Aviation lovers from across California and neighboring states gathered at Castle Airport on Thursday for the opening day of the 18th annual West Coast Festival of Giants.
The event, dubbed as the second-largest of its kind in the country, is expected to attract about 200 model aircraft pilots throughout its four-day run. Pilots use the event as a time to share their enthusiasm for model aircraft with other aficionados and show off their radio-controlled planes.
The festival, which will continue through Sunday, kicked off at around noon. Many families, like the Hallinans from Nevada, arrived early Thursday. Pat Hallinan, 48, has been flying model aircraft for more than 40 years.
This is his seventh consecutive time coming to Merced for the aircraft festival and the fifth year he’s brought along his 12-year-old daughter Katie.
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“We drive in every year for this; it’s the one big event we would not miss,” Hallinan said. The family brought four propeller planes, and every year they try to get in about 15 flights, he said.
Katie, who usually serves as her dad’s spotter, is now allowed to join in on the flying.
“This is always a fun time,” Katie said. “I love watching the planes and doing other things, too, like riding my bike out here.”
Hallinan said the event is ideal for a family barbecue and a long, stress-free weekend.
Jim Middleton, 60, of Brentwood, brought along his Global Jet, a turbine-powered aircraft. The model aircraft, which costs about $6,000 to build and maintain, hits speeds of more than 200 miles per hour. Planes at the festival, however are restricted to under 200 mph, organizers said.
Scott Malta, president of the Merced-based Central California Model Flyers Club – the organization responsible for putting on the festival – said the aircraft that are flown represent many eras of aviation. Replicas of military aircraft from World Wars I and II, as well as the Korean and Vietnam wars are displayed and flown.
After 5 p.m., pilots are also allowed to fly even the most “outlandish” aircraft, as long as it’s legal, Malta explained. “No part of this is a contest; it’s all about having fun with friends and family,” he said.
Malta believes one of the reasons the event does so well every year is because of the location. “This (Castle) really is a premium flying site,” he said.
Flying starts at 9 a.m. and runs to about 5 p.m. each day, but spectators are welcome to stay for the night flying.
“At about 9 p.m, when it’s really dark, we have some (aircraft) flying with lights – it’s definitely a must-see,” Malta said.
Admission to the event is free, with a $5 daily or $10 full-event charge for vehicle parking. Free shuttle service will be available Sunday to transport people to and from Castle Air Museum, where it will be Open Cockpit Day.