Aviators’ interests soar at annual Vero Beach Aviation Day

VERO BEACH – An estimated 4,000 flying enthusiasts turned out to the Vero Beach Municipal Airport for its annual Aviation Day to ooh and aah over about 50 aircraft ranging from experimental and homemade machines to historic warcraft and modern fighters.

“It’s wonderful,” said Jeani Haryslak of the event. “It’s just amazing.”

Haryslak and her husband, Larry, marveled over the cockpit of the HC-144 Coast Guard plane named “The Ocean Sentry” typically stationed in Miami.

“I have a cellphone I can’t even work,” Haryslak said, explaining that she’d never before seen so many buttons on the dash of a plane’s cockpit.

“That was reminiscent for us,” Larry Haryslak said of touring the Coast Guard plane, explaining that they used to live near the coast up north and would see the Coast Guard fly missions.

Lt. Commander Bryan Begin has piloted The Ocean Sentry for three years.

“It takes a lot of practice,” he said of handling all the buttons on the dash – a very frequently asked question of those who toured the plane during Aviation Day.

Vero Beach Municipal Airport Director Eric Menger said that, while some people were content to view the planes and tour ones that were open for tours, others – for a price – caught a seat on the B-25 Mitchell Bomber for a short flight.

The bomber responded after the attack of Pearl Harbor, by flying missions over Japan. The rides cost $495, Menger said, and at full capacity – eight or nine seats – would barely cover the cost of the flight.

Menger said it is important to provide opportunities to the public to get interested in aviation.

He recalled that when he was 5, his dad took him on a helicopter ride – from that point, Menger was hooked on aviation and later became a Navy pilot.

For at least one boy who came out to Aviation Day, the flying bug seemed to have been caught.

Mark Land, who attended the event with his parents, Michele and Greg, and his younger brother, Justin, said that he wants to be a pilot when he grows up.

“That’s mostly what I want to do,” he said.

While he hadn’t seen all the planes yet, he said his favorite so far was the “Blue Angel” – an FA-18 Hornet painted like the Navy’s official Blue Angels.

Justin Land, however, preferred the pair of VFA-86 Sidewinders.

“It’s kind of interesting,” he said of how the fighters are designed. He, too, marveled over the sheer number of buttons in the Coast Guard’s The Ocean Sentry.

Lt. Commander Paul Brantuas was on hand to answer visitors’ questions about the Sidewinders and said he was more than happy to fly one down to Vero Beach from Marine Corp Airstation in Beaufort, S.C.

“Civilians don’t get to get up close and see what their tax dollars go for,” Lt. Cmdr. Brantaus said.

The pair of VFA-86’s have been used in missions in Afghanistan, providing air-to-ground support for the US Military.

Aside from allowing the public to see what their money has bought, Lt. Cmdr. Brantaus said that it’s great to have such community events to get kids involved.

“I would dream about this,” he said of being a kid who wanted to be a pilot. “I didn’t think it would happen.”

Now, he gets to share with children the course that he took to be where he is today.

Along with inspiring the next generation of aviators, the Vero Beach Aviation Day brought out retired military aviators, seeking another opportunity to see the planes of the past and look at those of the future.

As part of The Greatest Generation, Retired Air Force Pilot Dave Gatling graduated flying school in 1942 and proceeded to fly numerous planes in countless missions during World War II and throughout his 24-year career.

When asked if he had a favorite amongst the nearly dozen aircraft he flew in his 24 years of service in the Air Force, Gatling said it was a toss up between the P-51, which allowed him the best maneuvers, and the P-40, in which he flew the most missions.

He decided, perhaps, the P-51 was his favorite because he didn’t have to choose between carrying fuel or a bomb – he could carry both.

“It’s much better than I thought it would be,” the retired pilot said of Aviation Day. “I’m glad I came out.”

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