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Rivah Visitor's Guide



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Wings, Wheels & Keels

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A freshly-minted hot rod and an experimental seaplane will be featured among hundreds of vehicles at Wings, Wheels & Keels on Saturday, September 29, at Hummel Field in Topping, Middlesex County.

by Tom Chillemi

In the mid-1990s, Jamie Barnhardt had an idea for a combination car show and aircraft fly-in at Hummel Field. The small airport on Route 3 at Topping in Middlesex County near the Robert O. Norris Bridge was getting limited use. There were rumblings that this airport, with its short runway, may not be a needed facility in the Virginia Department of Aviation network due to the selection of the old airfield at West Point as the site of a regional airport.  

Barnhardt knew Hummel Field was an asset to Middlesex County. And, he speculated that a public event at the airport may be what was needed. It turned out his hunch was right.

Since 1996, tens of thousands of people have come to Topping in September for the “Wings & Wheels” festival to reflect on those classic vehicles of their youth and remember how those cars made them feel; while at the same time getting up-close looks at some unusual and classic aircraft.

The show goes on rain or shine on Saturday, September 29, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. There is no admission fee, but there is a parking fee. All proceeds benefit the nearby Hartfield Volunteer Fire Department.


Wings and Wheels 2009

Barnhardt’s fascination with airplanes started with rides in his father’s single-engine plane. “My parents told me that before I was born, I was flying.”

The airport spark started to flame in the early 1990s after he located his classic vehicle restoration business “Innovative Restorations” in a vacant hangar at Hummel Field. He was a car guy working on classic cars while watching airplanes take off and land. “I felt like I was missing something,” he said. “I wanted to do something different.”

Wings and Wheels was hatched when Barnhardt and some friends put their “motor heads” together. Planes, cars and boats are a mixture that complement each other. What “gear head” has not looked up at a plane flying over and wondered how it floats on air, or watched a speeding boat skim the water?

Machines that move us around hold an almost intangible attraction. Whirling gears, valves and pistons emit harmonic vibrations that travel deep into the psyche of those who are moved by explosions of fuel, which are controlled by the operator.

Add sculpted shiny metal, gleaming paint and rich fabrics and you have art.

Adventures in the air
Barnhardt said flying is the only activity he does that can go from “euphoria to fear” in seconds, like when a small plane hits a down draft.
In spite of the known dangers, and perhaps because of them, pilots push the envelope. A few years ago, he flew as co-pilot to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for an aircraft show. They had to weave their tiny plane through and around unknown weather.

Another time, in a heavily-loaded biplane, he barely made it over a fence at the end of an Indiana runway and had to dodge a few trees to “stay clear of obstacles.” You would have thought that the three men in the plane had just won the Super Bowl with the excitement onboard. These experiences only ingrained flying deeper into his psyche, said Barnhardt. “It’s a lot of who I am.”

On September 29 Barnhardt will be back in a golf cart working the show grounds next to the runway at Hummel Field, helping out where needed. “I’ve enjoyed being a part of Wings & Wheels & Keels,” he said. “It has drawn so many people into the world I live in.”

The show changed its name a few years ago from “Wings & Wheels” to “Wings, Wheels & Keels” to include classic and antique boats. During past shows, when he’s heard visitors talk about vehicles in excited ways, their faces light up like it’s date night. “That’s my reward, it’s huge. I never imagined in the beginning how this would turn out.”

His biggest reward is knowing that the Wings, Wheels and Keels will entertain them for a few hours and, just maybe, make some more good memories.

This year Wings, Wheels & Keels will have more than 150 antique and classic cars, numerous aircraft, and a dozen or more boats, including “Cocktail Class” wooden racing boats.

Antique airplanes with a premiere showing of select seaplanes, and a helicopter are among the antique, ultra-lite and experimental aircraft to be displayed.

It will again feature the acclaimed “Radio Active Air Shows” that includes “the flying lawn mower.” The radio-controlled aircraft will amaze onlookers with their stunt flying.

A “Save the Chesapeake” theme will feature displays by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Friends of the Chesapeake, and soil and water conservation groups.

There will be a children’s carnival, a hot air balloon display, an antique firetruck parade, arts and crafts, and Chesapeake Bay style foods.

In addition, the Virginia Department of Treasury unclaimed division will be on hand, along with the Virginia Department of Aviation.

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posted 08.30.2012

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