|By Leo Cachat|
As we arrive at the TAC Air building at 7:45 a.m. we are greeted in the parking lot by The Aero Experience Founder and our friend Carmelo Turdo. The three of us head inside where we meet Mark Nankivil, the four horsemen of aviation media are ready for another great and action packed day. As we did Thursday, we meet Mark Sutherland and he keeps us informed on the day's events. He informs us that Blue Angel 7 will be taking a local disc jockey on a VIP ride at around 9 a.m., but in the mean time, he takes us out on the ramp to watch the B-17 "Aluminum Overcast" depart on one of the many rides it provided over the five days it was at the airport.
Then, from across the tarmac, you could hear the unmistakable sound and see the smoke coming from the mighty radial engines of the B-17 as the props started to turn one by one. At this point we all went toward the taxiway. The mighty bomber lumbered by as we clicked away. As it taxied the scanner came alive - Eric Downing's AD-5 Skyraider was in-bound to land. We have seen Eric's Skyraider many times on our trips to Creve Coeur airport where he is based, and we're never disappointed to see it in the air. It was a beautiful sight to see him coming in while the B-17 taxied out. When the Skyraider was on the ground, the transmission of a T-6 Texan in-bound was made. We spotted the T-6 on final and photographed the silver Texan as our friend Greg Vallero and a passenger landed and taxied to the static display area. Now it was time for the B-17 to take it's position and hold just short of the runway. After he was given clearance, power was increased to the four big engines and soon she was passing by us and lifting into the air.
At this point Mark suggested we head back in front of the TAC Air building as Lt. Ryan Chamberlain was getting prepared to go up on another VIP flight. We watched as the local radio show host was strapped into the back seat. I don't know how he felt, but I know how he looked: nervous! This didn't stop Lt. Chamberlain from taking off and performing a maximum performance climb. What a thrill that had to be!
We then decided to head down to the other end of the airport to the spectator area where the static display aircraft were parked. Not many statics had arrived yet, but the Sky Soldiers helicopters - two UH-1 Huey's and two AH-1 Cobra gunships were on display in the grass. The AD-5 Skyraider and T-6 were also on the static ramp, and several civilian aircraft were lined up on display. So like a bunch of kids let loose in an ice cream parlor, we gave our cameras a workout. As we were photographing the static displays, the B-25 Mitchell bomber "Show Me" and the TBM Avenger torpedo bomber, both of the Missouri CAF Wing in St. Charles, had arrived. Their L-3E, "Lil' Show Me," was already parked in the grass for display. There was also a C-1 Trader that flew in and took it's spot on the static ramp. We photographed these aircraft for about two hours, and then Fred and I decided to head up to the showline as practice was due to start in about 20 minutes.
Practice started with the singing of the National Anthem and the flying began with Patty Wagstaff and her Extra 300S. Being inducted into the International Aerospace Hall of Fame tells you all you need to know about her performance. The lady can fly, and she puts on an entertaining show. Any girl who thinks that high level aerobatics can only be performed by men should definitely see her fly.
Next up was Skip Stewart in Prometheus, his specially-designed biplane. From the first time I saw him fly over ten years ago in Cape Girardeau, MO I knew he was a special pilot. He continues to fly his airplane on the same level as Sean D. Tucker and Mike Goulian. What an exciting act and what a friendly guy to meet. Some pilots fly solo, Skip flies SO LOW...sometimes you can't see him.
The Sky Soldiers entered the box next and they took us back to the days of the Vietnam War with their demonstration of what it was like rescuing the crew of a downed aircraft in the battle zone. It was a great tribute to the men who never got the thanks they deserved when they returned home from Vietnam. I'd like to take this time on behalf of us at The Aero Experience to say THANK YOU to those who served in Vietnam. It's not about the politics, it's for the sacrifice of self that you are to be saluted. It was great seeing those old helo's masterfully flown.
Skip Stewart and Patty Wagstaff then re-entered the show box to perform the Tin-Styx routine in which they fly opposing maneuvers with lots of smoke and lots of speed. It's a thrilling show that let's you see each aircraft, although very different, flown to their strengths in a choreographed display. This act ends with one plane right side up and one plane upside down in one of the craziest looking passes you will ever see. It was a great act and I thank each pilot for performing for us here in St. Louis.
Michael Goulian was up next. He flew a dynamic aerobatic routine that was both technically sound and very high energy. Goulian also flies in the Red Bull Air Race Championships, a series of course races at different locations around the globe. Only the best of the best are invited to compete, and he is just that. Michael Goulian is another example of how you can excel at your craft and still take time and stay grounded enough to interact with your fans, signing autographs after every one of his demonstrations.
Now that the cake had been baked so to speak, it was time for the icing that the crowd had gathered to taste. "Fat Albert," the team's support KC-130T Hercules cargo plane, now taxied and was "ROLLLLLIIIINNNGGG!!!" He lifted into the air and climbed almost straight up to 1500' before suddenly pushing the nose over to level flight. What a great start to a Blue Angels airshow! He then set up for his other maneuvers: the low flat fast pass, the banana pass, the overhead pass from in front of the crowd and the breath taking nose down tactical steep approach to land. If you haven't seen it, check out Inside the Demo page of the Blue Angels web site, or better yet, go to one of their shows and see it in person. Upon landing, the crew reverse the props and actually taxi the aircraft backwards! Let's see the jets do that! Never a disappointing demonstration!
"Fat Albert" was now on the ground, and the F/A- 18C Hornets were on there way down the taxiway to get into position for their performance. As the diamond spools up, the Boss calls, "Smoke on. Release brake. Apply afterburner." Lt. Ryan Chamberlain, the narrator, explains that you will not see the smoke while the diamond is in afterburner. At this point the crowd is up against the fence and awed at what they are seeing. The solos are up next, with the lowest "dirty roll" upon take off you will ever see and a maximum performance climb at the end of the runway as the pilot yanks the stick back and up he goes! The pictures speak for themselves! Another great demonstration, and even Michael Goulian stopped by to watch. The six Blue Angels eventually land, and the clouds begin to break.
At this time all four members of The Aero Experience meet up and head back to TAC Air and prepare to witness a 92 year old WWII veteran, Tom Mohan, relive a little piece of his past. He was a gunner in a Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber during the war, and today he is going back up for a ride in the gunner's seat. This time he'll be able to enjoy it. It was great to see him smiling and really enjoying the experience. We took a lot of photos and as he went in to be briefed on his flight, Fred and I decided to drive back over to the static ramp as the sun was now shining brightly and in great position to photograph the numerous arriving static aircraft. Rather than list all of them you can see the pictures here. As I approached to photograph the F8F Bearcat adorned in Blue Angels color scheme with the big yellow 1 on the tail, Blue Angel 7 was returning from a VIP flight and happened to come into line with the Bearcat. A fortunate result occurred where warbird and modern military hardware meet.