Keeping Vincent Nasta on the ground was no easy task.

An artist and Riverhead High School art teacher by vocation, Nasta was a

pilot at heart and found any excuse to take to the skies, his family said.

"He flew in dozens and dozens of air shows," his brother Joseph Nasta said

yesterday. "He worked with a sky-typing company. Anything to get himself up in

the air."

Nasta, 47, of Wading River died Sunday when his replica biplane suddenly

nose-dived, crashed and burst into flames during a mock dogfight at a Hudson

Valley air show. Federal aviation officials are investigating.

High school principal David Zimbler sent a letter to the faculty yesterday.

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"He was scheduled to premiere in an air show on Labor Day," flying

military-style moves with the Warbirds, a local air group, over Long Island,

said Joseph Nasta.

"He was really excited about that accomplishment. Unfortunately, he's not

going to get to realize that," he said.

Nasta grew up in Mastic Beach, the oldest of Vincent and Carol Nasta's four

sons. He attended the State University of New York in Fredonia before going to

the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, where he graduated in 1983 with a

degree in painting and drawing, said John Nasta, another brother.

Before beginning a 17-year career teaching art, Nasta worked as a

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commercial illustrator and exhibited his paintings in group shows in Aspen and

in New York, said John Nasta.

"He liked to paint farm scenes, barns," John Nasta said. He would visit a

now-defunct dairy farm in Moriches to paint the cows, and also favored

clapboard churches and seascapes.

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"He seemed to like the quiet side of life. He had "an appreciation for

older, unpreserved things."

This quiet empathy was evident in his teaching, school officials said.

"He had a wonderful ability to work with a broad spectrum of kids. He was

able to get the best out of kids who might have been on the fringe," said

Riverhead superintendent Diane Scricca.

"He was a true humanitarian, a great teacher and a great man," Zimbler said.

In his spare time Nasta competed in aerobatics competitions and volunteered

his pilot skills with Angel Flight, the organization that arranges free

flights for patients in need of medical care.

A viewing is scheduled 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Tuthill

Funeral Home in Riverhead. A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Monday at

St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church in Wading River, with burial at

Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Center Moriches.

In addition to his parents and brothers, Nasta is survived by his wife,

Kathleen, and youngest brother, Nicholas Nasta of Saratoga Springs.