Cactus #65 – March 4, 2023


Scheduled between two surges of the “West Coast Atmospheric River” Cactus Fly-In #65 was, by comparison with recent years, a modest success. Approximately 40 antique and classic aircraft were on-stage as well as another 50 modern machines with lots of flying during the day. Demonstrations were made of great formation-flying-prowess by AT-6’s, Stearmans and a PT-22. Many, many thanks go out to pilots who courageously made the journey to KCGZ from Northern, Central and Southern California as well as Northern Nevada and New Mexico. And a “big applause” to the “Air Force” of Arizona pilots who swarmed KCGZ from as far away as Falcon, Chandler, Deer Valley, Glendale, Tucson, San Manuel, Coolidge, Buckeye, Goodyear, Stellar, Marana, Cottonwood, Scottsdale, Eagles Roost, and Eloy. Backing up the collection of beautiful antique and classic planes were about 15 very rare, exquisitely-restored automobiles driven-in from all over central Arizona.


The Fly-In was officially launched on Friday afternoon March 3rd with an excellent formation-flying clinic taught by Kurt Gearhart. This was a rare opportunity to get a rapid-paced introduction to the formation flying skill-set. Kurt supplied a very concise instructional manual in binders and loaded with illustrations that made the art more understandable—even for pilots. Among other aircraft types Kurt has mastered flight in his own Stearman PT-17 which he demonstrated along with his usual suspects on Saturday. The course was held in the TCB hangar and attended by 10 “wannabe” formation flyers.

Aircraft were arriving well into the evening on Friday and many of those pilots were rushing to join the traditional Cactus Cocktail Hour hosted by the Classic Airplane Association of Arizona in the TCB hangar. Food and beverages were provided by the Thompson and Taylor families with lots of conviviality between old friends reunited after a six-month interval since the previous-September AAA fly-in. Kurt Gearhart added ambience to the happy hour with his solo guitar and vocal serenade

Saturday morning March 4th saw a hornet’s nest of arrivals. A fleet of Stearman’s, AT-6’s, and a PT-22 descended on the field with many of these ships in “flat-pitch”. The City was awakened; the morning was glorious with clear blue skies and an emerald desert hue. The wind was minimal with landings on runway 05 “no sweat”. Aircraft parking was provided under the guidance of Joel Sidell and Steve Hulland; but a new and perfect complement to this seasoned staff was the addition of some great 99’s who really elevated the arrival experience. Thanks to airport manager Dave Reffner and his staff (Rene, Marco and Mel) the ramp was wide-open to receive antique/classic aircraft and autos. Golf carts guided aircraft to parking and served as transportation for emergency medical staff. No incidents were reported but a lot of smiles were observed. The Pinal Lodge Masons and a food truck were situated in the auto display area along with available seating for food service. Vendors from local businesses, the Arizona Pilot’s Assn., and “Freedom’s Wings” sailplane association set up display booths near the terminal building. Jerri Bergen’s Victory Girl aviation memorabilia company set up a display booth as well.

Saturday afternoon saw much more flying activity with formation flight demonstrations by groups of Stearman’s, AT-6’s, and a beautiful YAK owned by John Griffin. Prominent among these pilots were Lee Maxson, Danny Don, Rusty Gavagan (all CAAA directors), Mike Rutledge, Brian and Dale Churchill, Mike Doyle, Kurt Gearhart, Ed Newberg, Billy Lewallen, Ted Goettl, and many more.

At 3:00pm in the TCB hangar a picnic lunch and happy hour were launched. Central to this gala was the work of chef Naomi Friedrich aided by her sous chef Mike Friedrich. Barbecue was run by QB Jim Knapp and Margaret Borns, both inspired by retired fly-in chairman Terry Emig. Once again Marcy Taylor and Alicia Thompson were caught managing the food tables. Seen in the crowd were many “old timer’s” to Antique aviation including Brent Taylor, Kent Pietsch, Jim and Anne Rezich, Bill Madden, Curtis and Chrissy Clark, Ben Hawkins, David Erickson, Clark Mills, Sabrina Bailey, Cliff VanVleet, Elden Iler, Marty Fleischhauer, Tom Snider, Carole Cooke, Mark Rebholz, Dave Sirota, Ted Miller, Bruce McElhoe, Gary and Carol VanFarrow, Ryan Lusher, and many, many more—too numerous to mention. The CAAA is deeply appreciative of the long-standing support of these folks and the vision that they have shown to introduce CAAA/Antique Aircraft to an upcoming contingent of younger people.

At 4:00pm CAAA treasurer Rusty Gavagan with help from Debbie Cheney counted the “Pilot’s Choice” and “People’s Choice” ballots for displayed aircraft entry’s. This year’s awards were gift certificates generously provided by Aircraft Spruce Company. This is a new dimension for the Cactus Fly-In conceived through the vision of recently-appointed CAAA director Dave Cheney who was absent from the festivities due to a bout with flu. Thankfully, his “better half” was on hand to help with this presentation. This year’s winners are, for Pilot’s Choice, Billy Lewallen and Julie White who flew their (new-to-them) G-17S all the way from Eloy, AZ.

Billy Lewallen—G-17S Staggerwing: Pilot’s Choice

People’s Choice was awarded to Mike Rutledge for his (now) rare and completely authentic restoration of a Super Stearman crop duster powered by a Pratt and Whitney R1340 engine. Anyone who has read Low and Slow by Mabry Anderson will attest to the provenance of Mike’s really great historical preservation in this aircraft.

Brent Taylor, president of the Antique Aircraft Association of Blakesburg, Iowa presented his Headquarter’s Award to Paul Bjornstad for his perfect Howard DGA-15P restoration which Paul flew in from Minden, Nevada. The Headquarter’s Award was a prize photo of Lee and Carolyn Jones’ polished Beech D-18 taken at the Cactus Fly-In many years ago.

Saturday evening the “open-mike-syndrome” bathed the picnic crowd as the happy hour(s) continued. Speakers included Ted Miller who flew his F21 T-Craft from Santa Rosa. Ted’s talk was about his solo round trip from Calistoga to New Jersey at age 16 in about 1941(?) before aircraft radios were invented. Pat McGarry then “waxed-eloquent” about the invincibility of Hiller H-23 WOODEN rotor blades which left this writer spellbound. Because he was seen giving rides to Tim Spearman who had traveled from Surrey, England for the fly-in, Arlo Watkin gave a lecture on the provenance of his really unique Cessna Airmaster; a plane with really stunning performance for its time-of-manufacture. Finally, Brent Taylor gave the group an update on emerging plans for the 2023 Blakesburg “Bendix and Air King Charity Challenge” event scheduled for Labor Day weekend, 2023.

Some of the Attending Aircraft and Autos

Cactus #65 was graced with a bevy of aircraft and autos, some of which can be seen in these photos:

Important People

For those of you that attended the Fly-In, if you didn’t see your plane or auto or even yourself pictured please visit:

There you will find a very complete collection of excellent photos of cars, planes, formation flying, picnic, and persons. Mr. Frederick Schiele is a professional photographer and his work exhibits his skills. Also, a special thanks to Tim Spearman and Brent Taylor for providing many excellent images.