Moments off the University Airport runway, up through the bumpy midday air, the view stretches beyond Sacramento and through the haze to the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Turn west. Fly over the geometric shapes and laser-flat expanse of Yolo County, broken only by the ragged path of Putah Creek and the orchards hugging it. Soar over the irrigated farmland that becomes range land and then over the ragged Blue Ridge, above Lake Berryessa and the Monticello Dam far below.
On Saturday, local residents are invited to talk to the pilots who see this view regularly as they take off from the University Airport. The Friends of University Airport and UC Davis’ TAPS invite the community to visit the airport during the 11th annual open house. The free, public, family-friendly event will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Food and soft drinks will be available.
Visitors on Saturday will be able to enjoy vintage, home-built, military training and civilian aircraft — plus unique and classic automobiles, bikes and helicopters. In addition, young attendees may talk to pilots and instructors about the range of potential careers in the field of aviation. There will be a drawing for a free introductory fight lesson, courtesy of the Cal Aggie Flying Farmers.
Rancher Harold Hopkins built the University Airport in 1946. UCD bought the property three years later, becoming the first university in the nation to boast its own airport. UCD remains the only university campus in California with an airport.
Hopkins envisioned it as a way for farmers and ranchers to be able to visit the university and for agricultural extension staff to have easier accesses to far-flung corners of the state.
The airport continues to be well-used by the university and the community, though primarily by faculty, staff and students. About half of the flying hours out of the airport are flown by students, many of whom are working toward their licenses.
The airport is used daily for local businesses, commuters to and from the Davis community, and training UCD students, providing a hands-on learning experience. In addition, University Airport is used for agriculture, medical evacuations, aeronautical engineering education and even to bring patients to the UCD Veterinary Hospital.
Hopkins also founded the Cal Aggie Flying Farmers, a flight school and flying club that has operated continuously since 1947. Today, the club continues to train and serve approximately 400 pilots and students. Flight school staff members will be on hand Saturday to take questions from those interested in learning to fly or improve their skills.
As a participant in the federally funded Airport Improvement Program, the airport is part of the National Airspace System and a public-use airport.
The airport also has some other impressive uses: It is cleared for VIP access — most notably, Prince Charles has flown in and out; it has a weather station and resource for atmospheric studies; and it offers aerospace classrooms.
Says Stephen Robinson, a retired NASA astronaut and a UCD professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, “University Airport is playing an important and growing role in aerospace education at UC Davis.”
The aerospace engineering hangar and many students will be on hand at the open house to offer flight simulator rides and discuss their UCD projects and research.
The Friends of University Airport use the open house not just to underscore its historic role for the university but its potential, for everything from the arrival of Mondavi Center performers to a staging area in an emergency. They also hope to encourage folks of all ages to consider flying — providing a place to learn that big airports cannot offer.
University Airport is readily accessible by car or bike. From Russell Boulevard, turn south on La Rue Road, then right on Hutchison Drive, then left at Hopkins Road and again onto Airport Road. Signs will guide visitors toward free parking.
The nonprofit Friends of University Airport, the hosts of the event, work to preserve and enhance the airport.
For more information, see www.calaggieflyers.com, or visit University Airport or Friends of the University Airport’s Facebook pages.
— Enterprise staff writer Cory Golden contributed to this story.
Check it out!
What: University Airport’s 11th annual open house, offering a close look at unusual aircraft and classic automobiles, time to chat with pilots and instructors and a chance to enter a drawing for a free introductory flight lesson
When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Airport Road, off Hopkins Road
How much: Free