“Off we go into the wild blue yonder, climbing high into the sun” — so begins “The U.S. Air Force”song, by Robert MacArthur Crawford. The song came to my mind on Friday morning, as Roger “Fritz” Fritzler, of The Lima Lima Flight Team, piloted his yellow Beechcraft T-34 plane down the runway at the Williamsport Regional Airport — with me in the back seat.
Marc Schefsky, general manager of the Genetti Hotel, and I had the privilege of going on a “ride-along” with two Lima Lima pilots as they flew a rehearsal through their routine. Lima Lima is the world’s original six-ship civilian formation aerobatic team, celebrating its 30th year of performing in air shows and for special occasions, according to its website.
The heart of the team is the T-34 single-engine trainer, which was built for the U.S. Air Force and Navy in the late 1940s through the ’50s. Climbing into one of these planes was an education in itself, complete with my own controls, which I did not touch.
Like any passenger entering most small aircraft, I was instructed where to step on the wing and how to enter the cockpit. The seat was more spacious than that of the last stunt plane I flew in, but the cockpit definitely showed its age with a real 1950s look.
Sitting on my own parachute, receiving instruction on how to buckle it up, and how to climb out of the cockpit and deploy the parachute was quite different from any other plane I’ve flown in. And, yes, you do grab a “D” ring on your chest and pull straight out to deploy the ‘chute, something I did not want to try out. No sir, no peanuts and soda on this flight.
Our flight plan was to take off in formation, with the two planes flying side-by-side and follow the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, then bear north to the Lycoming County Fairgrounds in Hughesville.
That was the easy part.
Then the pilots practiced flying in formation, almost wing tip to wing tip, with hard banks and climbing in altitude, then descending, giving the effect of 2 1/2 Gs.
Gravitational force, commonly abbreviated as Gs, is a measurement of acceleration that causes a perception of weight.
Two-and-a-half Gs mean my camera quickly weighed 2 1/2 times its actual weight.
Our final stop was a flyover of Williamsport and the muddy, swollen river.
Aside from the rigors of doing some real stunt maneuvers — and the lightheadedness that came with it — it was simply amazing to see and photograph, from the air, the same countryside I see almost every day. Somehow, the trip to Montoursville, Muncy or Hughesville looks very different from above.
The clouds may have obscured the “wild blue yonder,” but seeing the ground from several thousand feet up was simply amazing.
It was seventeen years ago today that the tragedy we now refer to simply as 9-11 occurred. This picture was taken several years before during an airshow that we were performing in Suffolk County NY. Just remember that freedom is not free.
2018 marks the 30th anniversary of the Lima Lima Flight Team. This is quite a feat in our business. There is only one other team and just a hand full of individual performers who have survived for thirty years. We will be having a reunion this month at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, IL from the 17th to the 19th. Click here for details http://ow.ly/dWK130ld6Qo
The painting was done by our resident artist and pilot Lou Drendel. It shows the thirty pilots and announcers that we have had since our inception in 1987.
This shot of the B-2 and two of our T-34’s was taken at Whiteman AFB in Missouri several years ago. I don’t think there will ever be another shot of a civilian aircraft with the B-2. The commanding officer asked me “is there anything else that I can do for you guys?” and I called him on it. The photo shoot started at 0500 in the dark with the crew pulling the B-2 out of its air conditioned hanger and then carefully watching us pull our aircraft under the B-2’s wing. The t-34’s look like model airplanes.
I know a lot of you are into motorcycles and collect challenge coins. I found a way to professionally mount the coins with the use of a coin holder mount available from Motordog69.com
The picture shows it mounted on the gas tank of my Honda VTX-1800.
It’s available on the website as well as most large motorcycle shows.
Meet my neighbor and golfing buddy Denny Wisely who is a retired admiral, former lead of the Blue Angels (the A4 Skyhawk), Captain of the USS John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier and credited with two kills in Vietnam during his 350+ missions. When he got his wings at Pensacola, rather than go into jets, he spent one year and over 800 hours instructing in the T-34. He had not flown the mentor since then and muscle memory kicked in for his flight around Scottsdale.
Read Denny’s just published book on Kindle “Green Ink: Memoirs of a Fighter Pilot.”
The paper copy just came out on May 6th and is available on Amazon.
” Here is the intro to the book:
The biography of a navy fighter pilot who started out from immature, shaky beginnings. He found himself in the navy while growing up during Vietnam. He was the first to shoot down two enemy airplanes and flew 350 combat missions during three deployments aboard USS Kitty Hawk. The ledger he kept will bring you right there with him as he recounts many of those more than exciting missions including being shot down near Hanoi. He flew F4 Phantom to 85,000 feet during operational test flights at the McDonnell-Douglas factor in St Louis. Later at VX-4 in Pt Mugu, California he tested the F 14 Tomcat and flew the MiG 21 from Area 51. He went on to command a Fighter Squadron from USS Midway home-ported in Japan and then went on to be Flight Leader and Commanding Officer of the Blue Angels. He went on to Command the aircraft carrier John F Kennedy.
The title says it all. This is just one of the many landmarks in the United States that we have been privileged to fly over in our thirty year history. Stayed tuned for more.