Thousands Explore Palo Alto Airport at Open House

Palo Alto preschooler Wim Godfrey may have a future as an airplane designer. Of all the attractions at the Palo Alto Airport's open house Sunday, his favorite was a chance to build a miniature ``wing rib'' from pieces of wood.

``It sounds like barbecue,'' laughed his mother, Annie Godfrey. But, as Wim learned, a wing rib is a piece of the internal skeleton of an airplane wing. Wim clutched his tightly as he spun around like a warplane in a nose-dive.

The Godfreys and several thousand other people turned out for Airport Day, a celebration of the general aviation airport at the edge of San Francisco Bay.

For many in attendance, Stanford University Hospital's LifeFlight helicopter was a highlight. Between rushing off noisily on emergency calls -- a thrill for spectators -- the crew gave tours of the flying ambulance.

Elsewhere there were biplanes, wildfire-fighting planes from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and a low fly-over by a rumbling military cargo plane. For those with sizable checking accounts, representatives of Piper and Cessna were there to sell their passenger planes.

The open house was an effort by the Airport Association, a group of pilots and owners, to showcase the airport, which is one of the nation's busiest for small craft. The backdrop was concern about the long-term future of the facility.

The airport is owned by the city but run by the Santa Clara County Airport Authority. The management contract with the county doesn't expire until 2017, but the uncertainty over what will happen then already is affecting federal grants and giving pause to airport business owners thinking about investing in improvements.

County airport officials such as Carl Honaker -- who had to interrupt an interview with a reporter to keep spectators away from a departing airplane -- want the city to allow the construction of more single-plane hangars. Rent from the hangars would provide more revenue for airport operations, but city officials are far from deciding the issue.

The most likely site for new hangars is a grassy area along the eastern end of Embarcadero Road. The land is airport property, but its proximity to wetlands has raised some environmental concerns.

Ralph Britton, president of the Airport Association, said Sunday at the association's booth that the airport community would welcome additional hangars. ``There are some types of airplanes that don't do well sitting outside,'' he said.

Organizers said attendance at Sunday's event seemed smaller than at last year's open house, which was the first in a decade.

San Jose Mercury News

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