The best way to come home again is to fly |

The best way to come home again is to fly

Brian Maas was 9 years old when he took his first flight, a trip to Walt Disney World from Lake Tahoe Airport. He had won a plane trip to the storied park as part of a subscription-selling contest for the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

On Saturday, Maas, now 40, returned to the airport a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force. He came back for Air Fest 2001.

Maas flew from a base in Tuscon, Ariz., in an A-10 Thunderbolt, a $9 million attack fighter used in Operation Desert Storm. Maas has been in the Air Force since he graduated from South Tahoe High School in 1979.

“Having spent 18 years on the ground in Tahoe and being able to come up in a single-seat fighter and have a view of the mountains and the lake was great,” he said.

A-10s are designed to support the U.S. Army in battle, equipped with a tank-busting 30-foot gun that can fire 70 large rounds per second.

A-10s were built in the late-70s. Of the 613 manufactured, 130 are still in use. They are 57 feet long and can reach speeds of about 500 mph. Maas likes his A-10 best when he’s flying about 100 feet from the ground at 330 mph. He’s piloted the same model plane since he became a pilot in 1983.

“I’ve been fortunate to do that, to stay with aircraft I love,” he said. “It’s one of few (military) airplanes that has basic pilot skills associated with it. For a long time we didn’t have computers on board. We used a map and a clock and kept her flying with our hands.”

The thousands of people who attended Air Fest 2001 studied Maas’ plane. He answered questions and handed out stickers. “Their favorite topic was the gun,” he said. “It was amazing how many people came who already knew about the A-10.”

Maas’ plane was one of six military aircraft and 25 privately owned planes to be displayed at the 10th annual event. Most of the aircraft did not leave the ground, but people could purchase rides in a helicopter and a plane at 10 cents per pound.

“We were down in attendance maybe 3000,” said Janis Brand, a spokeswoman for Lake Tahoe Airport. “What may have influenced it was that we’ve gone from being an air show to being an air fair. We didn’t have any aerobatics.”

This year was the second year that aerobatics were excluded from the festival. Brand said they may be included next year, depending on what an Air Fest committee thinks is best.

Kiwanis Club of Lake Tahoe and Kiwanis Club International sponsored the event. A portion of the money raised will go to a cadet program of the Civil Air Patrol.

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