Great New England Airshow 2015 GEICO Skytypers Flight

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I had the great honor and priviledge of having a flight with the GEICO Skytypers on May 14, 2015 at The Great New England Airshow at Westover ARB. It was arranged by the terrific Westover ARB Public Affairs Office.

To quote the team’s website:

The World Famous GEICO Skytypers Airshow Team is a flight squadron of six vintage WWII aircraft performing precision flight maneuvers at select airshows across the US. The diverse flying expertise of the team members aligns perfectly with the unique components of their overall performance.

I was informed early on that day that they were trying to get me a flight, but then it subsequently did not work out. So, later that afternoon I was over by where the team was parked and watching/photographing the USN Blue Angels practice when I saw W.C. Pope from Public Affairs heading over for his flight. A few short minutes later he came running back saying there was a cancellation and asked if I was still interested in flying. Of course I was!

I raced over to the trailer and was handed a flight suit and helmet, along with the 3 other gentlemen going up. Brenda Little, Public Affairs Officer for the team, gave us an introduction and orientation. This was more of a photo flight than the team’s demonstration, and they were sending up 4 aircraft instead of the usual 6.

Once I got my flight suit on and squeezed the helmet on to test fit it, we then had a safety briefing by team member/pilot Steve Kapur. A note on the tight fitting helmet – they want it that way because the wind can grab it and try and yank it off. I fully understood that during the flight!

After the briefing I was trying to determine what camera gear to take. I knew I’d need my wide angled lens, 17-55 mm, but would I need my second body with the 80-200 on it? I decided to take just the 17-55 set up, and this was a good decision.

Soon we exited the trailer and I was greeted by my pilot Dino Peros, and we would be in aircraft number 6. Dino introduced himself and I discovered he was a former Marine, and flew A-4 Skyhawks and AV-8 Harriers, including Harrier missions in Desert Storm in 1991. He immediately made me comfortable and welcomed, and went over what was about to happen.

He put the parachute on me and explained how to get out of the aircraft if need be, how to deploy the chute, and technique to use while approaching the ground and landing.

He assisted me getting into the rear cockpit of the SNJ-2 Texan. It was roomier than I thought, and Dino strapped me in. He proceeded to put on his chute, did a walkaround of the aircraft, and he took a couple photos of me in the cockpit. I cannot say enough of how accomodating and helpful Dino was during the entire time I was there.

Dino climbed into the front cockpit, strapped in, and started adjusting all kinds of knobs and switches. He then started to pump a handle of sorts – not sure if that was a choke or primer – and then started the engine. All 4 aircaft then taxied out and lined up on the massive, 11,598 x 301 foot runway number 5.

We took off to the north and were soon joined by aerobatic pilot Rob Holland, which was a nice surprise. The whole time I am shooting away – getting a feel for what settings and technique I’d need. I kept the canopy open the entire time, and the wind / turbulence was challenging at times. Remember the tight helmet? Thank goodness it was tight because at times I thought my head was going to be like a cork blasting out of a champagne bottle! Even the slipstream / wind caught my camera and knocked me in the face a couple of times. I reveresed the lens hood as even that was catching the wind easily.

I shot at shutter priority with a speed of 1/400th for most shots, which was fine for prop blur. I even took some video and the audio sounded like footage from a hurricane. I may edit and dub over it with music instead.

The aircraft moved around into different positions and tight formations as we flew over western Massachusetts, and I could hear all the pilots through the speaker in my helmet. It was an absolutely beautiful day for flying and photos. We were airborne for about 30 minutes and headed back to Westover. We made a really nice pass over the runway with smoke on which allowed me to get shots of the aircraft and massive military base in the background.

We landed and taxied back, and Dino apologized for the rough ride. I told him there was no need to apologize – it was an amazing flight! I exited the aircraft and thanked him immensely, and the team immediately had to move the aircraft to another ramp and quickly taxied away.

What an amzing experience it was – to fly in vintage aircraft with the canopy open on a gorgeous day, learn techniques needed to take photos under those conditions and to meet the team members. Not once did I feel like a burden to them, nor did I ever feel nervous or unsafe. It is an experience I will never forget.

Very, very special thanks to the Westover Air Reserve Base Public Affairs Staff, The GEICO Skytypers, W.C. Pope, Rob Holland and my pilot Dino Peros for an enjoyable and safe flight.

 

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