Shuttle program astronaut Rex Walheim to speak at the Petaluma Municipal Airport

A pilot from a special type of aircraft lands in Petaluma on Saturday, Sept. 21 for a presentation that is sure to be out of this world.

Space shuttle astronaut Rex Walheim will give a talk on his adventures in space at 2 p.m. at the Petaluma Municipal Airport as part of Airport Display Day.

Walheim, one of NASA's top astronauts, has flown three missions, STS-110, STS-122 and STS-135, which was the 135th and final mission of NASA's Space Shuttle Program. The mission was accomplished in 200 orbits of the Earth, traveling 5,284,862 miles in 12 days, 18 hours, 27 minuts and 56 seconds. A veteran astronaut, Walheim has logged more than 566 hours in space, including more than 36 hours of extra-vehicular activity (EVA), or spacewalk time.

"This is pretty awesome," said Tom McGaw of the Petaluma Area Pilots Association, which is co-sponsoring the event with History Connection of Petaluma. "These astronauts get requests for appearances by the thousands, but he decided to come to Petaluma."

Joe Noriel of History Connection, who is also the former president of the Petaluma Museum, was instrumental in securing Walheim's visit to Petaluma.

"Joe has developed connections with NASA over the years through the current and past astronauts that have spoken for programs at the Petaluma Museum," said McGaw. Walheim is also a Bay Area resident, so between that and Joe Noriel's relationship with NASA, we've been able to get Walheim to come. We're very excited about it."

"This will be a great opportunity for an out of this world experience," said Noriel. "It is significant Rex comes to Petaluma, which has such a rich aviation history with Fred Wiseman's first airmail flight in 1911."

Walheim's visit coincides with the Petaluma Airports monthly Airport Display day, which begins at 10 a.m. There will be a variety of antique and modern aircraft available for viewing, along with other aviation related exhibits.

"People will have a chance to see some historic planes. Some of them are World War era biplanes." said McGaw. "Then we have some current models, as well as kit built airplanes the pilots built themselves. We have a FedEx plane that now flys in and out of our airport from Oakland to deliver packages, and it will be here on display, too."

Local flight schools, including the Petaluma Pilot Training Center, will have its state-of-the art next generation private airplanes available for viewing.

"The instrumentation on these is the same design and has the same equipment as a commercial airliner," said McGaw. "They use all flat screen displays and have computer-driven instrumentation as opposed to round gauges. They have GPS and can even download real-time sattelite data. Some of them even have terrain mapping, so you can get a virtual image of the terrain you're flying over. Very sophisticated stuff designed to make flying safer."

Walheim will arrive in Petaluma at 1 p.m., and then be escorted through downtown by the Petaluma Fire Department. The procession ends at the Petaluma Airport. The 2 p.m. presentation begins with representatives from the Petaluma City Council proclaiming Sept. 21 as "Astronaut Rex Walheim Day."

"Walheim will have a PowerPoint presentation and a short video clip to share. Then people will have a chance to meet and talk to him," said McGaw.

Musical entertainment for the day will be provided by local musician Jim Ocean.

A troop of Explorer Scouts will be selling hot dogs and refreshments during the event.

Admission to the event is $10 general, free for kids under 12. Proceeds will go to support PAPA's scholarship program for high school seniors who wish to persue a career in aviation.

"PAPA's mission is to support aviation in Petaluma and promote it in the community," said McGaw. "One way we do that is by giving scholarships to seniors who want to go into aviation, whether they want to become a pilot, get into airport management or become a mechanic. The money we generate from the $10 admission fee, above what our expenses are for the event, will go to support scholarships."

For more information on the event, visit www.historyconnection.net or call 776-7534.

(Contact Yovanna Bieberich at yovanna.bieber ich@arguscourier.com)