(World War II veteran Ray Morasco gazes out the window of a B-17 bomber during a flight over the Salinas Valley on Monday. Photo by Todd Guild/Pajaronian)

SALINAS — With a roar of its four engines, a B-17 bomber called the Sentimental Journey left the runway at Salinas Municipal Airport Monday, loaded with several reporters, crew and two World War II veterans who had come to relive a part of their youth.

U.S. Army veteran Ray Morasco, 92, and U.S. Air Force veteran Ed Larson, 96, were flying as guests of Texas-based Commemorative Air Force.

The organization maintains vintage military aircraft. The B-17 is in the area for the California International Airshow in Salinas, which opens Saturday.

Hosting military veterans is also part of that mission.

“It’s our privilege to fly veterans for free,” said Shirley Sukkel, who was serving as loadmaster for the flight. “The whole point is to educate and remember the freedom they gave us.”

Larson described himself as a “broken down pilot looking for a ride in the air again.” During WWII, he flew the C-109, C-46, C-47 and the B-24. He also instructed new pilots in the T-6 Texan.

“To have this opportunity to participate in one of these flights is absolutely indescribable,” he said. “It takes you back 70 or 80 years of being on the ground and back into an era and a time when we were flying and doing the best we could to stay alive and doing the job you were intended to perform. It’s an incomparable thrill.”


World War II veteran Ray Morasco stands in front of a B-17 bomber at Salinas Municipal Airport, before he took a flight in the 70-year-old plane. Photo by Todd Guild/Pajaronian

Pilot Brian Churchill, who flew the B-17 on Monday, said he flies a giant Airbus A320 in his professional life.

He said the bare-bones bomber provided a unique flying experience, even for pilots experienced in modern aircraft.

Indeed, the interior is little more than a metal skeleton, and provides almost none of the creature comforts of commercial airliners. Those aboard during a flight can feel the bone-rattling vibrations of the engines, which are barely tempered by the minimal seat cushions.

Still, anyone who wants to take a ride to get a taste of what WWII-era airman experienced can take a ride during the airshow.

“It’s a great airplane,” he said. “It’s an honor to fly it. This is so much different than anything I’ve ever flown.”


Other performers

The California International Airshow will also feature the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, Jerry Conley in his vampire jet and the Jess Rodriguez skydiving team. Visitors can also see a monster truck by Jimmy Creten with Bounty Hunter, and Dawn Creten with Scarlet Bandit. Performers also include Greg Colyer and his T-33 Shooting Star, Mark Peterson in his Alpha Jet and Anthony Oshinuga and his Pitts Special.

Always a crowd favorite, stunt pilot Vicki Benzing will perform in her Boeing Stearman biplane.

Benzing, a Watsonville native, is a rarity in the stunt pilot world. Only about five percent of the estimated 4,000 are female. She is also a skydiver and holds a Ph.D in chemistry.


The California International Airshow has provided entertainment on the Central Coast for 38 years. During that time, the event has raised and distributed more than $8 million to local charities.

The California International Airshow runs Saturday and Sunday. Gates open at 9 a.m.

Tickets are available at the Salinas Airport, 30 Mortensen Ave., or online at www.salinasairshow.com.

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