Vintage aircraft large and small soared above the crowd gathered at the Santa Maria Public Airport as the two-day Thunder Over the Valley air show wrapped up Sunday afternoon.

Aircraft aficionados mingled with just plain curious individuals and families who gathered to check out biplanes, stunt aircraft, trainers from World War II and others that were parked on the airport tarmac.

Radio-controlled model aircraft, ranging from only about a foot long up to a B17G Flying Fortress several feet long, were a big hit, especially with the kids.

Aircraft owners appeared more than happy to talk about their planes, explaining everything from handling characteristics and records set to their specific impact on the nation and aviation in general.

This year’s air show was dedicated to America’s wounded warriors and unique veterans groups from the Santa Maria Valley.  Special honorees this year included the 442nd Infantry Regiment Nisei, Filipino Guerillas and Scouts, Women Air Service Pilots, also known as WASPs, and Tuskegee Airmen.

In addition, all uniformed military personnel and their families were admitted to the show free of charge.

8/24/15 Staff Report Santa Maria Times


Planes, Both Radio-Controlled and Manned, Put On A Show Over Santa Maria Public Airport

The Thunder Over the Valley airshow brought out not only full-size airplanes, but smaller, radio-controlled crafts as well.

The annual airshow, hosted by the Santa Maria Museum of Flight, kicked off Saturday morning with demonstration flights of the radio-controlled planes.

Some of the ground-based pilots of the planes fly real planes as well.

“My big plane is over there across the way,” said Steve DeMott, motioning towards the hangars at the Santa Maria Public Airport. DeMott, president of GREKA Refining Company, flew one of his many radio-controlled planes, a bright-orange replica of a late 1930s Rearwin Speedster. “This is like a Rearwin Speedster on steroids,” DeMott said. “It’s got like 400 percent more power than it needs. A 50-cubic-centimeter two-cycle engine makes about 3.5 horsepower for the plane. “We’ve clocked this thing at 100 miles per hour,” DeMott said.

For Mike Leggett of Morgan Hill, in Northern California, flying radio-controlled aircraft is more than a hobby. His painstakingly-detailed one-ninth scale model of a B17G Flying Fortress heavy bomber is a flying tribute to his father. “This is a replica of the one my dad was shot down in in World War II,” Leggett said. His father, 2nd Lt. Elmer Leggett, was the bombardier on the plane, which was strafed by German fighter aircraft as it returned from bombing a Berlin railway station in 1944. Pause

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  • ChaptersAmong the full-size planes that took to the skies were four military training planes from the War Birds West Air Museum in El Cajon and a Lockheed T-33 flown by Gregory Colyer of the Bay Area-based Ace Maker Air Shows.8/22/15  •  Kyle Harding  Santa Maria Times
  • Thunder Over the Valley continues today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • The co-pilot of the plane died, while the eight other crew members survived the war in a POW camp. The elder Leggett died in 2004. Mike Leggett built the replica from scratch. The initial build took more than three years, and he adds detail every year. “You can spend a lot of money or a lot of effort,” he said. “I, in general, spend a lot of effort.”

This year’s Thunder Over The Valley airshow will honor wounded warriors and unique groups of veterans from the Santa Maria Valley.

The event, which will be held at the Santa Maria Public Airport, will run Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Special honorees will include 442nd Infantry Regiment Nisei, Filipino Guerillas and Scouts, Women Air Service Pilots (WASP) and Tuskegee Airmen. 

The annual airshow is put on by the Santa Maria Museum of Flight. The museum is located on the grounds of what was previously the Santa Maria Army Air Field and was the base for the first jet fighter squadron in the Army Air Force, flying the Bell P-59 aircraft during World War II.

Since its inception, the event has attracted some 7,000 to 8,000 visitors each year for more than 25 years, according to officials. Attendees can expect to see World War II planes, displays or aerobatics, and this year the main attraction will be demonstrations of large scale radio-controlled aircraft.

