“Off we go,” Irigoyen said once the single-engine plane left the ground. “We’ll be at 1,000 feet and doing 110 miles an hour,” he said over the radio to his navigator, El Centro resident Henry Poo.
Irigoyen was one of the seven local pilots who flew over the county Wednesday morning during the Imperial Valley Parade of Airplanes.
The parade is a way to announce Aviation Day, coming Oct. 22, said organizer and long-time pilot Mari Hurley. That Saturday morning there will be an open house at Imperial County airport in which children and teenagers are invited to fly for free, she said.
Last year 178 kids attended the event, said Aviation Day chairwoman Jennifer Donatt. This year the goal is to have 200 kids, she said.
The purpose of the parade and aviation day is to bring awareness to the Imperial Valley airport, Donatt said. “We wanted to let people know that we have a lot of things here,” she said, adding that from the county airport a person can fly “anywhere in the world.”
The last airplane parade was in 2003, said pilot Glen Verbrugh while pointing at the only twin-engine plane flying in the parade.
The pilots got together also to recognize aviation, he said.
But before any flying took place, pilots were briefed by El Centro resident Eddie Lutz, the leader of the parade. While pointing to a map of the county, he explained the route.
The parade would go south, “down Imperial Avenue,” Lutz said. By El Centro Regional Medical Center, pilots should let the planes “flow over” toward the All-American Canal, eventually cross Calexico and then the “heart of Holtville,” he said.
After Holtville, the planes would go in a “staggered” formation over Imperial Valley College to Brawley, Westmorland, Calipatria and then back to the airport, Lutz said.
With minor changes in the route, the long hour parade went as scheduled, flying over the cities and countless green and brown agricultural fields.
“I’ve been flying for 25 years,” said Irigoyen while flying east, away from Mount Signal. “I love it,” he said.
When asked about why he loves flying so much, Irigoyen responded that it is the freedom he has to go anywhere. “I can be in San Diego in half an hour,” he said proudly while heading northwest toward the Salton Sea.
But the parade leader didn’t go that far, turned south back to the Imperial airport and so did the rest of the planes.
It wasn’t long before the planes were landing one after another.
“Here we go,” Irigoyen said and put the nose of the plane down while noting that lights on the side of the runway tell pilots if the plane isn’t leveled.
After a sudden bump the plane was back on the ground.
“The weather was nice,” said Nathan Hester, pilot and president of the local Navion Club. “Good weather is always good for flying.”
The event was “wonderful,” said Pat Castañeda during the picnic that followed the parade.
She was the only female pilot flying the parade.
“This is my first airplane parade,” said Castañeda, who’s been flying since 1994 and is now a member of the all women pilot association Imperial Valley Solo Ninety-Nines. “It was lot of fun.”
It was also fun for El Centro resident Zoe Ramirez, 10, who flew along with her grandfather, Lutz.
At some point in the parade she flew the plane, Zoe said. She thought her grandfather was flying and she was just holding the yoke, Zoe said.
“He (Lutz) didn’t tell me,” Zoe said adding that she realized she was flying the plane when her grandparent was scratching his nose with both hands.
“It was a beautiful day for flying,” said Lutz.
Staff Writer Alejandro Davila can be reached at 760-337-3445 or firstname.lastname@example.org