starting up the engines right on front of the spectators was quite a spectacle as well. And two Mustangs and two Lightnings to open up a rather small airshow is something you clearly can’t see in Europe.
After the opening, the two Mustangs made another appearance. This time with the P-47 Thunderbolt, and a Mitchell bomber also joined in. In the early afternoon there was also the trio of Avenger, Corsair and Dauntless to marvel at.
Spectacular Airshow routines low in the sky
The jets at the Planes of Fame Museum were also joined by Jason Somes „High Alpha Airshows“ and his Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17. The Soviet jet ishows up in a glossy finish, featuring a red and black color scheme with red stars and also a hammer and sickle on the tail convey to every visitor that this must be a “MiG”, a real Russian jet. Its demonstration was fast-paced and, above all, flown very, very low. The real highlight was the Klimov VK-1F engine. Contrary to the MiG-15, the MiG-17 has an afterburner. Its ignition always makes a loud and dull thud. Whenever this happens, a rather impressive flame also shoots out of the nozzle, which cannot be overseen. This was a spectacular airshow routine, flown low, loud and fast, and the performance subsequently was met with great applause.
A must-see Warbird event in California
The decision to attend the show in Santa Maria was certainly not an easy one for many enthusiasts this year. At the same week-end, and just a few hours’ drive away, another long-awaited air show was taking place at Edwards Air Force Base. 75 years of the US Air Force and the 75th anniversary of the breaking of the sound barrier were celebrated on historic grounds. Retrospectively, and despite the legendary location on the edge of Rogers Salt Lake, the Central Coast AirFest in Santa Maria was the more attractive event for warbird fans. It was possible to get up close and personal with the warbirds, and from the afternoon onwards there was bright sunshine in sunny California.
At that point of time, the spectators area was also packed at Santa Maria, and with the event’s increasing popularity, it is to be hoped that it will be increased in the future to accommodate more people.
With the Plans of Fame Museum settled move to Santa Maria, the show certainly has a big potential to become a must-attend event for warbird fans on the West Coast.
Central Coast Airfest – Santa Maria 2022 Photo Gallery
The Central Coast AirFest on the web: www.centralcoastairfest.com