B-29 Superfortress Flew Missions in Japan and Korea

Come see the plane

FIFI the B-29 Superfortress and other visiting vintage airplanes will be available for tours and rides today from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission, which includes a tour of the B-29 cockpit, is $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 10-17 and free for children younger than 10. The price of rides in the planes ranges from $75 to $1,795. To book a ride, go to airpowertour.org.

The only flying B-29 Superfortress airplane — a World War II model — will be available for tours and rides today at the Santa Maria Public Airport along with other vintage military aircraft.

The B-29, on display from the Commemorative Air Force, is named FIFI and flew missions above Japan during WWII and Korea during the conflict on that peninsula, according to a press release from the organization. The fleet of planes landed Tuesday.

FIFI’s missions helped end war in the Pacific theatre, according to the press release. It was first flown in 1942 after the B-29 line was produced to replace the older B-17s and B-24s. The B-29 introduced longer ranges and greater bomb loads to the U.S. military presence than the older planes and continued in use in the Air Force until the late 1950s.

A P-51 Mustang, C-45 Expeditor, T-6 and Fairchild PT-19 will join the B-29 on display at the airport behind the Raddison Hotel. The P-51 line entered service in Europe in 1944 as a long-range escort fighter and destroyed 4,950 enemy aircraft, more than any other type of plane according to the release.

The CAF has a fleet of more than 150 vintage airplanes which it takes on tour throughout the country. Before coming to Santa Maria, the planes now sitting at the airport visited Bakersfield, Lancaster and Prescott, Ariz. After the All-America City, they will go on to Salinas, Modesto, Sacramento and four other stops.

CAF took possession of FIFI in the early 1970s after discovering that the craft was being used as a missile target at the U.S. Navy Proving Ground at China Lake in eastern Kern County. The plane flew for another 30 years until it was grounded in 2006. The plane then went through a four-year restoration process in which all four engines were replaced with custom engines. It began flying again in 2010.


May 28, 2014  Santa Maria Times

Probably nowhere on the Central Coast are America’s military personnel more recognized than in the Santa Maria Valley.

A number of monuments and facilities exist to show our appreciation to those who have served, who do serve and who will serve in the future. In the Santa Maria area alone we have the following:

The Veteran’s Memorial Center — This facility is currently managed and maintained by Santa Maria Parks and Recreation, and is a registered Historical Landmark. It was built to honor veterans of the Santa Maria Valley who served in world wars.

During its almost 80-year history, Marshal N. Braden Post 56 has continuously occupied the building. The members of the post were the original organizers to get the building built. It was constructed using CCC and WPA funds and labor.

Over the years, besides the American Legion, the following veterans organizations have called the Vets Hall home — Disabled American Veterans, Marine Corps League, VFW, Fleet Reserve, WWI Association, American Veterans United and Amvets.

The Freedom Monument — The Freedom Monument was dedicated in 2001 to remember those Santa Maria Valley veterans who have given their lives during times of war, but also to honor all veterans and military members still serving on active duty.

The Freedom Monument features six marble monoliths, each holding a plaque representing various branches of the service. It also includes a fountain and tile mural of a bald eagle. Each year, on or about Dec. 7, a different plaque or other tribute is dedicated. Past plaques have honored veterans who have died in the Vietnam War, Korean War and World War II. Recent additions have included plaques honoring women in the armed forces, Vandenberg AFB, and others.

Since its inception, the Freedom Monument has placed the names of over 100 Santa Maria Valley service men and women who have given their lives defending their country.

The Santa Maria Valley Military Wall of Honor — This latest tribute was officially dedicated on Nov. 8, 2013. While doing a tour of the airport terminal with Santa Maria Airport District General Manager Chris Hastert, I asked if an area of the terminal could be made available to create a tribute to all past, present and future military personnel. With this approval in hand, I solicited the help of Airport District Manager, Chamber of Commerce President Bob Hatch, and Chairman of the EDC David Cross. Bob and David were the driving force behind the Freedom Monument, which stands in front of the Abel Maldonado Youth Center in Santa Maria.

