Steamboat’s Wild West Air Fest links past, present aviation |

Steamboat’s Wild West Air Fest links past, present aviation

Annual event is Saturday and Sunday at Steamboat Springs Airport

Nicole Inglis

Crew chief Steve Nelson works on a Douglas DC-3 at the Steamboat Springs Airport on Friday afternoon. The plane is one of several that will be featured in this weekend's Wild West Air Fest. The event, which runs from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, will include a tribute to the troops, a radio-controlled airplane show, a motor glider demonstration and a variety of airplanes including several vintage models.

— In the army-green cockpit of the Grumman TBM Avenger that sits on the runway at the Steamboat Springs Airport, among a series of dials and switches, a simple analog clock ticks away its temporal beat.

It began ticking in 1945, and it hasn't stopped.

Rob Duncan, who volunteers with the Commemorative Air Force to fly and take care of the plane, said he and the rest of the crew wind the clock every eight days.

"When you're up there, you think about how brave those young men were," Duncan said about flying the Avenger, which was the largest single-engine plane flown in World War II. The plane was a bomber and held giant torpedoes in its belly. Its pilots, like former President George H.W. Bush, had to fly dangerously close to targets and pull away at the last second while traveling more than 300 mph.

"They were picking on the biggest ships, the biggest targets," Duncan said. "You can point the nose down like you're going at a target, and you think about how this is just made of aluminum. A bullet would go right through it."

The Avenger is one of 16 airplanes, modern and vintage, featured in this weekend's Wild West Air Fest.

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The sixth annual event begins today at 9 a.m. and runs until 3 p.m. Admission is $5 and is good for both days. Airplane and helicopter rides are available for purchase, and costs vary by machine.

The festivities will be punctuated by guest speakers and a noon tribute to the troops by local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars members.

Avenger pilot Bob Thompson said some of his favorite moments at the Air Fest are when veterans who worked on or near the planes on display are touched by memories.

"It's history, living history," Thompson said. "You see a grandfather, and he tells a kid, 'I used to fly these,' and the kid goes, 'I didn't know that.' It's a vehicle to connect families."

Air Fest committee member Mike Forney said family fun and aviation awareness are at the heart of the event. Representatives from the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum in Denver will offer KidScape activities again this year.

The educational activities will take place in the Mountain Flight Service Hangar from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 2 p.m. Children can make airplanes out of candy and build balsam rockets, Forney said.

"I'm out here emceeing, and I'm having to duck rockets made by 5-year-olds," he said.

Aside from the vintage warplanes, there are several flight trainers, modern planes and helicopters on display and available for rides.

"I think it brings families together to see what aviation is about," Forney said. "It's touching and feeling history, but it's also seeing that aviation today is things like rescue helicopters and emergency ambulance service."

And perhaps one day, modern aircraft will be on display at a future Air Fest, with their digital clocks still ticking through the minutes of aviation history.


Events for today and Saturday

7:30 a.m. Dawn Patrol fly-over

9 a.m. Air Fest gates open

11 a.m. Guest speaker Christina Olds, daughter of World War II fighter pilot ace Robin Olds

Noon. Tribute to the troops and Robin Olds

12:15 p.m. Guest speaker Maj. Gen. Patrick Halloran

1:15 p.m. Radio-controlled airplane show

1:45 p.m. Carbon Cub SS demonstration

If you go

What: Sixth annual Wild West Air Fest

When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Where: Steamboat Springs Airport, 3495 Airport Circle, off of Elk River Road

Cost: Admission is $5. Airplane and helicopter ride costs vary. For more information, visit http://www.steamboat-cha…