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PARALLEL UNIVERSE: With the End of Van Nuys Air Show, Yet Another San Fernando Valley Tradition Bites the Dust

Posted by kinchendavid on July 17, 2006

By David M. Kinchen
  

photo by Ken Hively, LA Times

Hinton, WV  – A long time ago I learned to look askance at change: I found that change is almost always bad for somebody.
 
Case in point: On Sunday, June 11, 2006, the final Van Nuys Air Show closed, after 43 years of providing aviation technology and just good old fashioned fun to the central San Fernando Valley and the greater Los Angeles area.
 
The air show, which I enjoyed from 1977 to the early 1990s when we lived across the street from the Van Nuys (CA) Airport, is no more; the site will be used as a parking lot and a fire fighting facility. “Pave paradise and put up a parking lot” goes the lyrics of “Big Yellow Taxi”, a Joni Mitchell song. This (already paved) parking lot will be for a privileged few, users of private planes at the general aviation airport.
 
I’m relying on a story from my old newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, for this information. Veteran Times reporter Louis Sahagun writes that Sunday’s event was a much scaled-down version of former shows, which attracted top-flight (pun intended) aerial acts and flyovers. The show gave everyone a chance to see first-hand where their tax dollars were going.
 
After 43 years, the show becomes history, like a lot of other San Fernando Valley attractions, including cruising Van Nuys Boulevard, harness racing at Devonshire Downs and the Busch Gardens tourist attraction on Roscoe Boulevard, bulldozed in the late 1970s for an expansion of the Budweiser brewery next door. The Valley is still blessed with excellent parks and recreational facilities in the flood plain of the Los Angeles River.
 
With the departure of the air show, kids growing up will be deprived of hands-on exposure to aircraft of all kinds. When the show was going strong – the last one I attended was in 2000 – the quantity and quality of exhibits was staggering. I recall at that show viewing up close and personal the new BMW motorcycles that the California Highway Patrol was putting in service, replacing older Kawasaki and Harley models. This was in addition to all the aviation exhibits. My favorites were the war birds of the WW II era and the early jets of the Korean Conflict.
 
Sahagun reported that “the one-day finale drew a higher than expected crowd of about 65,000 spectators who wandered through displays of more than 50 classic airplanes and restored military aircraft. It also featured Los Angeles’ first flyover by the world’s most advanced warplane — a thundering and fierce-looking F-22 Raptor fighter jet.”
 
The reporter notes that the final air show “was a bittersweet event for many regular visitors at Los Angeles’ only air show and staple of San Fernando Valley culture.”
 
“I’m in shock, and sad,” Wayne Salleng, a veteran pilot who has not missed a Van Nuys show since 1963, told Sahagun.
 
Sahagun quotes Bettie Pappas, co-owner of a vintage aluminum-clad DC-3 that drew appreciative crowds as being “among several display operators who lamented the loss of yet another venue to show off their air machines and raise the funds needed to maintain them.”
 
Sahagun: “Aviation authorities and city officials said Van Nuys Airport’s Rockin’ AirFest 2006 was a victim of the site’s success as the world’s busiest general aviation airport with half a million takeoffs and landings each year.”
 
Perhaps the most perceptive comment came from Al Kepler, described by the reporter as a “proud owner of a bright orange AT-6 Texan fighter plane that was on display for the sixth year in a row. As dozens of youths gathered around his plane, which was built in 1943 and has a maximum speed of 205 miles per hour, he shook his head and said, ‘I had no idea this was the show’s final year. What a shame. And what a great loss for the kids.’”
 
Indeed. In a world of virtual this and simulated that, the air show was the real thing. Its departure is another loss for Southern California, which is rapidly being paved over.
 
Progress, they call it. I think not. This space should have been preserved as an aviation museum, a bit of living history to remind one and all what these airplanes accomplished by brave men and women during hot and cold wars.

(Originally published June 13, 2006)

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