Airport Appreciation Day in Cottonwood Saturday

Cottonwood's inaugural Airport Appreciation Day will honor World War II fighting ace Ralph Wandrey Saturday. There will be fly-overs, vintage airplanes and classic cars and tractors, all at the Cottonwood Airport, 1001 W. Mingus Ave. The day kicks off with a balloon launch at 6:30 a.m. and a pancake breakfast at 7:30. There will be plenty of food, vendors and fun. Gate admission is $2 for adults, and children under 12 are free - a little more if you drop in for breakfast.

If it sounds familiar, perhaps it is, and but it sounds like something entirely new.

Wayne "Butch" Hunt originally put together a car show at the airport nearly 20 years ago. "I am more of a car guy. I love airplanes, but I am not a pilot. It started as a cruise from Safeway. We got permission to use a car lot near the Legion Hall. And then a guy that was a pilot suggested the car show be moved to the airport and planes could be displayed as well."

That show combining cars and planes continued every year until the last few when the show was no longer allowed on the airstrip as a "security" measure, as the wave of Homeland Security spread.

"That was a real kick in the pants," Hunt recalls. "I heard all kinds of stories, but to tell you the truth, I don't know why."

"There is a lot of misconception about that," says Al Gradijan, chairman of the Cottonwood Airport Commission. "We were not worried about Osama bin Laden. We were talking about security for the airplanes. They never gave us notice and a lot of owners don't want kids banging into their aircraft."

"We want people to look at the aircraft, but you won't be able to walk up and touch them this year. Aircraft are delicate and expensive."

This year, the show planes will be on one end of the airstrip and the general aviation craft will be on the other.

Under the new banner of Airport Appreciation Day, there will be more emphasis on the aircraft and less on the classic cars, tractors and other vehicles, but there will also be plenty of ground vehicles too.

Gradijan told the Cottonwood Council recently, the event will be to "promote the airport to the aviation community and to promote the airport to the citizens of Cottonwood; a lot of them don't know we have an airport."

The airport community has big plans to show it off a whole lot of flying gear.

Gradijan says there will be some aerial displays and lot of collector planes on the ground.

A presentation at noon will honor Wandrey, the last remaining WWII flying ace in Arizona. Nearly 90-years-old with a memory as sharp as a tack, "Iron Pants" Wandrey flew 200 missions in the Southwest Pacific theater under Douglas MacArthur. He had six confirmed "kills" of Japanese Zeros and 12 more probable kills.

Wandrey was also a wingman for the "Ace of Aces" Richard "Bing" Bong, the highest-scoring ace, having shot down 40 Japanese planes. Wandrey was also served as an escort for a Charles Lindberg's visit to New Guinea.

He will be honored with a fly-over of a plane he never flew, the F-16.

Before that tribute, at 11:30 a.m., Gradijan says that a "Missing Man" formation will be flown to honor Paul Haynie, "a world class aviator," whose small plane went down northeast of the Cottonwood Airport in June. He was a pilot for Frontier Airlines.

Four Stearman bi-planes, in traditional WWII paint, will fly the formation to honor Haynie.

The Cottonwood air strip and the sky overhead will be filled with planes, some exotic and rarely seen in Central Arizona.

You'll see a Grumman HU-16 Albatross Coast Guard rescue plane with an 80-foot wingspan, capable of landing on ground or water and a Curtiss P-6 Hawk.

There will be the Chinese Nanchang Yakovlev Yak and a U.S. T-28 Trojan trainer that was also used for counter-insurgency in Vietnam.

There's is a T-6 Navy SNJ trainer, a Aero L-39 Czechoslovak jet, like the one used in the James Bond movie, Tomorrow Never Dies.

Another Russian bi-plane, an Antonov AN-T, built for over 45-years and supplied to Russia, North Korea and China will also be on display as well as a T-34.

There will also be experimental planes and contemporary ones as well.

Hand-gliders will be landing about 1 p.m. after a launch from Mingus Mountain. Fire engines from local companies and medical helicopters will also be on display as well as hot rods and specialty cars. There will be vendors and a number of non-profit organizations.

Hog Wild, winner of the Rhythm & Ribs best taste award, will be on hand for the air and vehicle show.

It is all sponsored by Country Bank, Larry Green Chevrolet, Cottonwood Hyundai, Starr Aviation and Yavapai Broadcasting.

For more information contact Tim Costello at (928) 634-8033 or Jim Moeny at 649-2255

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