But it’s not just about memorials and monuments. Throughout the Santa Maria area, individuals and groups are making an effort every day to bring support to our active duty and veteran military. For example, the Elks has a monthly reminder in their newsletter to remember our veterans, the Marine Corps League runs the Toys for Tots campaign on behalf of the Marine Corps Reserve, the American Legion, Amvets, VFW and other organizations afford a place for veterans to connect with others who have served. Then there’s groups like the Welcome Home Veterans who gather at local airports to welcome military personnel returning from deployment; AmpSerf, a group which works with disabled vets by teaching them to surf; the Tin Can Sailors, comprised of personnel who have served on naval destroyers; and the American Legion Riders, who accompany our fallen warriors to their final resting place.

And so, we in the Santa Maria Valley say to our military “we care!”

Hugh Rafferty is the Chairman of Committee INC and a member of Coastal Valleys Detachment 1340 Marine Corps League.

May 22, 2014   Hugh Rafferty/Improving North County

The aircraft arrived last week because the drought and recent hot, dry and windy conditions have increased the risk of wildfires along the Central Coast and beyond.  In fact, fire and state emergency managers who gathered Monday to kick off Wildfire Awareness Week, May 5 through 11, said the foothills of Southern California are as dry now as they usually are in July or August, the height of the wildfire season.

A spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service said the planes were brought into Santa Maria early because of recent red flag warnings for extreme fire danger in Southern California.  The planes are usually stationed on the Central Coast through November.

Officials say aircraft can make a critical difference in controlling a wildfire, especially if they are deployed as soon as a blaze is reported.  “Aircraft are more effective in initial attack, the early stages of a fire before it gets up and takes off and gets large, and they cool the fire off for ground resources, hand crews and engines to be able to work close and extinguish the fire,” said Mark Nunez of the U.S. Forest Service.

The DC-10, the largest of the firefighting aircraft currently stationed at the airport, can carry about 12,000 gallons of retardant, Nunez said.  That can be spread over a mile-long area or used on fires as small as five acres, he said.

Firefighting agencies say the Santa Maria Public Airport is one of the prime air attack bases on the West Coast.

In addition to the tanker facility, the airport has a long runway and is strategically located between the volatile mountains of Southern California, the rugged Sierra Nevada to the east and the coastal ranges to the north and south.

Officials who launched Wildfire Awareness Week at Cal Fire’s Aviation Management Unit, located at McClellan Air Force Base, said this wildfire season has the potential to be even more destructive than usual.  With California is facing its third dry year, the parched grasses, brush and trees have become prime fuel.  Officials hope Wildfire Awareness Week will raise people’s consciousness of wildfire danger and actions they can take to reduce the risk to their homes and communities.

“The historic drought that is upon us makes wildfire preparedness more critical than ever,” said Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Office of Emergency Services.  “There’s a very high likelihood of well-above-normal (numbers of) fires and perhaps a chance of longer-lasting fires, which require more resources in order to fight them,” he said.

So far this year, California has already experienced more wildfires than normal, officials said.  As of April 26, more than 1,100 wilidfires have been reported in the state — more than double the average of the previous five years.

Even before this year’s deepening drought, forest officials were reporting longer fire seasons and more catastrophic megafires in California and other Western states.  More than half of California’s worst fires in recorded history have occurred since 2002, fire officials said.

As many as 90 percent of U.S. wildland fire are caused by humans — from campfires left unattended, burning debris, negligently discarded cigarettes and arson.

Residents, especially in rural areas, are advised to create a defensible space around their homes by clearing brush, thinning trees and removing combustible debris.

For more information, contact a local fire department, Cal Fire or Forest Service office.

