Although Baker County hosts multiple events during the summer, 'Wings over Baker'
is especially unique for obvious reasons. For some rural communities, seeing an air show may require one to head off to a bigger city, spending travel time and gas money in the process. Thanks to 30-year flying veteran Mel Cross, folks in these parts get an air show of the their own!
Cross explained that it started as a benefit for about 85 people in 2002. he had to finance it through those first few, tough years. Now it has grown into a spectacle that the county can't wait for every year. All the proceeds are given to the Baker City airport
, and as more revenue is made in the future he would like to established a scholarship for local high school students that may contemplating an aviation career. Cross gives huge credit to his board in planning the event, although he also notes, "I almost work on it year-round in my sleep."
Participants fly in from California, Nevada, and Idaho, and Cross says that the fact that it's drawn so much attention from other places is a testament to Baker City.
The show featured multiple events, such as the Durkee Steak Feed, The Powder River Pistolaros
(a cowboy mounted shooter group, who also staged a fake robbery), and a demonstration by the Eastern Oregon Throwers and Eastern Oregon Celtic Society
in preparation for the Highland Games in August.
Tim Decker, who flew the 1998 Pitts S-2B, gave a high quality performance, looping in the sky almost completely to the runway, performing figure eights complete with white smoke trailing, and diving to the earth with only seconds to spare before he pulled up. Of course, that was part of the show, and he did this numerous times. To top it off, he gave out free pictures and between flights signed autographs for the kids. The fixed base operator gave a helicopter demonstration, flying it sideways over the tarmac, and also turning the motor off and letting the wind turn them back on again has it glided down.
The audience's attention moved over to the south side of the field, however, when the announcer said over the speakers, "Mel, Mel, what's that glider doing over there?" While Tim Decker's Pitts was in the air, a glider appeared below it, being pulled by a truck on the tarmac. We then heard banter over the speakers that appeared to be coming from the pilot and ground crew, and moments later an ambulance appeared on the tarmac. It seemed that a prankster was trying to participate "unofficially" in the air show." Tim Decker swerved his plane into the direction of the glider, taking off some of its streamers in the process. The crowd, however, quickly caught onto the prank when the glider began dropping flares (looking like bombs) into Tim Decker's direction, as if the glider pilot were "fighting back." When the glider landed, the announcer introduced the pilot, Dan Buchanan, who to our amazement was paraplegic. Dan had suffered an accident when trying to land once, but his disability never could keep him off the ground. Dan waved to the crowd as he held on to Decker's Pitts when they rode off from the tarmac.
The Just in Time Skydivers
also gave a great performance, one of which involved a parachuter floating to earth while sporting red smoke and the American flag. The announcer asked everyone to stand and for men to take off their hats as they saluted the flag and "The Star-Spangled Banner" played over the speakers. As the money gained from the event will go to the airport, Mel Cross also attributes a lot of the airport's help from the Leo Adler Foundation
, estimating that it has given approximately $40,000 to the airport in the past. Last year's event was cancelled due to economic reasons, but this year was an obvious success, and everyone is looking forward to next year's event.