August 14, 2008

Riding Shotgun in the T-6 Texan

ChicagoAirandWaterShow2008_t-6.jpgThe 2008 Chicago Air & Water Show roared into town today. Military and civilian aircraft from all over the country began arriving this morning at the Gary International Airport where most of them will be based throughout the airshow.

Today at the airshow media day I had the opportunity to take a sneak peek at many of the acts, speak with some of the pilots, go for some rides and best of all fly the T-6 Texan! As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, one of the acts I am most excited about this year is Bill Leff's Night Airshow. His T-6 Texan is specially equipped with pyrotechnics so he can put on a thrilling unique night time airshow experience. In meeting Bill I learned that he is from Dayton, Ohio. I shared with him that I learned to fly in the Cincinnati and Dayton areas. After learning I was a pilot, Bill offered to let me fly the T-6 Texan when we went for a flight.

I had flown in a T-6 with the AeroShell team previously, though since they fly in tight formations there was no opportunity for me to fly. Shortly after getting airborne Bill told me the plane was mine. I flew us out to the practice area and performed a few turns and climbs. Once at the practice area he took over the aircraft to perform some aerobatics. We flew a variety of maneuvers but my favorites were the barrel roll and the loop. I love the power of the T-6! On the way back to Gary he gave me the plane back and had me fly us back until we were on short final where he took over the plane for landing. I had a great time talking to Bill and flying with him and am really looking forward to watching him perform on Friday night. If you are in the Chicago Area stop by the lakefront tomorrow night to see him perform.

2008ChicagoAirandWaterShow_limalima.jpgAs we parked the plane the Lima Lima Flight Team returned from a press flight. Sitting in the back seat of the lead plane was Florence Henderson (AKA Carol Brady from the Brady Bunch). Henderson will be singing the national anthem each day of the airshow. She was kind enough to take a photo with me (Available in slideshow below).

While standing there I learned there was a spare seat in one of Lima Lima's T-34s for their next sortie, so I jumped on that. Rick "Knuckles" Nichols took great care of me and gave a very enjoyable flight. We were in the seventh plane in an eight plane formation. During they show they will perform as a six-plane team, Nichols will serve as the team announcer during the show. Be sure not to miss Lima Lima's performances this weekend.

Throughout the day the Blue Angels were coming and going to do spot checks and practice flights over Chicago. I did not get to see a preview of their Chicago Show but did enjoy seeing a few maneuvers back at Gary. I guess it gives me something to look forward to during the next few days.


August 17, 2007

49th Chicago Air & Water Show

thunderbirds1.jpgIt is that time of year again in Chicago where the skies rumble for the return of the Chicago Air & Water Show. This year is the 49th year of the free event that is expected to draw nearly 2.5 million people making it the largest two-day spectator event in the United States. A great line-up of military and civilian aircraft will be participating in this years event.

This is the third year that I have been invited down to the media day at the Gary Jet Center at the Gary International Airport. In 2005 I had my first air show flying experience flying with Lima Lima. Last year I had a fun flight with Aeroshell Aerobatic Team. This year I was lined up to fly with the Red Baron Pizza Squadron in one of their Stearman bi-planes. I had flown in a Waco bi-plan before but was looking forward to getting inverted in the Stearman. Unfortunately, it was not in the cards as the cloud cover and haze did not give a high enough ceiling for acrobatics.

redbaron1.jpgInstead we flew in formation out over Lake Michigan and did a few steep turns. The most exciting part of the flight was when we returned to the airport to land and my pilot made a steep diving turn towards the runway and the wind really blew through my hair and I could feel the joint pull of the strong Stearman engine and gravity, I could imagine how much fun doing acrobatics in an open cockpit plane must be. I might have to try again with them next year.

About an hour later there was an opening in the back seat of one of the T-34s flown by the Lima Lima Flight Team so I jumped at the opportunity to get back in the air with Lima Lima. They are a really nice group of men that love flying and demonstrating precision flying. The ceiling was a little better and we got to do some fun performing Wifferdills and Pop-Top Breaks.

