The simple life can be found in Lompoc, Calif. in July.
By Steve Ells
It doesn’t matter is you’re an absolute airplane nut who has flown the fastest, shiniest and newest airplanes in the GA fleet or a newcomer who logs every flight simulator hour flown, everyone at one time or another yearns for the simpler and more personal airport days of yesteryear—the days when young wannabe pilots were given little jobs around the airport in exchange for an occasional short hop around the patch, and when a badge wasn’t required to get through a gate.
Is that what you’re yearning for? You’re in luck, because a place like that still exists.
West Coast Cub Fly-ins are BIG fun. There you’ll meet plenty of grown-up boys and girls playing with their Cubs. They tell Cub stories; they eat; they talk about Cubs; they make new friends; they reconnect with other Cub friends; and they catch up with each other on family news.
They get in their low and slow Cubs, meet up with other Cub flyers and fly across big chunks of the Western United States year after year to return again and again to Lompoc for the next WCCFI.
It’s easy to tell which Cubs have been here before: every year, a different colored braided rope is handed out to registered Cub owners to be looped around the cabin step. It’s easy to imagine that Cubs secretly enjoy showing off their collections of these colored signal ropes.
Every year these Cub fans play in games of flying skill such as flour bombing—dropping flour-filled paper sacks at 55 gallon drums—as they fly above the barrel at 200 feet AGL with both cabin doors open. Techniques differ. Some bombers just drop their “bombs” as the fly over the target while some cross-control, adding right aileron and left rudder in an effort to better see the target.
They play at spot landing contests. This fully engages the art of low-and-slow, stick-and-rudder flying by challenging a Cub pilot to touch an MLG wheel as close as humanly possible to a white line on the runway. If the wheel touches down one inch short of the stripe, it doesn’t count.
Attendees also fly off in twos and threes to cruise the coast, enjoy the scenery, or take in-flight pictures of each others’ Cubs. Some get together, plan out and join up for a loose formation flight over the airport. In 2013, 63 Cubs and 58 support aircraft flew to the WCCFI. This set a Cub attendance record.
The WCCFI idea formed in the minds of Bruce Fall and Monte Finley in the early 1980s. Both owned Cubs: Fall, a Taylor E-2 Cub and Finley, a 1940 J-3.
Fall and Finley agreed that a trip to Lock Haven for Sentimental Journey’s annual Cub Fly-in was out of the question due to the distance and time needed, and so they was decided to host a Cub Fly-in at Lompoc. The first event in 1984 drew five Cubs and five support aircraft. So they did it again the next year, and it’s been going and growing every year.
Finley has flown west one last time, but Fall still attends. As the fly-in grew, refreshments were added, along with Cub memorabilia and clothing and a Saturday night dance.
In 2013, the dinner and dance theme was “Vintage Hollywood.” Holly Palmer won Best Bombardier of the Year for landing her flour bomb a scant five feet from the barrel. Kathryn Perry from Sultan, Wash. won a foam seat cushion and a can of Anti Monkey Butt powder for flying the greatest distance; daughter Jessica won the Best Costume award.
Sammy Mason won two awards—one for the youngest pilot (19), and one for closest-to-the-line (two feet) in the spot landing contest. Larry Holman, 84, from Canby, Ore., won the Oldest Pilot award.
The Pilots’ Choice award for the Best Cub was won by Robin Reid for NC3614K, a 1946 J-3 Cub used to teach thousands of pilots the joys of Cub flying at AeroDynamic (formerly Amelia Reid Aviation) at Reid-Hillview Airport (KRHV) in San Jose, Calif. Victoria Utvick won an award for First to Arrive when she touched down on Tuesday at 3:15 in the afternoon.
The door prize and awards presentations went on and on until Blues Bob and the Loopy Blues Band took the stage and played a bouncy buffet of blues-style live music into the night.
In 2014 the theme was World War II. Imagine all the opportunities in that theme for creative costumes!
The Lompoc airport has a single 4,600 x 100-foot runway aligned 7/25 that’s 80 feet above sea level. Its located 35 miles northwest of Santa Barbara (KSBA) and 35 miles south of the San Luis Obispo (KSBP) airport. Fly right traffic to Runway 25—but be aware that the 15,000-foot-long runway at Vandenberg AFB (VAFB) is a scant seven miles northwest of Lompoc, and flight into VAFB airspace is restricted.
Stay alert when flying during WCCFI because of numerous yellow-painted Cubs flying in the vicinity, and because SkyDive Santa Barbara often takes off and lands during the weekend, dropping jumpers out of a Cessna 206 and a Cessna Caravan.
There’s a real possibility during summer months of marine layer fog creeping a few miles inland during evening hours. Some mornings this fog burns off by 8:30 a.m., and some mornings it can linger past 10. Often there’s an 800 to 1,000-foot ceiling under the fog.
Some Cub drivers deal with this by letting down in the clear about 10 miles east—near the town of Buellton—and following Highway 246 toward the airport. When that’s not possible, Santa Ynez Airport (KIZA) is friendly, is usually clear during summer months, and is only 20 miles east of Lompoc.
Winds are usually calm in the morning hours before beginning to blow from the west around 9:30 or 10 a.m., then continuing throughout the rest of the daylight hours. Bring a jacket—it gets pretty cold later in the day.
Food and other activities
In 2013 the weekend-long menu included BBQ ribs with trimmings on Friday night, pancake breakfasts on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and hot dogs, hamburgers and chips for lunch at super-reasonable prices. Drinks and popcorn fill out the menu.
Shirts, T-shirts, caps, sweatshirts and other memorabilia are also sold during the show. Every five years, commemorative jackets are printed and sold; 2014 was the 30th anniversary of the fly-in, so commemorative jackets will be sold during the 2019 WCCFI.
The WCCFI arranges for special room rates at a local motel and it’s only a short walk into town from the airport.
Lompoc is known for its federal prison (commonly known as “Club Fed” due to the less-than-harsh conditions) but other attractions include the most extensively restored mission in the state. La Purisima Mission State Historic Park is open almost every day of the year and is located only a few miles east of the airport.
Lompoc was once known as the Flower Seed Capital of the World, but many of the fields east of town are now planted with vegetables. While it’s not what it once was, there are still enough flowers blooming in early July to make a flight to the east for a visual feast of blooming flowers worthwhile.
If you happen to be a “dogged victim of inexorable fate,” as sports writer Dan Jenkins labeled golfers, La Purisima Golf Course is an outstanding Robert Muir Graves design that has hosted PGA Tour qualifier events in the past. It’s also located just a few miles east of Lompoc on Highway 246. I’d play it as early in the day as you can; the winds already mentioned do stretch out the home holes.
California is home to some of the best flying weather in the country, and as a result hosts a wide spectrum of diverse flying events. I’ve been to Oshkosh, Sun ‘n Fun and many others, but the WCCFI is one get-together that I really enjoy because it packs a lot of fun and friendly flying people into an all-too-short weekend. I’m
going to be there next year, and I hope you are, too.
Go to your calendar right now and set aside July 12, 13 & 14, 2019 and make plans to head to the Lompoc, Calif. Airport (KLPC) for the 35th consecutive West Coast Cub Fly-in (WCCFI).
Steve Ells has been an A&P/IA for more than 39 years and is a commercial pilot with instrument and multi-engine ratings. Ells also loves utility and bush-style airplanes and operations. Ells is the owner of Ells Aviation (EllsAviation.com) and the proud owner of a 1960 Piper Comanche. He lives in Paso Robles, Calif. with his wife Audrey. Send questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.