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Landings: News: Aviation News by Pacific Flyer

Story & Photo

By Roger Cain

San Carlos Airport hosted the Hiller Aviation Museum's third annual "Vertical Challenge" helicopter airshow and display on June 22nd.

Billed as the largest gathering of helicopters on the West Coast, it drew some 8,000 people from the San Francisco Bay area, 3,000 more than last year. A layer of early morning fog burned off quickly, providing the crowd with clear skies and a breeze to keep the heat down.

A Helo Who's Who

More than 50 rotorcraft flew in for the one-day event, including display examples from manufacturers like Eurocopter, Hughes, Piasecki, Robinson and Schweizer. There was also a lineup of news and traffic helicopters from various San Francisco TV and radio stations.

Parked beside a lineup of four Enstroms from a local flight school were four bubble-canopy Bell 47s. One, a 1947 Model, had the distinction of being the oldest helicopter on the field.

A number of public safety helos also attended, including an Oakland P.D. McDonnell-Douglas 369E, a California Highway Patrol Eurocopter and a Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphin. Along with a fleet of emergency vehicles that lined the taxiway, sirens blaring, they all took part in a fly-by honoring New York Fire Dept. victims of 9-11.

In a demonstration of what helicopters do best, the Stanford University Life Flight helo had to leave the show early on an emergency call. A California Dept. of Forestry & Fire Protection Huey from Alma Helitack base in Santa Clara also left to respond to an emergency call.

Thanks to Army, Navy and Marine Corps units from around the state, there was an impressive turnout of military helicopters on display. The heavy metal included two Marine CH-46E Sea Knights all the way from MCAS Camp Pendleton, a Navy CH-46D from HC-11 at NAS North Island in San Diego and an Army Guard CH-47D from Stockton, Calif.

Since they were too large to land in their designated parking spaces, the big military birds had to be towed around the ramp. Bill and Adele Newman of San Carlos did the honors with their 600-hp Super Tug.

Among the smaller military helos was a Bell UH-1N Huey from the 76th Helicopter Flight Squadron at Vandenberg AFB. Parked alongside it was an Air National Guard Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk from the 129th Rescue Wing at Moffett Federal Airfield and a pair of AH-1W Super Cobra gunships from Camp Pendleton.

A special guest at the show was LCdr. August Kleish, USCG (ret.), who was involved in what is believed to have been the first helicopter rescue. On Sept. 18th, 1946, he was part of the crew of a Sikorsky HOS-1 helicopter that rescued 18 survivors of a Sabena Airlines DC-4 that crashed near Gander Airport in Newfoundland.

Rotor Action Aplenty

Vertical Challenge featured not one but two "airshows" one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The first opened with the national anthem and Northern California skydiver Allen Silver parachuting in with a huge American flag on the underside of his chute.

Next up was helicopter aerobatics by members of the Bayside R/C Club and a mock Search-and-Rescue mission flown by the Coast Guard Dolphin. During the break between shows, the audience was able to visit a variety of display booths, wander through the Hiller Aviation Museum or take a $25-ride in a Robinson R22 helicopter.

To start the afternoon show, announcer Larry Shapiro introduced a kite demonstration by the Bay Area Sundowners, followed by a water-drop demo by the East Bay Regional Parks' Eurocopter. Jim Cheatham's Showcopters performed their precision flying demo with only two of their usual three Robinson helos.

The highlight of the day, especially for history-minded helicopter fans, was a formation hover by four different types of twin-rotor helicopters. Representing the present-day, active-duty military were two Boeing-built helos: the Navy CH-46 and the Guard CH-47.

Representing military helicopters from the 1950s and '60s was Joe Pike's Piasecki HUP-1 from Victorville, Calif. and the Ramona-based Classic Rotors Piasecki H-21B Shawnee. The H-21 had been on display at the Hiller Aviation Museum for a month prior to the show.

After performing a four-ship stacked hover, the four helos flew a circuit of the airfield.

"This was definitely a great historical event for the museum; in fact, the entire show was a huge success," said Hiller Aviation Museum Marketing Director Willie Turner.

Based on the turnout, the enthusiastic and appreciative crowd that attended Vertical Challenge shared shared Turner's assessment of the show.


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