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High-flying San Diego.

It's been called "Air Capital of the United States." Visit the big air show and an aircraft carrier this month. Stop by the aerospace museum any time

In the early days of aviation, back when the loop-the-loop and night flights represented the ultimate in derring-do, flying's pioneers flocked to San Diego to take advantage of the mild weather that let them fly year-round. Primitive machines buzzed the skies, and it wasn't long before the city had won the nickname "Air Capital of the United States." Today, San Diego celebrates its flying legacy on a regular basis. The excellent aviation museum merits a visit any time, and two local airfields often offer good spotting of unusual aircraft. This month, the second Air/Space America show brings together planes from the U.S. and other countries. May 19, you can also visit an aircraft carrier.

Air/Space America, May 5 to 13

Created in 1988 as an American answer to international expositions in Paris and Farnborough, England, the biennial Air/Space America extravaganza shows off the latest aviation advances, with lots of flying lore and glimpses into the future as well. San Diego hosts the high-tech show at Brown Field, 17 miles southeast of downtown off Interstate 805. Aircraft from around the world will be represented. The Russians are probably coming, with an armada that includes the An-225 cargo transport (at 600 tons, the world's largest operational airplane) and the Su-27 fighter, flying at 2.3 times the speed of sound. Exhibits from Canada, China, and Sweden will also be there. May 5 and 6, the Thunderbirds--the Air Force's precision flying team--will have you holding your breath with two spectacular shows. Organizers hope the Air Force will also bring the Stealth bomber and fighter. May 12 and 13, there will be a display by civilian precision pilots. Each weekday, the exposition focuses on specific industry areas, such as defense (May 7), space (May 8), and business and general aviation (May 10). Be prepared for crowds. Traffic was a problem at 1988's Air/Space show; steps have been taken to avoid a recurrence, but you're encouraged to take the San Diego Trolley to the Palm Avenue or San Ysidro stations (a 30-minute ride from downtown), then board shuttle buses. Air show grounds are open 8 to 6 daily, but arrangements were incomplete at our press time, so be sure to call for up-to-date schedules; (800) 247-2055. Admission is $15 at the gate ($12 in advance), $7 ($5) for ages 7 through 12, $10 ($7) for students, seniors, and military; reduced multiday admissions are available.

Naval aviation in San Diego

Naval aviation has a long history in San Diego, dating back to Glenn Curtiss's test flights at North Island in 1911. Still a naval facility today, North Island invites you to visit the carrier Ranger on May 19 from 10 to 3; call (619) 545-8168. July 28 and 29, Miramar Naval Air Station will host a show featuring the Blue Angels, the Navy's counterpart to the Thunderbirds. Other events include biplane demonstrations and displays of World War II--vintage aircraft. Miramar is 13 miles north of downtown San Diego, off Interstate 805 at Miramar Road. For details, call 537-4082.

Where to find more flying

For informal airplane-watching, locals recommend Gillespie Field in El Cajon, and Montgomery Field, 7 miles north of San Diego off State 163. Look for restored vintage craft and experimental planes flying in and out of these fields. The Confederate Air Force, dedicated to preserving World War II combat aircraft, has its local base at Gillespie and opens its hangar most Saturdays; call 448-4505. For other activities here, such as experimental aircraft displays, call 448-3101.

Aviation history in a museum

The scene of many aviation firsts, San Diego has been the manufacturing hub for wonders from the Spirit of St. Louis to the Atlas rocket. To appreciate fully the city's aeronautical significance, visit the aerospace museum in Balboa Park. For a sense of the speed with which aviation has developed, be sure to see the museum's transportation mural, by artist Juan Larrinaga. In the early 1930s, he was commissioned to depict the march of transportation from prehistoric times to the future. Walk to the end of this mural and you'll see what the artist's vision conjured for the then far-off 1980's: flying saucers with propellers, and strange pointy-nosed craft that owe more to art deco than to aerodynamics.

San Diego aviation back to Lindbergh--and earlier

Four men and died trying to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, and Charles Lindbergh had no desire to become the fifth. In 1927, impressed with San Diego manufacturer T. Claude Ryan's innovative M-1, with its wings above the fuselage, Lindbergh hire him to build a similar plane for his transatlantic attempt. Ryan built the plane in 60 days. After limited testing, Lindbergh flew to the East Coast, across the Atlantic, and on into history. The Spirit of St. Louis was named after the home of the pilot's financial backers, but it more truly embodies the spirit of San Diego aviation. Some historians argue that San Diego aviation dates to 1883, when an engineer flew a glider between Chula Vista and the Mexican border. Less debated is the city's role as the terminus for the first transcontinental flight, in 1923, and the inauguration of year-round airline service between San Diego and Los Angeles in 1925. At the San Diego Aerospace Museum and International Aerospace Hall of Fame, you can see a replica of the Spirit of St. Louis, as well as restored vintage aircraft, and learn about such local manufacturers as Consolidated Aircraft, the maker of World War II's most important bomber, the B-24 Liberator. Admission is $4, $1 ages 6 through 17; hours are 10 to 4:30 daily; call (619) 234-8291.
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Title Annotation:air show and aerospace museum; includes related article on San Diego aviation history
Date:May 1, 1990
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