Michael Geddry, CEO for the museum and airshow event director, said that while attendees will enjoy the show, it’s also important to stop and think about why they’re all there.

“The whole theme of the show is to honor wounded warriors,” Geddry said. “It gives us the time to get away from the hustle and bustle of life and think about how very fortunate we are to have the freedom that we do thanks to these men and women that have served.”

Admission for uniformed personnel and their families is free. Admission is $10 for adults, $3 for children ages 7 to 12 or $25 for a family of four. Children 6 and younger and members of the military are admitted free of charge.

For more information about the event or the Santa Maria Museum of Flight, visit

8/20/15   Ryan Cooley  Santa Maria Times

After initially determining a budget last year, the Santa Maria City Council voted to increase the city’s total operating funds by an additional $7.6 million at its regular Tuesday meeting.

Last year, the council approved two one-year budgets but planned to do a midcycle review. This being the review, the city reassessed operational needs and re-evaluated  state and local economies and decided to increase spending.

Overall, the city’s appropriations went from $150.9 million to $158.5 million, with about 75 percent of the increase going toward the general fund.

One way the city will cover the additional expenses is to borrow from a Local Economy Augmentation Fund (LEAF), which will cover $3.6 million toward the general fund. That will leave the LEAF Fund, which in the 2007-2008 fiscal year was $11.7 million, down to $2.7 million.

A good portion of the increase funds has been determined for previously negotiated salary and benefits enhancement. The city staff will be up to 490 full-time and 81 part-time employees in 2015-16.  The newly approved budget will cover seven new full-time employees, including three new police officers.

Other notable projects to be put into motion under the new budget changes are a $2.5 million dispatch and records system for the Santa Maria Police Department; $100,000 to replace the heaters at the Paul Nelson Aquadic Center; $75,000 to improve the restrooms at Oakley Park; and $103,000 from the city’s Business Attraction Loan Fund to build a monument sign to welcome people to the city.

After the budget changes were presented by City Manager Rick Haydon, the council approved the budget with little discussion.

The council did, however, express particular support on another budgetary concern, and that was whether to put $25,000 toward the reopening of the U.S. Customs office at the Santa Maria Public Airport. The airport used to have such an office from 2006 to 2009, according to a city report, but it closed down due to the Great Recession, poor exposure and the limited number of international flights coming in.

The city cited an improved economy, combined with a request from Windset Farms to make the move to support its employees who fly internationally.

“There are some pretty heavy hitters around that are flying in and out,” said Councilman Bob Orach. “It would behoove us to be the guys that can service them coming in and out of the country, so I’m certainly in full support of that issue.”

Windset Farms wrote in a letter to the city that it would contribute $75,000 annually toward the project.

“Over the next few years, we are intending to expand our operations in a meaningful way” David Wesley, director of projects at Windset Farms, wrote. “Not only have we built a business here in the valley, but many of us have made Santa Maria home. Windset Farms is a frequent user of the airport with regular trips to and from our operations in Canada, Mexico and the United States.”

The office would cost $185,000 annually, and a combination of money coming in from flights, revenue from the office and support from the Airport District would cover the rest of the cost.

“I think this is a good effort and I think $25,000 is good money that will turn a lot of things around in Santa Maria so I’m definitely in favor,” Councilwoman Etta Waterfield said. 

June 16, 2015  Santa Maria Times

Bill Bayliss sees the world in a way few others do: cruising the skies at about 1,500 feet doing around 35 mph.

He is one of the lucky few who get to pilot one of the most enduring symbols of corporate America, the Goodyear Blimp, which celebrated its 90th birthday in the skies above Santa Maria on Wednesday. Goodyear’s first blimp, Pioneer, was christened June 3, 1925. Bayliss said he is a member of a very small fraternity who get to fly slow enough and low enough to enjoy the view.

