The photo shows a compactly built, diminutive man smiling broadly as he holds up a plaque.
He is the embodiment of what Coastsiders experience when they hear a roaring in the skies above the ocean off Surfer’s Beach. He is the man inside that small, double-winged airplane dancing through loops in the air.
The smiling man is Half Moon Bay aerobatic show pilot Eddie Andreini, who was inducted into the International Council of Air Shows Hall of Fame in December at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas.
The plaque is one of two the honor brought him. He keeps one at home and the other in the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos.
The recognition lands Andreini in the company of fewer than 70 people so recognized by the ICAS, a nonprofit association of air show organizers, performers or support service providers. It maintains safety within the profession, provides information on air show issues, supports continuing education of ICAS members and air show professionals, promotes the air show industry and has had its Hall of Fame since 1995.
Andreini was selected along with two other recipients, neither of whom are still flying, “not just for being an outstanding performer over a period of nearly a half-century but also for his generosity, for his mentorship of younger air show performers and for his enthusiasm for doing anything nice to help an air show be successful,” said ICAS President John Cudahy. “In a business full of big personalities and wonderful people, Eddie stands out.”
“I’m very fortunate to be able to do this,” Andreini said later. “I didn’t know I would get inducted. I didn’t dream of it.”
He also stood out at a recent Half Moon Bay City Council meeting, where his family was recognized by Mayor John Muller. “One thing about the Andreini family is they’ve been givers to the Coastside all their lives,” Muller said. “They’re a stealth family who give back to all of us.”
Andreini is also known locally for Andreini Brothers, general engineering contractors who do grading, paving, hauling and road work, which he founded with brother Angelo Andreini Jr. in 1959.
He’s a modest man, whose diminutive build and soft-spokenness seem almost at odds with the man who confidently roars up into the sky in his three, World War II-vintage planes. One is a Stearman biplane (double-winged), a WWII trainer that he modified in 1963 for air show work and to carry a wingwalker. He also uses a P-51 World War II fighter and a YAK-9 Russian fighter plane, to gracefully execute giant loops, spirals, heart-stopping plunges down and lazy arcs back up.
“It’s a satisfying thing to do,” he said. “You have that adrenaline thing going on.”
That doesn’t mean he is reckless. Prior to shows he practices repeatedly “until I get the total feel of the plane.”
It’s like a first ride in a Ferris wheel, he joked: “The first few times, it’s got your attention. After the second or third time, you’ll maybe rock the seat.”
He’s not afraid to figuratively rock that seat in his planes. “If you’re afraid to do something, you never learn to do it,” he said.
He won’t even consider taking a passenger up when he’s doing something risky. “I don’t want to put someone else at risk,” he said. “Your thinking capacity has to totally change.”
Andreini first took to the air when he was in high school and bought a plane on shares. In 1960 he met crop duster Jim Williams, “an incredible, incredible pilot” who taught him aerobatics. “I found out that was my niche,” said Andreini. “I liked it.”
In the late 1940s, air shows took a dive in popularity following a couple of accidents. But in 1962 they picked up again, and Andreini accompanied Williams to one.
“I did that one show and that’s what did it,” chuckled Andreini, citing that Watsonville air show 50 years ago. He hasn’t stopped since.
He has seen aerobatics rise from simple loops and snap rolls to “more intense and much more refined” techniques and moves as knowledge of the craft developed, equipment got better and the ICAS took shape. “It’s become a very popular thing” Andreini said.
Recent cuts in military spending curtailed funding for displays and “really hurt the industry,” he said, but he looks forward to better days.
Blue Angels or Thunderbirds shows not only please him but “inspire (younger pilots) so much,” he said. Performing in air shows “is something you can leave behind, and give to people.”
Andreini books shows across the country himself though he follows ICAS safety guidelines. He has also flown in shows in Australia in 1999, 2001 and 2003. The Andreini Brothers office is adorned with dramatic photos of his feats. In one, he is flying upside down to nose into a paper target suspended from poles held by assistants on the ground. In another, he glances through his cockpit window high above ground as a wingwalker scampers around wires tightly secured to his biplane wings. A tight, wordless rapport flows between pilot and wingwalker up there, Andreini said.
He and wife Linda are parents to sons Eddie Jr. and Mario, and grandparents to Eddie Jr.’s daughters Courtney and Emma and son Nico, and Mario’s son Dominic and daughter Sebina. Andreini won’t try to steer any of them into the skies. “I never wanted to make ‘em do what (I’m) doing,” he said. “Better to do it on their own and like it.”
That’s just what their grandpa did.
“It’s been a great ride,” he said. “Would I do it again? Absolutely.”