Formation Flying to Honor Veterans

by | Nov 8, 2014 | Airshows, History


In the Beginning

The genesis of a series of formation flyovers began with an email from Skipper Hyle to Jim Buckley. We would meet at Thomaston, Georgia (OPN) at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, November 8, 2014, and brief a series of flights. A call to Jim a day or two before yielded a little more detail. There would be a number of AT-6/SNJ Texans assembled and there would be flights over Falcon Field (FFC) and Peach State (GA2).

Texan line-up


The Kate was temporarily housed in Rickey Smith’s hangar at Coweta County (CCO) because several Dixie Wing Aircraft were undergoing condition inspections. Jim in his SNJ and Jack Van Ness in his replica Zero would depart FFC at 10:30 a.m. So, I was airborne from CCO just before 10:00 a.m. After landing at FFC, Jim, Jack and I had a quick briefing and soon we were airborne on the flight to OPN. Jim flew lead, while Jack was #2, and I was #3. Enroute to OPN, we had time to perform some cross-overs and reconfigure the formation.

For example, after takeoff, Jack joined on the inside of the left turn putting him on Jim’s left wing. I joined up on the outside of the turn on Jim’s right wing. Enroute, Jim crossed Jack over to his right wing, putting us in an echelon right formation. Then, Jim crossed me over to his left wing. And we made our way to OPN in this V formation.

As we approached OPN, I once again moved to Jim’s echelon right position. We made a 360 degree overhead ap- proach for Runway 30 at Thomaston and landed. Waiting for us were Skipper, Arnie Angelici, an FAA Flight surgeon, and Steve Maeher.

The First Flyover

Our time over target for the first flyover at FFC was 12:30, so we planned for a 12:00 departure. There would be two flights of three aircraft with Jim leading the first flight of three aircraft with the call sign “Texan Flight.” Skipper would lead the second flight of three aircraft with the call sign “Bravo Flight.” Both flights would be in a V formation with lead in the front and the numbers 2 and 3 on either side of lead.

Airborne at 12:00 and joined up and enroute from OPN to FFC by about 12:05, the two flights made their way to FFC. Bob Grove, our operations officer responded to Jim’s radio call at 12:25 about five miles southeast of the airport. We received permission to continue inbound. The two flights of three aircraft flew over FFC at about 12:28. After the overflight, Jim made a gentle left turn to the southeast, so we could return to OPN. As we entered right base for Runway 30 of OPN, we were still in the V formation. Then Jim gave me the double pump hand signal to cross under him and Jack and move to Jack’s right wing in the echelon right formation. We flew over the runway and broke in five second intervals, landing on Runway 30, with Jim taking the right side, Jack taking the left side and me taking the right side of the runway. I touched down at the four thousand feet remaining marker and kept the tail of my aircraft up until the two thousand foot marker. Just as the tail dropped, Skipper, who had landed behind me, called: “Alan, you are cleared to cross.” Skipper’s radio call meant I could turn left at the end of the runway without concern his aircraft would present a collision hazard.

T-6 Texan II IAF Aerobatic group

The Second Flyover

Landing at OPN at 1:00 p.m., we had one hour to refuel the planes, brief and get lunch. The briefing was short and to the point. Skipper would lead the second flyover as “Texan Flight” with Arnie and Steve as his wingmen. Jim would lead the second flight now with the call sign “Bravo Flight.” Jim was Bravo Lead. I switched with Jack to be- come Bravo Two and Jack became Bravo Three. That meant Jim and I would takeoff together and Jack would takeoff after us.

Enroute, Skipper’s flight would be joined by Connie Bowlin, a retired Delta Captain and the first flight would be a four ship followed by Bravo Flight, a three ship.

Getting the planes refueled was no problem, but the fellow dispensing gas was not familiar with credit card bill- ing. So, Jim, Jack and I got delayed at the FBO paying for our gas. At about 1:45 Skipper called. We saddled up about 1:55, hamburgers in hand and were underway by 2:00 p.m. Connie was orbiting the airport overhead. Skipper’s three ship flight took off first followed by Jim and me and then Jack. In no time we were winging our way toward GA2 fol- lowing what was now a four ship flight in front of us.
The plan was to overfly GA2 first from South to North, then reverse course and do a second overflight from North to South. As we flew toward GA2, we had to be sure the parachute plane was airborne and at altitude, since Connie was go- ing to circle the parachutist in his descent. We were about two minutes early. So Skipper’s flight did a 360 degree turn and Jim cut inside the turn to close up the spacing between the first flight and our flight.

Sitting off Jim’s left wing in a 30 degree bank turn closing on the formation ahead was pretty interesting. In no time, we were inbound for our first pass. One of the planes in the first flight was blowing smoke. So Jim and I were flying in a stream of smoke. It was a thrilling sight. I wished I had mounted my Go Pro Camera in the Kate. Inbound to the airport on our first pass, the airboss, noting Jack’s Zero and my Kate radioed: “It looks like you have some Jap Zeros on your tail.”

After the first pass, both flights made sweeping turns to the left, rolling out on a southerly course and the second pass was accomplished. Then Skipper cleared Connie for the pull. Connie pulled up turning left and eastward away from the formation. Then Skipper cleared Bravo Flight to depart to the east back to FFC.

In a few moments, we found ourselves on a five mile final for Runway 31 at FFC. Jim moved me from his left wing to his right wing and Jack moved out, so we lined up in an echelon right for a left break. We made our 360 overhead ap- proach with five second break intervals. In no time, we were back on the ground at FFC. After a short debrief, Jim, Jack and I left the airport to fly another day.

T-6 Texan II IAF Aerobatic group
North American T6 Harvard (Texan)

To Wrap It Up

Formation flying and aerial displays are enjoyable and present some challenges. Every pilot has to do his part and fly as part of a team. The flying must be precise because the other pilots require precision and predictability in your flying. When one flies to honor veterans who have sacrificed for this country to ensure our freedoms, flying as part of aerial displays is extremely gratifying.