“The view is definitely one thing that never gets old,” he said as he steered the 190-foot long, 14,000-pound airship over Santa Maria. 

The Spirit of America stopped at the Santa Maria Public Airport for two days of passenger flights and tours as it embarked on its West Coast Farewell Tour. The crew of 24, including four pilots, will visit Livermore; Arcata; Eugene, Oregon; and Shelton, Washington, before returning to Sacramento on its way to its home base of Carson.

The venerable GZ-20A was christened on Sept. 5, 2002, by Letitia Driscoll, mother of New York City Police Officer Steve Driscoll who died when the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001. It is one of only two GZ-20A airships remaining in service in the world.

“Our claim to fame is we’re more rare than astronauts,” said Bayliss, a Great Britian-born but San Joaquin Valley-raised pilot who also is a flight instructor.

Along with the Budweiser Clydesdales, the Goodyear blimps are easily one of the most recognizable corporate symbols in American history, with the first — Pilgrim — taking flight in 1925. And over the past 60 years, they have flown over sporting events from PGA golf to NASCAR events to the Super Bowl. The also cover the Academy Awards, Rose Parade, X-Games and ESPYs.

History is very important to Bayliss and the crew of approximately two dozen assigned to the Spirit of America. Not only was the blimp christened in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., Goodyear airships have been serving the country since 1925 and never more importantly than during times of war.

Goodyear was founded in 1898 and almost drafted into service in both world wars. Between 1942 and 1944, 152 Navy airships were built at Wingfoot Lake, New Jersey, Moffett Field in San Jose and Akron (Ohio) Airdock and put into service.

Bayliss said the airship’s ability to stay airborne for long periods was an important part of the Navy’s convoy escort duty, and during World War II, there were no ships reported lost when a blimp was on watch.  “They have a lot of history, and that’s why it’s cool to fly something like this,” he said.

The Spirit of America will provide aerial coverage of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Chambers Bay, Washington, and the U.S. Senior Open at Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento before flying off into the sunset. Its tailfins and gondola, which has provided rides to thousands of lucky passengers over the past 13 years, will be displayed at a museum once it is retired.

Bayliss, who was a flight instructor before joining the Goodyear crew, said it takes close to a year of training to become certified to pilot an airship. He said most of the pilots have commercial flying or helicopter backgrounds. He also said it takes a huge effort by the ground crew to keep the airships flying.

Cruising over Santa Maria gives passengers an amazing view of the vast strawberry and vegetable fields covering the valley on each side of the city. It’s a perspective few people ever get.  “You actually get to enjoy the view,” Bayliss said.

In addition to the flights, the pilot and ground crew will be offering tours to members of the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Maria Valley.

The Spirit of America’s retirement will make way for an all-new fleet of NT Zeppelins for Goodyear, which should be ready in a couple of years, according to company spokeswoman Priscilla Tasker.

2015-06-04T00:00:00Z Spirit of American flies into sunsetBrian Bullock Santa Maria Times

June 4, 2015   •  By Brian Bullock – Santa Maria Times

Planes Upgraded to Jets Instead of Props

Passengers flying out of Santa Maria are now heading to San Francisco. Direct flights to Los Angeles are no longer.

The airport made the switch Wednesday with two United Express flights traveling to San Francisco International Airport from Santa Maria Public Airport at 6 a.m. and 2:03 p.m.

“The changeover happened this morning and we’re excited that the upgrade in aircraft and hub has gone so well,” Airport District General Manager Chris Hastert said Wednesday. 

The switch to San Francisco as a hub provides access to 25 unique one-stop destinations that are not offered by United at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), such as Atlanta, Ft. Lauderdale, Kansas City and Indianapolis. It also provides an improved international element, with access to new destinations including Paris, France; Chengdu, China; Frankfurt Germany and Osaka, Japan.

Airport officials said the switch represents a substantial increase in both the number of flights and seats available.

