Those planes over the Valley

I enjoyed Saturday’s cloudy skies and twenty-plus degree dip on the thermometer sitting in the backyard of the Northridge home where I grew up. The conversation was difficult, though, due to the continual roar of warplanes overhead. These weren’t the screaming after-burners that scratch your eardrums near a military flight line. These were the groaning radial engines and props of World War II birds. On one fly-by, I peered through the trees to spot a B-25 bomber, escorted by a P-51 Mustang of the sort that used to train over the Valley’s bean fields during the war. Was there a vintage air show I didn’t hear about?

Today’s Daily News solved the mystery. The planes were circling over the middle of the Valley and swooping down runway 16 Right at Van Nuys Airport as part of a fly-over honoring Phil Aune. He started as an air traffic controller at Van Nuys in 1959, when the Art Deco control tower that you see in Casablanca still stood. Aune retired June 29, and the pilots he had guided safely for so many years wanted to show him they appreciated his steady hand and friendly greetings.

Aune was something of a legend around VNY, apparently. He could track a dozen planes without taking notes, and he came to recognize the voices of certain pilots and the tail numbers of favorite aircraft. “One of the few controllers who could actually put the face to the voice,” said Bruce “Bergie” Bergquist, chief pilot at Briles Wing & Helicopters at Van Nuys Airport. “A rarity.” For an hour on Saturday afternoon as Aune stood beside the runway waving, trios of planes dropped in to dip their wings and wish “Papa Alpha” the best.

Also: There’s an interview with Aune in the film One Six Right that came out last year.