May 6, 2014  •  Mike Hodgson / mhodgson@santamariatimes.com

Ornate Creations to be on Display at Free Town Center Gallery Exhibition

A vegetable harvest put to canvas, a slew of floral-patterned silk scarves, and a watercolor rendering of Central Coast cliffs: Each is a sampling of what visitors to the Town Center Gallery at the Radisson Hotel in Santa Maria will see Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Guests are welcome to the all-member exhibition of fine art, photography and three-dimensional crafts and sculpture, which will be held in the large meeting room adjacent to the main lobby of the hotel with an artist’s reception planned from 3 to 5 p.m. Participating crafters will include Hattie Stoddard, Beverly Johnson, Barbara Shepherd, Claudette Willard, Sharon Foster, Pat Stalter, John Card, Stephanie Palomarez, and Deborah L. Hildinger.

The principle purpose of the event is to bring art to the community through ongoing exhibits at the Santa Maria Airport and at the Radisson Hotel. The gallery also provides a scholarship each year for aspiring student artists and art-related workshops for children at the Santa Maria Public Library.

The exhibit bears especial significance to the community, according to Deborah Hildinger of Young Designs: Contemporary Fine Art.  “It provides a venue for the community to view and hopefully purchase the work of local artists in this area. It also provides a chance for the community to come and meet the artists,” she said.

Visitors can expect to peruse paintings on paper and canvas, watercolors, photography, painted silk scarves, prints, and crafts such as gourd vessels.

Hildinger wants the exhibit to become a recurring event.  “We are hoping that this will become another one of the gallery’s venues on a continuing basis that provides affordable arts and crafts to the community,” she said. “In addition, we want to bring to the public’s attention our vision to once again have a permanent gallery space.”

The success of exhibits like these, she said, depends on community support.  “ … We need community support from individuals, organizations, and companies to have this vision come to fruition.”

The Radisson Hotel is located at 3455 Airpark Drive beside the Santa Maria Public Airport.

For more information contact Hildinger at 805-264-5183 or email lvtwmn1@verizon.net.

 2/28/14  Santa Maria Times

Santa Maria Company ArtCraft is Behind Colorful Airplane Paint Job

2014-01-11T01:00:00Z Brilliant mural Hawaii-BoundBen Miller/bmiller@santamariatimes.com Santa Maria Times

In its first collaboration with Eugene, Oregon-based airplane artist and former aviator John Stahr, ArtCraft hopes to complete work on a mural for a Hawaii-bound tour plane on Monday. 

The mural depicts Hawaiian goddess of fire, Pele, coming out of a volcano on the right side of the Cessna’s tail and a hula girl with water flowing through her hands on the other. The scenes then descend onto the fuselage, depicting waves, a whale and islands in the distance.

Stahr has worked 12-hour days on the project for about five days in preparation for the plane flying to the Aloha State for use in the Big Island Air Company. ArtCraft, which is located by the Santa Maria Public Airport, has painted aircraft and worked on their interiors for more than 20 years, according to customer support representative, Michael Spingler.

The group is currently doing work for clients from Brazil to Idaho. While some clients seek simple stripe designs, he said projects like the colorful Hawaiian mural is what he hopes they will ask for.

“I like to see our customers come in here for a radically beautiful paint job,” Spingler said.

January 11, 2014 •  Ben Miller/bmiller@santamariatimes.com

Crowd at SM Airport Welcomes First Returning Military Members of 2014

2014-01-05T00:55:00Z Veterans, civilians greet Vandenberg-based airmenBen Miller/bmiller@santamariatimes.com Santa Maria Times

When Rich Theis was in the Air Force in the 1970s, he saw soldiers and service members come home to disgust.  “When a lot of the guys came home from Vietnam, they were met at the airport by booing, hissing, spitting people,” he said.

On Saturday, he personally showed up to provide a more positive response. Theis was one of about 60 people who stood in the Santa Maria Public Airport terminal, waving flags and shouting “Welcome home!” as four airmen arrived from a six-month deployment to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“I didn’t want them coming home to an empty terminal and nobody saying ‘Thanks for your service,’” Theis said.

