• More than 50 aircraft, numerous activities on deck
• 15k-plus expected Sat, Sun
• Event free, family-friendly, educational
A helicopter ripped across the clear blue sky over the Montrose County Tribute to Aviation at the Montrose Regional Airport Saturday morning. Six-year old Easton Langley traced the flight with his finger, jumped up and down and shouted.
“We got on lots of big planes,” Easton said. “I got to turn the steering wheel on this one.”
He pointed to the Navy’s titanic P-8 Poseidon, an aircraft designed for long-range anti-submarine and surface warfare as well as surveillance and recon.
The Poseidon is just one of more than 50 aircraft on display at this weekend’s free, family-friendly tribute, which runs 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., according to Katie Yergensen, Montrose County media relations manager.
“People are coming to see the aircraft,” she said of the well-attended third-year event.
“Everything is staged out on our ramps, so you have the opportunity to get up close and personal with the aircraft. Talk with the pilots. In most cases you can go inside a lot of the planes or helicopters, which is really neat. You can get the pilot’s bird’s eye view out of the cockpit.”
Indeed, those willing to pay can even get a bird’s eye view of the event itself from above in a vintage warplane.
“I fly that little yellow one out there and give rides,” said a jumpsuited pilot, Kent Taylor, out on the bustling airfield. Taylor, who lives in Crawford, just ‘hopped over’ the Black Canyon of the Gunnison to participate in the Commemorative Air Force’s showing at the tribute. He called the CAF a ‘flying museum,’ noting they have 165 planes in 80 locations across the U.S.
To the tribute, the CAF brought the biggest and smallest single engine bombers to participate in WWII — the TBM-3 Avenger and the Piper J-3 Cub, respectively.
“It was a basic trainer to kind of separate the men from the boys who were pilot wannabes,” Taylor said of the little yellow Piper.
“It’s one of the best collections of military aircraft of any airshow I’ve ever been to,” he added of this weekend’s tribute.
Taylor started flying in 1972 and said he has a personal philosophy of not flying anything he couldn’t afford to buy.
“I have a little aerobatic biplane that’s my personal plane and I enjoy going upside down and inside out,” he said.
Taylor added that the CAF is looking for members and donors after a multi-year, multi-hundred-thousand dollar restoration effort. The CAF doesn’t just fly, he noted, they also educate. Indeed, Taylor said this fall dozens of students from Montrose will head up to the CAF’s Grand Junction location to learn about history, aviation and to create a ‘flightpath for life,’ with regards to their own, personal goals.
Montrose locals Gordon and Marilyn Debruin have been attending the tribute airshow all three years — Gordon used to work at the airport, too.
“I just think it’s an amazing display of aircraft,” he said, adding he has a particular fondness for commemorative planes like the one Taylor flies.
“I think it’s neat how many families are bringing little kids here to see this,” Marilyn said.
“I’m amazed at the turnout for a town the size of Montrose,” Gordon added. “I think it’s a great thing.”
Lloyd Arnold, director of aviation at the Montrose Regional and Hopkins Field Airports, agreed the turnout on the first day of the weekend-long event was even better than he’d hoped for. Last year 10,000-15,000 attended and Arnold expects this year’s figures will be even larger.
“The community has been very receptive to the show and very supportive,” Arnold said. “You have a lot of families and a lot of kids taking part in activities out here. It’s been a great family event.”
Indeed, in addition to touring the numerous aircraft and chatting with civilian and military pilots and aviation experts, visitors also have the opportunity to check out several NASA exhibits — seeing Buzz Aldrin’s space suit and tasting freeze-dried ‘astronaut’ ice cream.
In addition to space food, organizers made sure to have plenty of terrestrial treats on hand for the many thousands who have, and will, pour through the tribute this weekend.
“We wanted to make this a family-friendly event, an event you could come to for the weekend, not just a couple hours,” said Arnold of this year’s expanded concessions offerings.
Kid-friendly events also included the coloring competition co-hosted by the Montrose Daily Press, which had drawn roughly 100 entries by Saturday morning.
And, for adults with a need for speed, the tribute also offers the opportunity to, for a fee, drive a cone course in a Ferrari.
The massive event is an ‘all hands on deck’ affair, the organizers said, and the product of a tremendous amount of teamwork and community support.
“The military has been very supportive and we’re grateful,” Arnold said.
Yergensen made sure to give a shout-out to the event’s presenters and sponsors — including the Montrose Regional Airport, Atlantic Aviation, Montrose County and Reams Construction Co.
“That’s one of the reasons why we can keep this event free for the public,” she said. “It’s a great celebration of aviation. We’re trying to showcase aviation education and the airport. The airport continues to grow and expand and it is the largest economic driver in Montrose County. So, it’s a pretty big deal for us and we’re excited.”
From his perspective at the airport, Arnold said he, too, was hugely grateful for the local and regional support.
“We’re happy to put it on for the public and for the children,” he said. “It’s a great learning experience. They get to be exposed to both civilian and military aviation and aircraft. I really think at the end of the day, we’re probably having a positive impact on the youth of the Western Slope.”
The Montrose County Tribute to Aviation Weekend continues today from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Montrose Regional Airport.
Tessa Cheek is the news editor of the Montrose Daily Press and a former Colorado State Capitol correspondent for The Colorado Independent. Follow her on Twitter @TessaCheek.