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New era for Pacific Coast Air Museum

Julia Hochberg, left, vice president of Sonoma Jet Center, is a new board member at the Pacific Coast Air Museum. Christina Olds, center, is the director of museum operations. Kristina Keck, Chief Master Sergeant in the 129th Rescue Wing at Moffett Federal Airfield, is also a new museum board member and museum secretary. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

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Published: Sunday, March 17, 2013 at 3:47 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 18, 2013 at 1:28 p.m.

Close to 25 years after a band of brothers first conspired to create a place in Sonoma County to preserve historic aircraft and their stories, the Pacific Coast Air Museum boasts a sweet collection of winged wonders and one barnstormer of a summer air show.

And now several women in new leadership roles are set to ease back the stick, add some power and take PCAM to the next level.

“I can't imagine what we're in for over the next few years with this place,” said Christina Olds, the new Director of Museum Operations and daughter of one of the greatest combat aces. “This isn't just about old guys and old aircraft.”

Among the newcomers to PCAM are Olds, 59, and female museum-board members Kristina Keck, 44, an Air National Guard chief master sergeant, and Julia Sugg Hochberg, 35, co-owner of the county airport's Sonoma Jet Center, an aviation sales and service firm. The three of them are out to increase PCAM's presence at the airport, host grand new public events, offer rides in some soon-to-arrive fully operational vintage planes and spark more children's interest in science and technology by fascinating them with machines that fly.

Board president Lynn Hunt, a restorer of historic warbirds long active in PCAM, said, “Women have always been a part of the organization, an important part. But now they're taking more of a leadership role, and it's great.”

Hunt said that though Olds, Keck and Hochberg “have been here a short time, they're really making their presence known. They're balls of energy.”

New director Olds, 59, is fairly new to Sonoma County, but airplanes, pilots, air shows and tales of aerial adventure have been constants in her life since she was born to actress/model Ella Raines and West Point graduate and fighter ace Robin Olds. She honored a deathbed request made by her father, who retired from the Air Force in 1973 as a brigadier general, and wrote the book he'd never quite gotten around to: “Fighter Pilot: The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds.”

She said one reason the 800-member PCAM (pacificcoastairmuseum.org) hired her as the museum's first woman director is that “I love to have a good party.”

She plots a number of gala events for the museum, best known for its static display of vintage fighters and other aircraft on a grassy field at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport and its two-day Wings Over Wine Country air show, also held at the airport between Santa Rosa and Windsor. Perhaps its proudest asset is the F-15 Eagle fighter jet that was first on the scene over Manhattan on the morning of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Now in the works at PCAM are a “Moon in June” benefit swing-band dance and an October “Salute to Veterans” that Olds envisions as “an absolutely elegant Wine Country evening.” The mention of wine prompted new museum board member Keck to mention an enhancement she envisions for the annual August air show.

“It's called 'Wings Over Wine Country' but no one has ever poured wine there,” said Keck, an investment and retirement advisor who served seven years in the Air Force and since her discharge has been in the Air National Guard.

Fellow board member Hochberg, who worked a decade ago as a mechanical engineer for NASA, said she wants to the kid-friendly PCAM create more opportunities for youngsters to come in and learn about the history, science and potential of flight.

Olds agreed, saying America needs to find more ways to intrigue young people about science and technology. “Being around aviation gets kids involved in how things work,” she said.

Since shortly after the Pacific Coast Air Museum was conceived in 1989 and held its first meeting in 1990, it has occupied a leased a World War II-era building and adjacent field on the east side of the county airport, off N. Laughlin Road.

The organization has now submitted a bid to lease also an adjacent office building and hangar that was used by Dragonfly Aviation, a longstanding flight school, until it went out of business late last year.

If PCAM is able to lease the property, there will be more space for educational programs and aircraft restoration. Also, the use of the former Dragonfly property would make the air museum more visible and easier to find.

In their longer-range plans, Olds and the board aspire to raise the money necessary to build at the airport a large, inviting structure for PCAM exhibits and events.

Hochberg said of the dawning of the organization's new era, “I think this is the museum growing up and becoming a real institution.”

Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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