The four Air Force members were Senior Airmen Max Morell and Jordan Scott and Staff Sgts. Todd Zahler and Owen Coulombe, all assigned to the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

It was the first time the organizing group, Welcome Home Military Heroes, greeted returning service members in 2014, according to co-founder Cheryl Tolan. Since the Tolan family attended the first 10-person welcoming in 2010, the organization has held events for more than 500 men and women.

The group was set to hold a second event late Saturday night for two more returning service members, and will host a third Friday.

The crowd of supporters, ranging from young children to World War II veterans, cheered and waved a sea of flags as the four men walked into the airport Saturday afternoon. A line of participants steadily shook their hands and gave thanks for their service in between the airmen signing Welcome Home Military Heroes flags, posing for pictures and greeting friends.

The airmen didn’t expect the crowd of people waiting for them, and all wore smiles when they first saw the mass of participants waving flags and signs. Coulombe said he never received a welcome like that one after he returned from a previous deployment to Iraq.

Morell, who has been deployed three other times, said this greeting was more personal than any he’s experienced.  “It’s definitely a morale booster,” Morell said. “I’m very happy to see them. I’m glad we can affect the community like that.”

Several of the people in the crowd were wearing the leather jackets and patches of the Patriot Guard, and more were veterans. But Theis said anybody can and should show their support for returning service members.  “Anybody can show up,” he said. “You know, you don’t have to be on a bike. You can be in a car, you can be on a freakin’ tricycle. You don’t have to be military. You just show up and say thanks.”

January 5, 2014 •  Ben Miller/bmiller@santamariatimes.com

I would like to thank all who made the idea of a Military Wall of Honor a reality.

Thanks to the Santa Maria Public Airport District Board of Directors for setting aside a special area for this tribute. Thanks to the Airport’s General Manager Chris Hastert, the Chamber of Commerce President Bob Hatch, and Economic Development Commission Chairman David Cross for helping coordinate the design and the effort to get it established. The Chamber of Commerce also fronted the funds to get this tribute dedicated in time for the Veteran’s Day weekend.

Thanks to all those who donated with me so the Chamber could be reimbursed in full for the cost of the flags.

Thanks to Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian for taking part in the dedication on Nov. 8, and Congresswoman Lois Capps for presenting an American flag flown over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Finally, thanks to all past, present and future members of our armed forces for your dedication to your country. You are the reason this tribute exists!


January 2, 2014  Hugh Rafferty

Capps Presents Flag to be Mounted on Airport Display

An American flag that once waved over Capitol Hill now will make its home at the Santa Maria Public Airport, where the Wall of Honor has slowly been taking shape during the past few months.

Congresswoman Lois Capps presented the flag Friday to Hugh Rafferty, the driving force behind creating the military tribute inside the airport terminal.  “Whether you’re coming or going, this is the last image that you see,” Capps said about the Wall of Honor that displays the flags of every branch of the military, as well as a POW/MIA flag. “Aren’t you proud?”

The flagpoles stand in front of a large American flag backdrop, honoring all military service members. Additionally, the area provides a patriotic place for individuals to snap photographs when welcoming or seeing off military members.

Chris Hastert, Airport General Manager, said the space that’s situated in the waiting area is often used by military families that pose for pictures in front of the flags.  “We see that a lot on our Facebook page,” Hastert said, adding airport management also has received positive feedback about the wall from community groups that stage military welcome home events at the facility.

The small airport greets numerous returning military members throughout the year, in part, because of its close proximity to Vandenberg Air Force Base.

About 30 people — close to half military veterans — gathered inside the terminal for Friday’s flag presentation. Capps told the group she specifically requested the flag be flown over Capitol Hill before bringing it to the Central Coast.

“I am honored to present this flag to be displayed on the military Wall of Honor,” she said. “This living tribute will serve as a reminder of all the men and women who have sacrificed to keep our country safe.”  The congresswoman also said the airport was the perfect home for the flag, which will be professionally encased and mounted on the wall.  “I don’t know of a city on the Central Coast that’s more patriotic than Santa Maria,” she added.

