The Lima Lima Flight Team

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30 Minutes Of Aerobatic Aviation by Keely

John Rippinger and the T-34 Mentor

John Rippinger and the T-34 Mentor

3. June 2013 08:25
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Lima Lima Flight team – Originally the Mentor Flyers, began as a non-profit recreational flying club in 1975. The fifteen member club was based out of a residential airpark community known as Naper Aero Club Field (LL10) located just outside of Naperville, Illinois.

The Lima Lima Flight Team had always been very intrigued by the brightly painted, yellow T-34 Mentor aircraft of the Navy. Since formation flying had always been uniquely a military activity, the club decided to have their T34 aircraft painted to identically mirror the original Navy training colors; with just a few minor differences of course. Specifically, the black tail band; this has become the Lima Lima trademark. Finally, the “Lima Lima” name was derived from the FAA designator of the team’s home field in Naperville; LL-10, hence the LL on the tails of their aircraft.

The Lima Lima Flight Team has evolved their crew in a way that mimics that of the military. As the military trains their pilots, they recognize different levels of formation skills, from basic tactical formation flying all the way up to Blue Angel and Thunderbird demonstration teams. The Lima Lima Flight Team is no different, they practice on a weekly basis, and over time are able to develop more sophisticated formation skills. The team’s demonstration is flown with six airplanes, and each of their shows includes several different formation configurations. Some of the favorites include the six ship wedge, double arrowhead, basic finger four and diamond formations. The Lima Lima Flight Team has developed a series of formation aerobatic maneuvers which each demonstrate the full range of the T-34 performance envelope.

Here in Louisville, Kentucky we have been in celebration mode as we prepared for the Kentucky Derby horse race. Thunder Over Louisville is our annual kickoff event of the Kentucky Derby Festival, occurring each year near the end of April and always overlooking the Ohio River. Each year, the event draws thousands of people to the heart of downtown Louisville all in high anticipation for not only the second largest fireworks display in the nation, but also for the aerobatic airshow!

In the days leading up to Thunder Over Louisville this year, most of the aerobatic pilots came to our local FBO (Bowman Field KLOU) and I was lucky enough to meet one of the aerobatic pilots of the Lima Lima Flight Team! His name is John Rippinger, but you can call him “The Ripper” for short.

Originally from Schaumburg, Illinois, John is the president and CEO of Rippinger Financial Group. John has been flying for over 40 years in both fixed wing aircraft as well as balloons. In addition to his flight duties, John also manages over twenty of the product sponsors for the Lima Lima Flight Team. John, his wife Susan and their dog Aileron still live in Illinois today. John started flying T-34’s in 1989 and has been a member of the team since 1992. This fast paced and high adrenalin sport, although fascinating to watch is in fact extremely dangerous. Being the student pilot that I am, I was extremely excited to inquire about the speed of his T-34 aircraft. He informed me that during their shows there are times when the aerobatic aircraft travel up to 210 knots; that’s equivalent to anywhere between 240 – 250 miles per hour! On average, they expect to pull about 5.5 G’s and “No,” surprisingly they do not wear G-suits. I had to stop him there; so how do they function and continue to concentrate while pulling 5.5 G’s without a G-suit? According to John (The Ripper), the answer is simple; “stiffen your abs and grunt” John says. By doing this simple procedure you are naturally securing your inside organs, and eventually this becomes second nature.

As we continued with our interview, John went on to explain the nature of the team’s typical show plan. Each of their shows are strategically planned out and choreographed for them and every pilot has one specific place to be in the formation. The key is that the group remains consistent every single time they rehearse or perform. According to John; the actual act of flying the aircraft must be as familiar as breathing. His only job while flying his T-34 in formation with his five companion birds is to watch the leader at all times.

Again I am absolutely blown away in amazement. Acrobatic aviation is fantastic and extremely fascinating to watch, but I can honestly say that I had never been so openly exposed to aviation like this previously. I never understood the raw talent that goes into preforming a full 30-40 minute aerobatic airshow. I had absolutely no idea what it might feel like or look like as the human body undergoes high velocity tricks or intense G-force speeds. The talent, work and money that go behind the scenes of an aerobatic airshow is out of this world! I have met so many pilots already along my journey as an aviator, each of them fantastic in new and different ways that surprise me. The Ripper opened my eyes to a branch of aviation that I had not experienced at all and for that, I am ever grateful.


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