Not only has a change occurred in destination, but in aircraft. The service to San Francisco — operated by Skywest Airlines — will use Canadair Regional Jet 200s, which allow 50 passengers, instead of the 30-passenger Embraer EMB 120 turboprop aircraft which was used to fly to LAX.

Skywest recently announced it would be retiring the turboprop aircraft, which prompted airport officials to look into other options.

Orcutt resident Brian Steven said he sees the switch as a positive change. He flew out of Santa Maria on one of the turboprop aircrafts before the change was made, and arrived back in Santa Maria on Wednesday on one of the newly available jet flights.  “I love the fact that it’s jets, not props,” Steven said. “Not that I didn’t feel safe, but the props are too noisy.”  He also said it was handier for one of his common flight destinations: Boise, Idaho.

However, some travelers found immediate problems with the service change. Bruce Praet, who lives in Orange County, was in Santa Maria for business and had to fly north to San Francisco in order to fly south to his final destination of Los Angeles on Wednesday.

Pismo Beach resident Sherry Richardson was headed to Kansas City, Missouri, by way of San Francisco on Wednesday and had weather concerns.  “Last time I tried to fly through San Francisco, my flight was canceled and I had to go the next day, so I don’t like to take a chance on San Francisco,” Richardson said. “I miss the flights to LA.”

Hastert, however, said overall the changes have been well received and customer feedback has been positive.  “The larger, faster, smoother aircraft are providing an enhanced customer experience,” he said.

United Express flights to San Francisco will leave Santa Maria at 6 a.m and 2 p.m. daily. Arrivals from San Francisco will be at 1:32 and 11:47 p.m.

May 6, 2015  Santa Maria Times By Abby Hamblin

Flights from Santa Maria Public Airport are about to get easier with more options as United Airlines begins flying to and from San Francisco International Airport instead of Los Angeles International Airport on May 6.

With the change, travelers will have access to 35 unique one-stop destinations that are not offered at LAX and access to new international destinations, including Paris, France; Chengdu, China; Frankfurt, Germany; Taipei, Taiwan; and Osaka, Japan.

Chris Hastert, airport general manager, said the change was prompted by the announcement that Skywest was retiring the turboprop aircraft it has been using. That’s when airport officials thought it would be a good time to take a look at other ways to best address more of the airport’s needs.

The new United Express service, operated by Skywest, will replace the 30-passenger Embraer EMB 120 turboprop aircraft currently used on flights to L.A. with smoother, faster 50-passenger Canadair Regional Jet 200 aircraft. The aircraft will give the Santa Maria Airport a 67-percent increase in its available seating for travelers.

But Hastert said the airport didn’t want to add that capacity and not add more connections.

“Both San Francisco and Los Angeles are big hubs but United’s presence is a lot bigger at San Francisco than at Los Angeles,” Hastert said.

In May alone at the San Francisco Airport, there are 82 percent more flights on United and 85 percent more available seats on United than at LAX. That should give travelers more scheduling options.

Of course, along with enhanced flights travelers will notice a quieter, smoother ride as well, Hastert said.

The airport continues to work on its overall vision of adding new markets including to places like Denver and Seattle, Hastert said. However in recent years the fuel prices, economy and airline mergers had an effect on those discussions. He added that the climate is now changing for the better for airlines.

United Express flights to San Francisco will leave Santa Maria at 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily. Arrivals from San Francisco will be at 1:32 and 11:47 p.m.

Bookings on the new flights are now available at


3/25/15   Shelly Cone Contributing Writer – Santa Maria Times

Travelers using Santa Maria Public Airport will soon be flying on regional jets instead of turboprop aircraft and will have easier connections to dozens of cities as a result of upgrades announced today by the Airport District.

United Airlines flights serving the Santa Maria Public Airport will begin flying to and from San Francisco instead of Los Angeles on May 6.

That will enhance one-stop connections to the Central Coast’s currently most popular destinations, an airport spokesman said.

