On August 6, 2011, Big Bear Airport hosted its bi-annual air fair. Started in 1984, the Big Bear Air Fair is a combination of community a vendor fair, warbird and vintage aircraft static display, and general aviation fly in.
Big Bear Airport is located in the San Bernardino National Forest 25 miles northeast of San Bernardino, California. The airport has a 5,850 foot runway and operates under an “uncontrolled approach” in terms of air traffic control.
This year’s Air Fair included a static display of 30 aircraft. These aircraft included a United States Navy MM-60R Seahawk from HSM-41 based at Naval Air Station North Island, a United States Marine Corps UC-12 from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, several homebuilt planes, the Russian bi-plane Antonov AN-2 from the Commemorative Air Force 3rdPursuit Squadron based at Cable Airport, Upland, California, a handful of other miscellaneous warbirds, a fixed wing Cessna from the California Highway Patrol and five warbirds from the Planes of Fame Air Museum based in Chino, California.
I spoke with airport manager, Pete Gwaltney, about the air fair. “We have an air fair as an outreach to our community and to help educate the public in airport operations. 85% of the air fair’s cost is funded by the airport’s budget and this allows us to charge attendees a very low entrance fee ($2.00)” said Gwaltney. “Our goal is to increase attendance, both community and aircraft, with each air fair.”
According to Gwaltney, this air fair would not have been possible without support of local volunteers (many from the Big Bear Pilot’s Association), the local Civil Air Patrol and nine members of the Big Bear airport staff. Additional support staff includes the “Air Boss.” Big Bear Airport is an “uncontrolled approach” (meaning there is no dedicated air traffic controller and pilots are responsible for communicating their aircraft’s position during approach, landing, and/or take off). Due to the increased air activity, and to serve as an added layer of safety for the air fair, Gwaltney brought in veteran pilot Peter Murray to serve as a temporary air traffic controller. Murray is a retired Naval aviator of 10 years and an American Airlines pilot for 35 years.
Because it is an air fair, there are no scheduled flying acts other than the “Just in Time Skydivers” (www.justintimeskydivers.com), Boeing Stearman Biplane rides, and those pilots flying in for the event. The air fair started at 7:00am with a Kiwanis pancake breakfast, followed by the opening ceremonies at 9:00am.
At 12:00, there was a parachute jump by the “Just in Time Skydivers.” This parachute group was formed in 1967 and is based in Lake Elsinore, California. The seven parachutists today have 250 years of combined parachuting experience and 28,850 jumps collectively. The “Just in Time Skydivers” are under the leadership of Rich Picilli, a skydiver for 44 years with 4,300 jumps.
From the time the gates opened at 7:00am until well past 4:00pm, Kent Thomas and his Boeing Stearman from Palm Springs, California, sold rides in his vintage 1940s era aircraft. I spoke with one couple, Cathy and Tom Quintard immediately after their 15 minute Stearman flight. “I was scared at first but it was smoother than I thought,” said Cathy. Tom told me, “I could have done that all day.” The Quintards were one of many people who attended the air fair to experience, first hand, the joy of flying in a vintage military aircraft.
The 2011 Big Bear Air Fair was a great aviation event for the community of Big Bear and an experience that entertained, educated, and thrilled all that attended. Mark your calendars for Big Bear Air Fair 2013!
Thanks to the Big Bear Airport staff who were incredibly gracious in the access they provided and meeting the needs of the media photographers who attended. A very special thanks to Cindy Chunkdak and Pete Gwaltney for providing me added support to make this article possible and obtaining special access to various parts of the airport.