Rafferty got the idea for the wall after seeing a banner in the airport waiting area that read ‘Welcome Home.’  “If you weren’t looking up, you didn’t see it,” he said. “I thought it wasn’t good enough. We needed to do more.”  The Marine Corps veteran also said he was speechless when he learned Capps would be presenting the flag in person at the airport.  “It’s beyond words,” Rafferty said. “I expected to get a package in the mail.”

The Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce and other community leaders also helped make the project become a reality. Funding — about $2,000 — for the wall was donated by local residents, Rafferty said.

Marty McGrath, a Navy veteran and member of the U.S. Marine Corps League, attended the flag presentation ceremony and said her heart swells with pride every time she looks at the Wall of Honor.  “This will be really nice,” McGrath said. “I love the size of that big (American) flag.”

December 21, 2013  •  April Charlton/acharlton@santamariatimes.com

Santa Appears as Allegiant Air Holds Gift Drive at Santa Maria Airport

Allegiant Air held a drive that brought in more than 35 donations for the Make-A-Wish Foundation on Thursday at the Santa Maria Public Airport.

The airline collected donations in the form of toys and travel items for children whose wishes involve traveling, said Airport District General Manager Chris Hastert. Allegiant Air also gave out two free tickets to Las Vegas to a person who donated to the drive.

The airline partnered with Make-A-Wish at the airport last year as well, Hastert said. The company also is running a promotion for the charity online — it filmed a crew painting the Make-A-Wish logo onto one of the airline’s new planes and then started donating $1 for every view the video receives on YouTube, Hastert said.

Make-A-Wish fulfills the wishes of children with serious illnesses and disabilities.

Tyler Brooks, his wife and two children drove to the airport from Arroyo Grande to donate bath toys. Brooks said they heard about the event through his wife’s cousin, who works at the airport.  His children also were excited to come, because it meant they could take a photo with Santa Claus, who sat next to the donation table complete with a printer to churn out pictures.  “Of course, they’re always excited when Santa’s in town,” Brooks said.

Santa Maria Times – 12/20/13

Multiple Agencies Supported Creation of Wall

2013-11-09T01:20:00Z Wall of Honor for military members dedicated at airportBen Miller/bmiller@santamariatimes.com Santa Maria Times

Every month, about 8,000 people come through the Santa Maria Public Airport. Many of them include military members, some of whom are coming back home.  All of them will now walk by a tribute to the nation’s military men and women.

A gathering of about 30 people watched on Friday as community leaders dedicated the airport’s new Wall of Honor, which sits just inside the front entrance to the terminal. The wall features eight flags on poles representing each branch of the military, prisoners of war and those missing in action, the state of California and the United States. All eight flagpoles are in front of a large American flag backdrop. 

Hugh Rafferty, a member of the Marine Corps League, originally came up with the idea.  “As I walked through this terminal one day, with the general manager of the airport, (I saw a banner) … up here that said ‘Welcome Home,’” Rafferty said. “When I looked at it, I thought that wasn’t good enough for what these people do.”  Rafferty, the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce and other community leaders helped to make the wall a reality.

“This will just give (returning service members) an awesome place to take some pictures, enjoy the moment with their family,” said Chris Hastert, the airport’s general manager, during the dedication.

Jack Pellerin, whose only brother died while serving on a Merchant Marine ammunition ship in World War II, gave an invocation during the ceremony.  “I have great respect for all veterans,” Pellerin said.

Rafferty said the airport services quite a few returning military members because of its proximity to Vandenberg Air Force Base, but that the wall will exist for all people coming into the region through the airport.  “This is really a tribute to all military men and women, past, present and future,” he said. “This is not a memorial, this is (an) everyday (way) to say ‘thank you.’”

November 9, 2013 1:20 a.m. • Ben Miller/bmiller@santamariatimes.com