Wild West Air Fest brings back memories Saturday in Steamboat
September 1, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Alma Harris clasped her hands together and raised them above her head as plane propellers and engines roared in the distance behind her.
"Wow," she breathed. "At last. Three cheers."
Less than an hour earlier, Harris, who turns 96 years old in a few months, had been helped onto a C-47 aircraft at the eighth annual Wild West Air Fest to take a ride she had looked forward to all her life.
"I've been in almost every kind of airplane," she said with a youthful air of excitement. "And I still don't believe it. It's like science fiction."
The widow of a former U.S. Air Force pilot and a resident of the Haven Assisted Living Center in Hayden, Harris said she never had the chance to ride in the transport plane while her husband, Robert Harris, piloted them for paratrooper training during World War II.
"It was wonderful," she said, comfortably settled in her wheelchair after the flight. "The scenery, everything was beautiful."
On the ride with her was her daughter Connie Saddlemire, of Steamboat Springs, and a manila envelope with a few black and white photos of the young Harris couple standing outside the L1 airplane before and after Harris' first ride on a military plane with her husband about 70 years ago.
Robert Harris retired from the Air Force a lieutenant colonel in 1966 and died in 2002.
After the flight, Alma Harris reminisced about her husband and his career as a weather officer in the Philippines, the 16 months the family lived in Taiwan and his legacy as a meteorologist, father, teacher and pilot.
Then she turned to Saddlemire and said wistfully, "Now, I want to fly in a helicopter."
The Wild West Air Fest on Saturday was a flight down memory lane for some and, for others, an introduction to the wide world of aviation. The event continues from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday and costs $3 for children and $6 for adults.
Throughout the day, there are radio-controlled aircraft demonstrations, guest speakers, flyovers and opportunities to ride in vintage aircraft.
The most coveted of those is the TBM Avenger, a World War II bomber that is one of only a dozen still flying and one of two in the world that is available for commercial rides. This particular plane is based in Grand Junction, and rides cost $495.
Kris and Mike Piazza, who have a home in Steamboat, opted to go up in the Avenger for the ride of their lives.
The nimble plane soared and dove across the valley, simulating bombing dives over Catamount Lake and skimming the Steamboat Springs Airport field nearly sideways.
"It was fabulous," Mike Piazza said, a little out of breath and wide-eyed after he got off the plane. "As the pilot of a regular aircraft, it's so much fun to get in these fighters."
For the young future pilots in the crowd, Wings Over the Rockies provided a Kidspace, where children made rubber band rockets, wooden and candy airplanes and played on video game flight simulators.
Thirteen-year-old Corwyn Morgan said he wants to go into the Air Force, the Navy or the Coast Guard as a pilot.
"This is a big one," he said about the weekend's event. "The air show is one of my favorite times of year."
To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@ExploreSteamboat.com
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