The weather is looking great for Skyfest this weekend at Fairchild Air Force Base, where onlookers will get to see everything from the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds to a performance of vintage Stearman biplanes based out of Felts Field.
Today, the Stearman PTs are lovingly maintained flying antiques but, when the United States was drawn into World War II, Stearmans were a young pilots tickets to earn their wings. If a farm boy could learn to handle the Stearman his next round of training might be in a fighter or bomber.
“As they got through this step they went on to other airplanes that got more difficult. so they had to make sure they were good as this stage before they moved them on to more expensive, big airplanes,” Retired Captain Larry Tobin said.
The Stearman are a reminder of just how far flying has evolved in less than a century. Larry Tobin and his wingman James Love compete in formation flying across the country because formation flying is what kept pilots alive during the war.
“The bombers, for their protection, didn't want to be out there alone. they needed groups of them and they sent out 600 to 1,000 on most missions and 30 percent of them didn't come home,” Tobin said.
Tobin and Love take the old school approach to coordinating their performance as well. When you're less that 50 feet apart hand signals and head nods work better than two way radios.
“That's what those young pilots learned. They didn't have radios in those days so they communicated with hand signals,” he added.
The Stearman group is planning a missing man formation in honor of the KC-135 tanker crew killed over Kyrgyzstan last May. Look for Tobin and his fellow pilots performance just before the Thunderbirds take to the sky both Saturday and Sunday at Fairchild.