It will also make new international destinations available, including Paris, France; Chengdu, China; Frankfurt, Germany; Taipei, Taiwan; and Osaka, Japan.

The new United Express service, operated by Skywest, will replace the 30-passenger Embraer EMB 120 turboprop aircraft currently used on flights to Los Angeles with smoother, faster 50-passenger Canadair Regional Jet 200 aircraft.

United Express flights to San Francisco will leave Santa Maria at 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily. Arrivals from San Francisco will be at 1:32 and 11:47 p.m.

Bookings on the new flights are now available at

March 24, 2015  •  Staff report – Santa Maria Times

An Air Force Master Sgt. got a surprise welcome at Santa Maria Public Airport on Wednesday afternoon.

About 45 people, including more than a dozen uniformed airmen, shouted “Welcome home!” as Vanessa Boyd exited the secure area of the airport and walked through a corridor of supporters holding American flags.

Boyd, who is stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, thanked the gathered supporters after greeting her husband.  “I’m so happy,” she said.

Boyd was returning from a tour in Qatar, a small country on the Arabian Peninsula.  She was presented with a banner signed by supporters and given a high five from the St. Bernard dog that serves as the mascot of Welcome Home Military Heroes.

Robert Tolan, co-founder of the group, was on hand to personally greet Boyd.  “You can’t even really describe it,” Tolan said of the feeling he gets welcoming troops home from overseas.

The Navy veteran and his wife, Cheryl, started the nonprofit organization about four years ago after they found that there wasn’t any organized groups greeting servicemembers at the airport.

One of the troops they’ve welcomed home is their own son, a cavalry scout in the Army who served in Afghanistan.  “We wanted to let them know they’re appreciated,” Tolan said.

For more information about Welcome Home Military Heroes, visit

2/5/15  Santa Maria Times  Top of Form

2015-02-04T17:25:00Z 2015-02-04T22:50:16Z Welcome home: Air Force master sergeant returns from QatarKyle Harding Santa Maria Times

Kyle Harding

Martinez Back From Persian Gulf Deployment

It was a welcome home fit for a hero Tuesday as the community lined the corridor at the Santa Maria Public Airport to welcome home Petty Officer 3rd Class Vincent Martinez after a nine-month naval deployment to the Persian Gulf.

“I love being here. It feels great being home,” Martinez said after greeting friends and family.

The 2009 Nipomo High School graduate was deployed on the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, where he is an aviation boatswain’s mate.

During his deployment, he and his crew were part of the mission that made the first strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.  “We were the first ones to respond to the ISIS attacks, so I feel pretty accomplished about that,” he said.  Because of that experience, it was even more special for mom Tricia Martinez that her son was home.

“I’m so excited that he’s able to come home for Christmas and especially that he came home safe,” she said.  His younger brother, Alex, said he and his family had the opportunity to go to Virginia and see his brother’s ship arrive at port just after Thanksgiving.  “So that was really cool, but to get him home for Christmas break is just like the best feeling,” he said.

His dad, Ruben, said Martinez didn’t always have military aspirations, having worked at Little Jocko’s in Nipomo and The Swiss Restaurant and Bar in Santa Maria, but now he loves being in the Navy and loves what he does.  “I’m so proud of him, I can’t believe it,” Ruben said. “He’s made me so happy. He left here unsure, and he’s extremely happy with the choice he made.”

Adam Gutierrez, childhood friend of Martinez, waited in the airport with balloons and snacks for him. He said he was glad to have his friend back for a few weeks.  “He’s an all-out, outgoing guy,” Gutierrez said. “I’ve known him since the third grade, and we grew up together, and he’s been closest to me since then.”

Martinez will be home for a week and a half to celebrate the holidays before heading out again. He said he’s looking forward to relaxation, hanging out with friends and family and having some good home-cooked meals.

12-17-14  Santa Maria Times,  Santa Maria Times   Shelly Cone Contributing Writer