Back on the Road and in the Air!

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Left to Right – #6 Tom Daly, #4 Bob Johansen, #5 Steve Salmirs, #1 Larry Arken, #2 Ken Johansen

“Good Morning Tom.  Thank you for getting up extra early to help out.  By the way, I hope you don’t have any luggage with you.  I had to pick up the new hero cards yesterday, so there’s not much room in here.”  That was an understatement.  As solo pilot Tom Daly entered the car, he was quickly greeted by the overwhelming aroma of freshly printed autograph cards, 31 cases to be exact.  Fortunately, the only item Tom had with him was his barely-dry, hand-painted helmet, a prop to be used during an in-studio interview.  Early morning starts, a new helmet and a bit of a contact high from paint fumes…..it must be the start of the air show season.

People often ask what everyone does during the offseason.  The maintenance team takes on an entirely different role.  Instead of responding to squawks, concerns about pressure, high temperatures, refueling and other daily tasks, the task masters shift to artists as they finely hone the inner workings of the 75-year-old aircraft.  Each year, one of the six shines a little brighter with a fresh coat of paint and a full reassembly.

Each team member returns to a more traditional home life with more weekends including activities with family and friends instead of the nearly weekly reunion of the team to perform during an air show or sky type over the shores along the northeast coast.  There’s the annual ICAS convention in Las Vegas which outlines the schedule for the subsequent season or two.  The convention is also a bit of a celebration to commemorate the outgoing season.  As the Christmas holidays approach, there’s a bit of family time which soon transitions to a focus on individual areas of expertise to contemplate ways to revise, improve or invent practices to enhance the GEICO Skytypers program.

With the eminent arrival of spring comes the finishing pieces to prepare for weekly flying.  It’s not just smoke and noise.  It’s a kinship, a camaraderie, when the “Band of Brothers” reunites. First, ground school to address matters of safety and sound aviation principles.  Spring training involves the actual preparation for the air show performance.  Each presentation and brief leads to the eventual first practice and performance of the season.  The 2016 season just happens to commence at MacDill AFB in Tampa, FL.  It was the first military assignment for a once-fresh, young aviator, Steve Salmirs, and a hometown location for slot pilot Bob Johansen.

The aircraft land at the base and the reunion commences.  It’s time for updates on off-season happenings.  For some, there is much pride and happiness about news of engagements, college acceptance, promotions, the anticipated arrival of children or grandchildren.  For others, updates include funerals, illnesses or other tragedies.  Regardless, it’s the shared bond that quickly reunites the team.  Everyone seamlessly settles into the standard procedures.  Establishing plans, activities and timing for the following day.   Eventually, the other performers arrive and the spirit of camaraderie expands.  Air show performers and organizers residing in the local community offer their homes as gathering venues for the traveling members offering the utmost in hospitality.  So many stories are shared and it’s time for everyone to return to work.

During an early morning safety brief, the air show community reconvenes, but on a far more professional level with much protocol to follow.  Rehearsal day takes off without a hitch.  The pilots, ground crew, air boss, announcer, static display aircraft, vendors, air show staff and volunteers all prepare for the opening day of the show.  There is much hope and anticipation, even though weather reports aren’t exactly supportive.  But alas, it’s weather.  It’s what plagues and blesses air show organizers all year long.  Never forgiving or apologetic when fierce, and rarely thanked when pleasing and beautiful.  There’s always the hope for blue skies if you wait long enough….and hope reigned true.  On Sunday, victory manifested in a full lineup of performer demonstrations with some of the finest weather the Gulfcoast of Florida has to offer.

As quickly as it all began, there is a mass exit of crowds returning home to prepare for the work week.  The silence is almost deafening….but that’s ok.  There’s another show just around the corner….or another 14.  One down!  We hope to see you on the road during the 2016 season!!