Exploring the History of Wings Over Camarillo

2023 is the 42nd annual Wings Over Camarillo airshow, a beloved event marked by the unmistakable roar of plane engines, daring aerial acrobatics, and an electrifying atmosphere of excitement. Year after year, Wings Over Camarillo stands as an unforgettable tribute to valiant war veterans and the fascinating history of aviation— today, join us as we dive into some of the little-known background about the airshow, and how its grown over the past 42 years into the monumental gathering we see today.

Humble Beginnings

42 years ago, the Camarillo Airport wasn’t what it is today. Norm Hall, who’s been with the airshow since 1985, mentions that when he first arrived, the airport was just a grassy field covered in gopher holes— no tower, no fixed base operators, no ultralights. Norm got his start parking airplanes in the field, a task he affectionately describes as “not rocket science,” though he mentions that the uneven terrain posed its challenges, and made for some bumpy days on the job.

Norm is a longtime member of EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) Chapter 723, an organization that brings together enthusiasts, aircraft builders, and pilots over a shared love of aviation. They were also the very first sponsor of Wings Over Camarillo; what began as a simple fly-in, and then pancake breakfast, gradually evolved into the one-of-a-kind spectacle we know today. Norm, drawing on his previous radio experience, transitioned into doing the show’s announcements, and later into being its Air Boss for many years. As the Air Boss, Norm had the difficult yet crucial task of making sure the show ran like clockwork— setting up and choreographing aerial performances, coordinating schedules, and handling hundreds of airplanes in the span of just a few hours. He mentions that safety has always been a primary concern of the show’s organizers; in 42 years, Wings Over Camarillo hasn’t seen a single accident.

Honoring the Past, Educating the Future

Wings Over Camarillo has grown to become far more than the Central Coast’s top airshow. As the past moves further behind us, the show has become a conduit for history, a platform for the stories that are at risk of being forgotten. From the Veteran’s Booth to the STEM Pavilion, every part of Wings Over Camarillo is designed to preserve valuable history while inspiring the future generation of aviators. This year’s theme, Korean War Veterans, holds particular significance as members of The Greatest Generation—who fought in conflicts like World War II and the Korean War— continue to dwindle in number. The airshow is a bridge to the past for young folks, and a way for them to learn from conflicts of the past so they don’t repeat them.

Defying Expectations

While larger airbases, like nearby Point Mugu, have more protected airspace to work with during their shows, Wings Over Camarillo has learned to embrace the spatial limitations imposed by the airport’s single 6,000 ft runway, curating an unforgettable show that has evolved to include new sponsors and shows, including an F-18 demo and limited airspace program. It takes an extraordinary amount of passion and commitment to choreograph such a tightly-orchestrated event, and it’s a testament to the team’s innovation, creativity, and forethought that they manage to get such spectacular results, year after year.

Norm and his peers have taken Wings Over Camarillo far beyond a mere airshow; it‘s grown to become a beloved gathering that encapsulates the beating heart of the airport. At the center of the event is, and has always been, a desire to foster a sense of togetherness and give back to the community. Wings Over Camarillo has channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars to nonprofit organizations and causes over the years.

As Norm puts it, the event requires an enormous amount of “money, love, and perseverance.” Help from 400-500 volunteers, as well as the support of sponsors and the surrounding community, make this intricate balancing act possible. In a world of constant change, Wings Over Camarillo is here to honor the past, celebrate the present, and inspire the future. This year, as you gaze in wonder at the intricate dance of stunt planes, or delve deep into conversation with a courageous Korean War veteran, take a moment to remember individuals like Norm, who have dedicated their whole lives to creating a spectacle that ignites our imaginations and fuels our love for the art of aviation.

Are you going to Wings Over Camarillo this year? We can’t wait to see you there! Click here to check out our itinerary for the ultimate aviation-themed vacation in Camarillo, and click here to learn more about this year’s theme, Korean War Veterans.