Crowds thrill to aerial feats at Cochran Air Show
The Desert Sun
November 6, 2005 November 6, 2005
Jackie Cochran’s legacy hovered in the air as Jacquie Warda propelled the nose of her biplane more than a dozen stories above the desert floor, inching her way toward the glare of the sun.
A few voices in the crowd below let out soft “oohs” as Warda’s old-fashioned plane stalled in the sky, froze, then lazily flipped backward and began hurtling toward the Earth.
With the effortless grace of a sweep of the hand, Warda righted her Pitts S-3C biplane into an upside-down arc, tearing off above a blur of yellow and green desert brush.
“Are you having fun up there, Jacquie?” inquired the announcer over a loudspeaker following the completed maneuver.
“I’m having a great time, and it’s a beautiful day!” Warda’s voice crackled over the radio as her plane receded in the distance.
Thousands of spectators clapped appreciatively, lounging in the mid-day sun on lawn chairs or under the wings of WWII-era bombers, taking it all in at the second annual Jacqueline Cochran Air Show.
Warda, a pilot from Danville, was one of several female aviators who commanded the sky Saturday, a fitting tribute to the show’s pioneering namesake.
Cochran, a famous pilot in the 1930s and a longtime Indio resident, led the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) during World War II, and was the first woman to break the sound barrier. The Thermal airport was renamed in her honor last year.
“We’re here to support fellow woman aviators,” said Kathryn Presson of Reseda. Presson flew into Thermal on Saturday morning from a small airstrip near Los Angeles in a Cessna 172 with her friend and fellow pilot Julieann Sikora.
Both are members of the San Fernando Valley chapter of the Ninety-Nines, the International Organization of Woman Pilots. For them, having an air show and an airport named after Cochran means progress for female aviators.
“They say that only 6 percent of pilots today are women, and I’d really like to see that change,” said Presson, smiling under a tan Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport baseball cap. “That’s why watching Jacquie B. (Warda) doing her thing out there was so exhilirating.”
Others came to the air show for the simple pleasure of gazing up at high-flying stunts – including parachute jumps, wing-walks, and spins – or for the chance to clamber around one of the dozens of vintage airplanes parked on the airport tarmac – some sporting luscious pinup girls and colorful names like “Pretty Polly” or “Mitch the Witch II” – courtesy of the Palm Springs Air Museum and other regional groups.
“I grew up with these planes,” said Jack Morris of La Quinta as he inspected an Mk5, a Royal Air Force jet from the 1950s. He was especially excited about seeing a pair of Russian planes on display.
“I used to read about them growing up, so it’s fun to walk around and see these planes up close,” he said. “These are historic.”
After Jacquie Warda safely landed her biplane, she stopped by the announcer’s booth to talk about her love of flying.
When asked about whether she may have been named after Jacqueline Cochran, Warda laughed.
“I came from a family of aviators, and I would like to think that when my mom named me, she was thinking about Jackie Cochran and all the other female pilots who paved the way for women in aviation,” she said, “but my dad’s name was Jack, and that was more likely who my mom was thinking about.”