Shortly after returning from this flight the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds arrived from their survey flight over the Chicago. I enjoyed watching them land and taxi in. I had the opportunity to talk to the two female pilots in the team for an article I posted on Chicagoist.com. My photos from the day are available on Flickr

As for this weekend I am hoping the weather holds out and we get two rain free days with unrestricted visibility and high ceilings. I enjoy all the air show acts but this year I am anxious to see two new acts for me, the Firebirds & the full demonstration of the the F-22 Raptor.

August 18, 2005

Flying with the Lima Lima Flight Team

limalima1.jpgToday I had the opportunity to attend the press day for the 47th Annual Chicago Air and Water Show. Over the next few days I will post some stories about the day. I will dedicate this post to the highlight of the day: A Flight with the Lima Lima Flight Team.

I drove down to Gary International Airport where most of the planes are based during the air show. The only other time I had been to the Gary International Airport is when I did a brief landing there while flying in a Cessna 172. The 172 would have looked out of place today with the military jets and all the performance aircraft.

When I arrived I learned I would have a chance to fly with the Lima Lima Flight Team. It was hard containing my excitement. I had talked on the phone earlier in the week with John "Ripper" Rippinger about the team. In our conversation his enthusiasm for the T-34 jumped through the phone I new if I had a chance to go flying during the press day I wanted to go with Lima Lima. John suggested I fly in the plane that occupied the fifth spot in the six plane formation which would afford me a great vantage point for some photos. So he introduced me to the pilot of that aircraft Skip "Scooter"Aldous.

I felt comfortable with Skip as my pilot from the moment I met him. He was a gentleman who seemed to exude confidence. Maybe the fact that he has been flying for over forty years. Most of his flight time was in the U.S. Air Force where he built a nice resume of planes including: T-33, T-37, T-38, F-102, F-106, and the F-16 (same as will be seen this weekend flown by the Thunderbirds). Between his time in the military and after retirement he has flown over 6,000 hours and he has flown with Lima Lima since 2000. With approval of his credentials in place I was ready to strap myself into the T-34.

Literally, I strapped myself to the plane. The first thing I had to do was put on my parachute (yeah I said it I needed a parachute). Next I belted myself to the rear seat of the T-34. Bill went through the emergency bail out procedure but promised it would not be necessary. With the safety review out of the way we fired up the powerful T-34 and began our taxi to the runway.

The Lima Lima Flight consisted of six planes. The first four took off in formation then my plane and the sixth plane in the formation took off a few seconds later. We met up with the others creating a formation of six shortly after takeoff. It was amazing to see aircraft so close to our wing.

limalima2.jpgIt was a bumpy morning but as the planes flew over Lake Michigan we found smoother air. That is when the show really began. We started off with some steep banks which were amazing. Then we performed a maneuver called the Wifferdill where each plan in the formation one at a time would peal away by pulling back on the yoke and sending the plan into a nearly straight up climb. Then the pilot would rotate to the left until the nose of the plane went from a climb into a dive back towards the lake. During this move we experience 2.5 to 3Gs. It felt like I had two men standing on my chest. I cannot imagine what it would be like to experience more intense g-forces.

During some of the manuevers the planes would turn on the smoke machines which made for a cool site being in a plane at the rear of the pack. It was exciting to watch us whip through a tight turn following the trail of the flight in front of us.

On our return to the airport we did a fly over of the runway then performed a Pop-Top Break where each plane pulled back and to the side of the yoke pulling the plane out of the formation and rolling us back around the other dirction. That was followed by a tight turn to bring us onto final for landing. It was the quickest twenty minutes I have experienced in a long time.

I cannot wait to see the Lima Lima Flight Team perform this weekend in their beautiful yellow T-34s. I know they will put on an enjoyable show for all to see.

I put together a minute and a half long movie that includes some photos and video clips which you can be downloaded here in two sizes: 2mb .mov & 7mb .mov (higher quality). I also created a Lima Lima Flight Photo Gallery. Additionally, Chris Booker of the Chicago Tribune shot some great footage of our flight. The plane he is shooting during takeoff is mine.