It was quarter after three Tuesday afternoon and it was very quiet at the EAA 1240 hangar. A few minutes after 3:00 p.m., 20 vintage aircraft left Runway 32 headed to Sun-N-Fun.
The North American Trainer Association (NATA) finished their Formation Flying Clinic that began last Thursday. Pilots who participate in airshows and other formation demonstrations are required by the FAA to have an endorsement to fly in formation and have either a “Lead” or “Wing” formation endorsement.
The skies were filled with the roar of vintage radial engines attached to even older vintage airframes. Engines get rebuilt and put back into like new condition, and the airframes are maintained with tender loving care. These airplanes, AT-6s and T-28s are over 75 years old.
Twenty aircraft left in mass and two remained as their owners were not headed to Sun-N-Fun but rather home to Virginia and Pennsylvania. They were stuck here waiting to weather to clear on their route home. “If you have time to spare, go by air.”
It as amazing week for our EAA Chapter as we made new friends and learned a great deal about the NATA and their vintage aircraft. The pilots came from all over the eastern United States and were as varied as the states they came from. Many had military flying experience, and many were or are now commercial airline pilots. Some are retired from various professions or still involved in their careers. All had a common passion for aviation and keeping these beautiful “Warbirds” flying.
Flying an aircraft that is over 75 years old presents some challenges. Parts are often scarce or impossible to find. Some companies have taken the plans for the tooling and reproduced parts that are no longer available from the scrap yards. Another challenge is finding a qualified FAA airframe and powerplant repair person to work on these vintage airframes and powerplants. Those who are skilled to work radial engines are become rarer as those mechanics pass on and their knowledge and skills go with them. It takes a special person to take on the responsibility to own and fly a warbird.
Another highlight was meeting some of our local folks who had a connection to the airport during World War II. The smiles and glint in their eyes as memories flooded back at the sounds of the engines and the formation flights passing overhead. It was magic.
One of the challenges that developed was the influx of the general public coming out to the hangar to watch the planes. What many did not understand this was not an airshow and the planes were not on display. We had to keep folks from walking about the aircraft. It was an active flight line with many aircraft coming and going all the time. Next year we will have a secure, safe, fenced area for viewing.
If you want to see even more warbirds and see many flying, the Sun-N-Fun airshow began Tuesday and will continue through this Sunday at Lakeland Linder airport. It is worth the ride and price of admission.
I was able to take a back-seat ride in the AT-6 “Gotcha” as the group of 16 aircraft practiced their formation for the Sun-N-Fun airshow. My aircraft was on the outside right of a diamond formation. Seeing it from the ground is one thing but being in it airborne is a whole different experience. See the picture of the formation approaching the Sebring International Raceway. I gained much respect for what the pilot must do to maintain the position though various turns and shifting from one type of formation to another. There is wind to deal with and turbulence from the other aircraft ahead in the formation. When you see a tight formation of aircraft flying over, know that there are some very skilled pilots at the controls.
In the next few weeks we will be sharing some important announcements, so watch this space. Our next EAA Chapter meeting is Thursday evening, April 11th, 6 p.m. at the EAA hangar, and the monthly breakfast on April 13th, 8 to 10:30 a.m. through Gate 24 at the Sebring Airport.