August 18, 2005
Flying with the Lima Lima Flight Team
Today 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.
It 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.