Celebrating Aviation
September 5, 2016
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  • Wearing a vest and protective eye gear, Torque boarded the EMU 309, ready for takeoff.

    But first, the K9 officer stole the show during Wings Over Watsonville on Saturday, greeting the crowds who came to hug her, take pictures and give her a belly rub.

    Kris Stone, Torque’s handler, said the K9 officer is meant to represent the more than 4,000 military dogs that were lost during the Vietnam War.

    Vietnam War veteran Geoff Carr, executive director of Redwood City-based EMU Inc., which was participating in Wings Over Watsonville for the second time, said the organization aims to preserve the history of the Huey Helicopter and those who served in Vietnam.

    The EMU 309 was purchased from the Sacramento Sheriff’s Office, who were using it as a backup aircraft. In poor shape, Carr and others in the organization took less than a year restoring the helicopter back to its original glory.

    Unfortunately, that was not the fate of many of the other helicopters used during the war, Carr noted, adding that they were mostly scrapped.

    “If individuals don’t [restore them], they just get turned into beer cans,” he said.

    Since the restoration, EMU Inc. has taken the helicopter to a number of air shows across the state, and Carr said he began to notice the effect it had on veterans.

    “It’s taken on a broader meaning,” he said.

    Fellow Vietnam veteran John Dubpernell was one such veteran who found himself drawn to it.

    “It caught my eye,” said Dubpernell, who now serves as event coordinator for the organization. “I was just amazed by what they’ve done.”

    Wings Over Watsonville is now in its second year, after financial constraints and liability issues caused officials to retool the Fly-In and Airshow after its 50th year in 2014. It is now a free one-day event meant to showcase the value the Watsonville Municipal Airport provides, featuring “working aircraft” from the California Highway Patrol, CALSTAR and others.

    “The Fly-In is absolutely great,” Mayor Felipe Hernandez said. “It illustrates what an asset the airport is.”

    City Councilman Lowell Hurst spent a portion of the event shuttling guests back and forth with a tractor.

    “It’s an important event to bring people together and celebrate the airport,” he said.

    Returning this year was SafeLaunch, an interactive exhibit that allows children to paint their dreams on the side of a Millennium Edition Cessna Skylane owned by retired Navy Commander Ron Cuff.

    SafeLaunch is meant to bring awareness to the risk of drug and alcohol addiction among young people. According to Janet Rowse, who co-founded the nonprofit with Cuff, a 14-year-old exposed to an addictive substance is 600 percent more likely than adults to become addicted to it.

    Cuff said he co-founded the organization because he felt responsible for the “epidemic” his “Baby Boomer” generation brought about with its drug culture.

    “A good life is like a good flight,” he said. “It takes a careful plan and an alert mind, one not fogged by drugs or alcohol, to reach your life destination.”