The aircraft used to train the top allied pilots during World War II broke through the clouds of generations past over the weekend to perform high above the inaugural Wings Over the Golden Isles Air show.
The four AT-6 Texans of the AeroShell Aerobatic Team demonstrated maneuvers over the airfield of Brunswick-Golden Isles airport on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. As the first airshow on Georgia’s coast in 20 years, the Golden Isles event gave the public a first-class military and civilian aerobatic show.
These planes are not the supersonic aircraft of today, but they were what gave America and Britian the upperhand as World War II, and later Korea, made the need for new, untrained military pilots so important.
Upon take-off, the pilots of AeroShell — Mark Henley, Steve Gustafson, Jimmy Fordham, and Bryan Regan — quickly move into their signature diamond formation to set up for the first routine of their demonstration. It is during this time that friendly but informative chatter fills each pilot’s headset to ensure the team is ready.
As the six red and white single-prop aircraft drop down for a low pass over the runway, aircraft 2, 3, and 4 switch to “smoke-on”. The rising cheer and applause from the crowd of nearly 40,000 seem to help give the aircraft an extra lift as they begin to dart skyward.
“People don’t understand that these airplanes are all veterans of the military — they served their country and trained our pilots to fly,” Steve Gustafson explained as we spoke on the Brunswick flightline on Friday. “The instructor sat in the back seat and the student in the front. They had machine guns and rocketry and you taught them. They left their training in these aircraft and graduated up to the fighters, and then went straight into battle.”
As the smoke trails of the AeroShell planes laid three white verticle contrails in the blue sky, the crowd’s attention stayed focus on the rare sight of four Texans flying in tight formation. Then suddenly, they began to fly inverted and then come down to form a clean loop over the airfield.
“They’re called the pilot maker, and when you got out of these a pilot was ready to go,” Gustafson added. “And, to fly these aircraft takes a little more expertiese than any other aircraft to fly. It’s alot of fun.”
His admiration for the advance trainer continues at an all time high as he just surpassed over 5,000 hours of flight time in his AeroShell plane alone.
For his teammate, Bryan Regan, their job was one of a childhood dream.
“This is the kind of thing I dreamed of as a kid,” Regan said as we stood near his Texan minutes after landing. Regan discussed after earning his pilots license and performing at airshows during the 1990’s, AeroShell hired him in 2009 to replace the team’s founding member, Allen Henley. “It was a fit right from the start, and I have been with AeroShell ever since.”
Regan is looking forward to a busy 2017 airshow season which will take the AeroShell team to several international show sites, including the southern and central United States. Pausing to look over at his aircraft, a modest grin of appreciation for his job grew.
“I’ve done so much work at training to fly the Texan, and I enjoy doing the work to get good at it,” Regan added. “I’m not going to say I’m the best, but I’m pretty good.”
(Charles A Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates on social media via @Military_Flight.)