By Galen Patterson
The San Gabriel Valley Air Fair is scheduled for Oct. 27-28. The Air Fare celebrates flight in the San Gabriel Valley annually and offers rides to patrons. This year is geared toward family entertainment, according to organizer Gabe Lopez.
Mission Flight, a volunteer organization of pilots, will be taking children with special needs on private flights in small aircraft with all expenses covered. For everyone else interested in flights, a nominal fee will allow members of the public to be a passenger on the aircraft. Lopez calls it “an inspirational flight for life.”
Lopez wants to spread the word that the world needs pilots now more than ever. “The last big push for pilots was around the Vietnam timeframe,” and since major airlines mandate retirement at the age of 65 since 2009, according to FAA regulations. The older pilots are quickly approaching the age in which they will no longer be flying. This pilot deficit is what Lopez is trying to curb by inspiring the community with his love for flight.
Gabe Lopez is the son of 1st Lieutenant Edward Lopez, a fighter pilot in Korea and World War II. Lopez himself has held a pilot’s license for more than 40 years and admittedly loves it. Among the ability to dodge traffic and feel absolute freedom, Lopez says the perks of being a pilot are numerous. “The convenience of being able to fly out to Catalina for lunch is fantastic.”
Historical aircraft is expected to make an appearance, including a P-51 Mustang, the U.S.’s answer to the masterfully built German Messerschmitt in WWII, and a Yak-50, a Russian single-engine aircraft from the same time frame.
Arcadia and Monrovia hold an illustrious history of aviation together in the San Gabriel Valley. Female aviator Pancho Barnes, learned to fly in Arcadia. Barnes went on to be a movie stunt pilot, break Amelia Earhart’s air-speed record, and be well known for her skill as a businesswoman. A 1988 film starring Valerie Bertinelli portrays Barnes’ life in true Hollywood fashion.
Arcadia also trained Zeppelin pilots and spotters during the First World War at the former airport, now the site of a golf course near Santa Anita.
Monrovia played host to legendary comedians Laurel and Hardy, as they filmed in Monrovia on at least one occasion.
The San Gabriel Valley once had many individual airports, “there was almost one in every city,” says Lopez. Today, the destruction of the airports in the name of development has resulted in the San Gabriel Valley Airport remaining the last marker of a time when air travel was new, exciting and widespread.