Big planes inspire little ones

Chico Air Show wows kids of all ages

Preschooler Azriel Holman checks out a flier for the upcoming Chico Air Show.

Preschooler Azriel Holman checks out a flier for the upcoming Chico Air Show.

Photo By andrea lavoy wagner

Tricycles stop, toys are dropped in the sandbox, and a half dozen tiny fingers point to the sky when an aircraft thunders by, close overhead. From the back yard of Chico Community Children’s Center on Eaton Road, preschoolers have a perfect view of the air above the Chico airport and this week they’ll get a sneak peek at the 2010 Chico Air Show, which has become an inspiring event for kids of all ages.

The Canadian Forces Snowbirds are just one of this year’s attractions. The group’s practice runs give the kids an opportunity to squeal, point and stare at the planes prior to the three-day show, which runs from Friday afternoon to Sunday (Sept. 24 to Sept. 26).

This reporter’s son attends Chico Community Children’s Center with Nakai and Azriel Holman, ages 4 and 3, respectively. The boys watched the planes coming in last year and look forward to the upcoming arrivals.

“It makes my ears ‘owie,’ ” Azriel recalled. “They are awesome! I want to build a rocket ship and fly.”

Inspiring children to fly is a common side effect of the air show.

“I like blue ones and red ones,” added Azriel, a Spiderman fan.

Celina Martinez, the school’s site manager, said the experience is great for the kids.

“They’re always comparing how big and how loud they are,” Martinez said. “They stare at them for hours and get together and wave at the planes.”

Today (Sept. 23), performers Melissa Pemberton and Kent Pietsch are due to arrive at the airport for their first Chico show. Pietsch flies a bright yellow Jelly Belly plane. Pemberton, the youngest member of the U.S. Unlimited Aerobatics Team at 25 years old, flies a “candy blue” Edge 540 with pink flames.

During the practice runs, there is a lot of action in the sky, Martinez said.

Martinez can attest to that, having watched the action last year, and also seeing the reactions of the children.

“They hear the planes before they see them,” she said. “They thought it was magic. The planes disappear in the clouds and come back down.”

Many of the children have never been on a plane, she said. They are fortunate to see them so close.

Inspiring children is an important part of the event, said Amy Orr, sponsorship coordinator for the Chico Air Show. “Even if they’ve flown before, they will get to see things up close and personal,” she said.

The air show has become a true community event, offering exhibits and food, as well as flight demonstrations and spectacular aerial displays.

Butte County resident Ellen Steele is a big fan of the show.

Steele described the chest-rattling feeling from the thunderous roars of aircraft engines as the planes spin and circle overhead and the smell of fuel that lingers amid the chatter and noise of the crowds.

“It feels like you’re sitting in the middle of Top Gun,” said Steele, who has attended the event for the past several years with her family.

Flying is a big part of Steele’s life. Her husband, Gary, is a pilot and has worked in the airline business for about 23 years. She worked for airlines herself for about 15 years. “Anything that flies is exciting to us,” Steele said.

The first time her children, Andrew and Mitchell, came to the air show, they were enamored, she said. They would wave to the pilots as they watched them taxi by.

“If you ask Andrew, Andrew’s going to be a pilot,” she said.

Young aspiring aviators can take part in a “Kids’ Zone” at the show. The area will include a large bounce house that looks like an aircraft carrier, computers with flight-simulator programs, and various coloring and art projects. Children can also build balsa-wood airplanes with members of the Oroville Air Corps Model Club, or fill up “aircraft passports” with the tail numbers of planes to enter to win a prize.

Additionally, the Gateway Science Museum will host a “Science Corner” with interactive activities to show how science relates to everyday life.

For several local young aviation enthusiasts, the show helps to take their interests to the next level.

The Chico Air Show has contributed upward of $10,000 over the last five years to the Chico Summer Flight Academy program operated by the North Valley Aviation Association, said Linda Patrick, finance administrator for this year’s show. The money buoys other private and corporate fundraising that pays for scholarships awarded to area high school students for a two-week course with intensive ground school and in-air flight training.

Since the academy began in 2006, 20 students have completed the program, and 10 of those students have gone on to further flight training. Cadets, as the students are called, will also be working at the air show over the weekend at the NVAA booth, Patrick said.

Meanwhile, the show will go on inspiring children.

“They don’t have to love aviation,” Patrick said. “Most young kids love airplanes. They’ll get to touch airplanes and talk to pilots. You just get caught up in all the enthusiasm. It’s absolutely thrilling to kids.”