Sunday, June 12, 2016

Kenai Peninsula Air Fair flies through town

The Kenai and Soldotna airports partnered to host the 16th annual Kenai Peninsula Air Fair on Saturday.

Following a breakfast and poker run at the Soldotna Airport, several pilots landed their planes for an afternoon exhibition at the Kenai Airport’s Operation Center.

There they talked to visitors, ate grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, and attended to events including a 21-gun salute to veterans and the presentation of an FAA Master Pilot Award to local pilot Dale Moore.

The aircraft on display ranged from private single-engine planes to a Coast Guard MH-64d “Dolphin” helicopter.

The Alaska Air National Guard C-130 cargo plane that has made an appearance at past Kenai Air Fairs was absent this year.

Without it, the show’s two largest planes were both owned by Everts Air Fuel — a four-engine Douglas DC-6 and a Curtis C-46 “Commando,” built as a military transport during World War II.

The C-46’s pilot, Terry Galyean, stood inside the cargo door to welcome visitors.

Galyean, who has been using the C-46 for six years to ferry fuel to interior Alaska, said flying the old machine was “no harder than any other plane, just different.” Although it still has original controls and instrumentation, it has also been modernized with devices such as GPS.

Following the war, C-46s became a common vehicle in civilian airlines.

According to Galyean, they were often seen in Alaska landing on beaches to haul away a catch of fish.

Now, they more rare. Everts owns only four.

On the other side of the exhibition area sat a much newer aircraft: Homer resident Ian Reid’s autogyro — a small aircraft with both vertically- and horizontally-oriented rotors.

Reid said he bought his autogyro in July 2015.

He described the experience of flying it as being like “a motorcycle in the sky.”

Reid now plans to start a business selling autogyros and training autogyro pilots in Homer.

Although invented in 1926, the autogyro hasn’t seen the commercial development or popularity of the helicopter.

Reid said it’s most common in Europe — his is a Calidus, a German model — partly due to a Federal Aviation Administration policy which requires them to have an experimental aircraft flight worthiness certification.

The Air Fair’s traditional helicopter — the Coast Guard Dolphin — flew up from its station at the Coast Guard’s Kodiak Air Station.

Airport manager Mary Bondurant said the coast guard helicopter was a regular at previous Kenai Peninsula Air Fairs, but stopped coming due to federal budget cuts that limited public appearances of government-owned aircraft.

Bondurant said the Dolphin made its first appearance since the federal government began its sequestration cost-cutting measures at last year’s Air Fair.

One of the Dolphin’s crew members was Coast Guard Lieutenant Daniel Lavinder. Lavinder said he represented the Coast Guard at air shows in other states, but that Alaska, with its large population of aviators and aircraft workers, was a slightly different experience, “a lot more engaging.”

“The level of interest in the missions we do is much higher,” he said. “People were interested in the specific capabilities of the helicopter, the training required to operate it, and personal stories of search and rescue cases.”


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