BURLINGTON — When the P-51 Mustang roared overhead Saturday afternoon, the crowd gave a collective gasp, then a cheer — the decades-old fighter seemed almost close enough to touch.
It was just one of many memorable moments Saturday afternoon at a community aviation event co-hosted by the Heritage Flight Museum and Port of Skagit at Skagit Regional Airport.
The event offered attendees the chance to view classic planes, take helicopter rides and learn about aviation history. Whether the planes were streaking overhead, tipping their wings at the crowd or gleaming inside a hanger, many of the hundreds of visitors got a close look.
“We’re trying to share aviation with the community ... we’re here to keep history alive in Skagit County,” said Erin Phillips, the museum’s events manager.
Phillips said she expected close to 1,000 people at the event, which combined the museum’s July Fly Day and the port’s Community Aviation Event.
Port of Skagit Commissioner Kevin Ware said the port is pleased to offer community members the opportunity to see the airport and what it’s capable of.
“The airport is owned by the people of Skagit County. It’s theirs. The port operates it, but it’s theirs and it’s important for them to come out and see it,” he said. “You have to have a special day where people can come out and see the facilities.”
Saturday’s event was perhaps more special than most. Among the educational opportunities was a presentation about Boxer 22, an extensive search and rescue mission during the Vietnam War.
One of the speakers was Brian Danielson, an Oak Harbor resident. His father, Benjamin, was a pilot whose F-4C was shot down over hostile territory to spark the Boxer 22 rescue.
The plane’s weapons system operator, Woodrow Bergeron Jr., was rescued after 50 hours on the ground during the resulting search-and-rescue operation; Benjamin Danielson was killed before he could be rescued.
A total of 336 sorties were flown during the 1969 mission, most by A-1 Skyraiders Combat Search and Rescue helicopter escorts.
Speaking to an audience inside one of the hangers Saturday, Brian Danielson said he wanted to emphasize the persistence and heroism of those who tried to rescue both.
“Boxer 22 is a pretty important story,” Danielson said. “This is an inspiring story, not a sad story.”