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Earning his wings

Agua Dulce man turns love of flying, family history of aviation into longtime hobby

Posted: July 24, 2013 5:47 p.m.
Updated: July 24, 2013 5:47 p.m.

Brandon Cangiano with his home-built Lancair Legacy airplane at Agua Dulce Airport. Signal photo by Dan Watson

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Agua Dulce resident Brandon Cangiano scans his eyes over the Santa Clarita Valley from his cockpit.

The strains of “Against the Wind” by Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band blare through his headset, interrupted occasionally by the harsh static of radio chatter from other pilots or the gentle buzz of the propeller.

Cangiano deftly maneuvers his home-built plane “Polaire” as he points out landmarks on the ground thousands of feet below.

Polaire, which is French for “north star,” is a high-performance plane capable of reaching speeds exceeding 250 mph.

“You’re not squeamish, are you?” Cangiano asks suddenly.

Every bit of Polaire’s speed can be felt as he yanks the controls down, sending the plane into a sharp dive into the winding canyons that cut through the land buffering the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys.

The engine roars. The rushing wind completely drowns out the sound of Seger.

Just as suddenly, Cangiano rights the controls, shooting the plane back up into the skies over Agua Dulce.
The ride is temporary and thrilling, one that can be felt even after landing.

But for Cangiano, it can be an everyday occurrence.

Youth
Cangiano grew up in the shadow of the Agua Dulce Airport. He can remember seeing planes and helicopters whir overhead as a student at Agua Dulce Elementary School.

He particularly remembers the filming that went on in the area, seeing the helicopters from the television show “Airwolf” swoop by or eating pancakes at a cafe while seated next to Dirk Benedict, the actor who played Templeton “Faceman” Peck on “The A-Team” television show.

His grandfather was an aviator in the Navy, and his grandmother also flew.

Whether from location or legacy, it seems Cangiano, 38, was destined for a life that took him above the ground.
“From as early as I can remember I knew I wanted to build things and I wanted to build aircraft,” he said.

Cangiano first flew a plane by himself on his 16th birthday, three days before he failed his driver’s license test.

“For a while there I had to take the bus to get to the airport to go flying,” he said.

He got his pilot’s license a year later.

That love of flying carried over to his college days, where he applied to exactly one school: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla. He later graduated with a degree in aeronautical engineering.

Kit
Cangiano began work on Polaire shortly after graduating from college when he got a close-up look of the Lancair Legacy model plane at an air show in Oshkosh, Wisc.

“I fell in love and said, ‘That’s the airplane for me,’” Cangiano said.

Cangiano assembled Polaire from a kit. The plane was shipped in several large portions with detailed instructions on how to put everything together.

“It’s becoming harder and harder to put together an airplane wrong,” he said.

The whole process took about three years to complete, with the bulk of the work taking place at Agua Dulce Airport.

Being an aeronautical engineer, Cangiano also drew on his own expertise to upgrade the plane.

“Let’s face it,” he said, “everyone wants to go faster and higher.”

While much of the plane’s original instrument panel remains intact, one thing that stands out is a tablet computer, which Cangiano has mounted to the panel so he can listen to music while he flies.

While he enjoys classic rock, such as Queen or Tom Petty, Cangiano said he is not above more traditional flying fare.
“Like all Embry-Riddle students, I’m required to listen to ‘Top Gun’ whenever I fly and to watch ‘Top Gun’ at least once a year,” he said, referencing the film starring Tom Cruise.

Trips
Since its completion, Polaire has become Cangiano’s key to day trips all around the state.

Cangiano said he particularly enjoys flying to smaller airports like the one in Oceano, which is located within walking distance of the beach, or the Kern Valley Airport, which is located near the banks of the Kern River.

Other destinations, such as Las Vegas or Laughlin, Nev., or beach cities like San Diego are only an hour’s flight away.

“It really opens up your options to see things, to go places over the weekend,” he said.

Plus, with Polaire averaging 25 miles per gallon while flying at speeds upward of 200 mph, flying doesn’t cost all that much more than driving, he said.

“You might be able to get a Ferrari that can go 250 miles per hour,” he said. “But you’re not going to get 25 miles to the gallon.”

Agua Dulce
Each time he would leave home for college or work, Cangiano said, he finds himself drawn back to his hometown of Agua Dulce.

Part of that, he said, is because of the airport.

“This is really one of those classic, small-town airports that you don’t see all that much anymore,” he said. “It’s the kind of airport where kids can just hang out and learn about aviation.”

Lmoney@signalscv.com
661-287-5525
On Twitter @LukeMMoney

 

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