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Tuskegee Airmen At Gnoss Field

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This is what happened today:

  • The host hangar at Gnoss Field (Scanlon Aviation) was a little smaller than Bud Fields’ hangar. The plan was to seat up to 300. There was about 150-200 that came out for this event.
  • The aircraft invited to this event were 5 Russian Yak trainer planes, a Steerman bi-plane and a P-51D. Based at this hangar was a T-6 Texan, or whatever name it goes by. I believe I heard 4 or 5 names for it. The plan was for several people to receive rides in the Russian trainers while they flew in formation.
  • While our greeter, Steve, was on stage, introducing and talking, the P-51 arrived from Livermore. That was a major distraction to all. The sound of that magnificent engine… The hangar doors were nearly closed, so only those near the small opening could see the plane. He shut down near the hangar door.
  • After my Tuskegee Airmen history speech was given and our OTA’s added their part in the ‘Double Victory,’ Steve introduced several more people.
  • Then the hangar doors were opened, revealing all of the aircraft to everyone.
  • The plan was for LeRoy, his son Rodney, David Ellington, myself and a photographer, to all fly the formation with the Russian Yak’s. LeRoy was in the lead #1 plane. Rodney was in #2, David Ellington was in #3, I was in #4, and our female photographer was in #5.

After a pre-flight briefing we all took our seats in the back of our respective aircraft. The pilots took the front seats. The planes were all checked out and all five of the pilots gave the thumbs up. That gave the lead #1 to start the engines. All five fired up without effort. Another thumbs up was given when the planes were ready to go. We in the back seats were given the go ahead to close our canopies.

The taxi maneuver was as tight as the formation flight itself. We almost moved in unison out of our parked position, with #1 slightly ahead. We taxied to the run-up and completed the necessary precautionary checks. The runway was cleared and the 5 planes took runway 31. #1 (L) and #2 (R) were side by side, #3 (L) and #4 (R) were behind #1 and #2, respectively. #5 was in the middle behind the 4 planes.

Cleared to go #1 started with #2 following 7 seconds behind. Each successive pane followed by 7 seconds. 1, 2, and 3 had formed in the upwind. #4 joined up in the crosswind, with #5 catching up in the downwind. With #1 in the lead, we formed a V pattern in the downwind. The photographer was wearing out her camera. We made a base turn and a turn to final for a pass in the V formation, with smoke for the folks on the ground. After completing the first pass, we transitioned into a diamond pattern for our second pass while on the downwind. This pass, #5 slipped away for a nice photo shot of the group.

On the third pass, #2 was to the right and just behind #1 while #3 and #4 were staggered back and to the left. As we passed over the runway, #3 climbed out of the formation in the “Missing Man” maneuver. This was a tribute given to our late OTA, Dr. Richard Caesar, who passed away on December 20, 2011. Dr. Caesar was our last combat pilot in our Chapter. #3 would eventually join us back on the ground.

Our last run would add #5 with the photographer. We were lined up in a single line to the left and staggered behind #1. There we were, #1, #2, #4 and #5 on the down wind leg. We made the base and final and lined up over the runway. As we passed over the runway the pilot of #4 told me to expect a 2G turn following #2, at 4 second intervals just after the runway. This would line us up for the landing.

The runway is 75 feet wide and can accommodate side-by-side take-offs, but not landings. These guys have had a lot of practice together, but they had a different approach to the landings. Their method was to land one at a time, in quick succession, on the right side of the runway. After touching down and slowing, they would quickly move over to the left side of the runway. That way they could get down faster and line up quickly while still on the runway. Then in unison, all 5 planes moved off of the active runway to ‘clean up’ the planes. Once ‘clean’ the planes all came back to their parking spots like a parade.

After all the planes were parked, and the pilots and passengers got out of the planes, we all got together for a post flight briefing. No passenger got sick, and we all had smiles. I hope to get some of the photos from the photographer soon.

David Cunningham – President
William “Bill” Campbell Chapter, Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.