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May 30, 2023

Vintage planes fly in for Cinco de Mayo

Several vintage planes, modern-day aircraft and hot air balloons
are expected to converge on the San Martin airport
– weather permitting – during the Wings of History Museum’s
all-day Cinco de Mayo Fly-In on May 4.
SAN MARTIN – South County residents can get an up-close look at historic aircraft – including possibly one of World War II’s most famous fighters – and even catch a ride in a small plane themselves next weekend at the South County Airport in San Martin.

Several vintage planes, modern-day aircraft and hot air balloons are expected to converge on the airport – weather permitting – during the Wings of History Museum’s all-day Cinco de Mayo Fly-In on May 4.

The event is a fundraiser for the museum and is planned with the general public – as well as pilots and aviation buffs – in mind. Organizers contact pilots from other airports and invite them to fly in, where they often mingle and talk about their planes with visitors on the ground.

“It’s really a hands-on thing at a slow pace,” said John McMains, chairman of the museum’s board of directors. “A lot of the pilots stick around and explain things to people that want to look or take pictures,” he said. “The idea is to intermingle with the pilots. Everyone’s on equal footing.”

How many planes show at the fly-in depends on the weather. Last spring’s event boasted 20 planes.

“We had the runway lined with planes,” McManus said.

The museum plans to fly its flagship airplane, a 1928 American Eagle two-seater biplane that was donated to the museum by the late Ted Homan in the early 1970s.

The two-winged plane was designed as a trainer for pilots and is truly and “oldy but goody,” capable of a top speed of 99 mph and a maximum altitude of 10,000 feet. The plane weighs one ton and sports a 102 horsepower engine – about the same as a Honda Civic coupe.

By comparison, a modern-day T-45 Goshawk jet trainer weighs 13,500 pounds and tops out at 645 mph and 45,000 feet in altitude.

Other models usually represented at the fly-ins include the Stearman PT-17 “Kaydet” – the most widely used Allied pilot trainer in World War II, and America’s last production military biplane – as well as Ryan PT-22, the single-wing plane that helped replace it.

Past fly-ins have sometimes featured the sleek P-51 Mustang as well, the so-called “Cadillac of the Sky” that helped establish air superiority and save the lives of Allied bomber pilots over Europe during World War II.

“We’ve invited as many of our members that we can get the word out to and everyone else within 100 miles that has an antique airplane,” McManus said.

Kids 8-17 years old will be able to experience the magic of flight firsthand with one of a handful of pilots who are expected to offer free rides around the valley. The hops – in modern and sometimes vintage planes – last fifteen minutes to a half-hour and are organized by pilots with the Experimental Aircraft Association, an organization of enthusiasts for antique and homebuilt planes.

Don’t expect much in the way of stunts or aerobatics, however – the airport’s proximity to U.S. 101, homes and the flight path of San Jose International airport make staging an airshow there difficult, McManus said.

Entrance fees will be waived at the museum itself, which lies across the street from the airfield and features flyable vintage planes, replicas and exhibits.

“We’re really out to cater to the interests of young people,” McManus said. “Otherwise the whole art of our aviation history will be lost.”

The event kicks off at dawn with a gathering of the Pacific Coast Aeronauts’ hot air balloons, and also features a limited number of old cars and early gas engines and tractors.

Admission is free, although there is a charge for the pancake breakfast, hamburgers and hot dog lunch and chili cookoff. The event usually wraps up by 5 p.m.

For more information on the museum, visit http://www.wingsofhistory.org.

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